For many of us in 2018, to track the state of equity, justice, and ecological health has been to feel a trembling resonance with collective suffering. Furthermore, we might have experienced some level of astonishment at the parallel reality weirdly conceived and promoted at the highest levels of government. Our experience is understandable as immaturity and reactivity have been enabled in ways that can surprise even the steadiest among us. While these dynamics didn’t just spring into existence this year, they seem to be operating on a new level.
Yet the machinery of distortion is breaking down of its own dysfunction. We are also witnessing a growing maturity replacing our naive infatuation with the powerful megaphone of social media. Layers and layers of collective delusion are revealed and, while difficult, this must be welcomed. Yet we know from our practice that recognizing the mechanics of delusion is critical but only half the battle. Delusions must be caught and uprooted in real-time. Otherwise, on a massive scale, we risk following fake over fact.
Coal ash flows into ponds in Kapubağ. Protesters recently challenged the associated thermal power plant in Yatağan district of Muğla, Turkey.
From heat waves in Europe, wildfires in California, a super-typhoon that struck the Philippines and China, floods in India to hurricanes Florence and Michael in the Southeastern US, dramatic weather events brought their local devastation and provided, for those with the eyes to see, undeniable evidence of a dangerously warming world. On the climate policy front, the challenging predictions and call to action presented in October’s IPCC report, which clarified that time is running out and existing country commitments must be significantly revised to avoid the worst climate change scenarios, was carried into the next round of climate negotiations in late November. COP24 achieved mixed results, barely welcoming the analysis it commissioned but slogging through the dull but critical writing of the rulebook for international cooperation on reductions.
2018 saw durability as well as new energy in our collective response. We celebrate indigenous groups’ victory in stopping Canada’s Kinder Morgan pipeline and welcome the possibility of a truly integrated Green New Deal in the US, one championed by the energized youth of the Sunrise Movement. We might appreciate the sobering clarity of Extinction Rebellion, Kenya’s movement to De-COALize and the particular creative and courageous protests from villagers in Muğla Turkey against their government’s support of coal projects. Meanwhile, the Yellow Vest protests in France provided critical correction to the climate policies that favor the wealthy and we’re becoming more clear about the cumulative impact of our daily choices in diet, home energy and transportation.
For some, the core inquiry deepens: what is the role of the engaged dharma practitioner? What does it mean to bring our awakening practice and the Bodhisattva ideal to such times? If this question seems daunting, you’re in good company!
Furthering the EcoSattva Path
As the situation grows more intense on the outside, we might consider this an invitation to deepen our own practice and strengthen our resolve to embody the teachings as best we can. Finding ways to stay connected without falling into despair or rage, both understandable but unsustainable for the long haul, is crucial. A warming world needs us to root ourselves deeply and, ultimately, remain unflappable. So we can double down on kindness in all its forms, internal, external, present and eternal. It is true insight that understands standing for true justice requires that we make no one our enemy.
In a culture that both celebrates the individual and at the same time subverts our collective impact, it is radical to affirm the relevance of our actions.
In addition, we can know our own agency. In a culture that both celebrates the individual and at the same time subverts our collective impact, it is radical to affirm the relevance of our actions. The Dharma insists that our actions matter, whether by substantially reducing our own carbon footprint, as both a contribution to the collective and co-creating new norms, or by challenging the institutions that systematically exploit people and planet. How does our view change if we fully inhabit the perspective that our actions have a power we cannot perceive, that how we relate to the structures of policy and culture, how we relate to one another and to our own hearts, that this all is of immense import?
Finally, across our movements, among our direct collaborators and those with different strategies, we can perceive Sangha. We can affirm diversity of response as the stuff of indirect collaboration and resilience. In the direction of ecological healing and justice, every action that we and others take can be met with criticism or appreciation. For instance, here’s an interesting review of the Extinction Rebellion movement from five activists. Each takes a view for or against. What if it’s all needed? This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t offer vital perspectives, especially when our strategies unwittingly replicate patriarchy, racism, shadow violence or further desecration of the rest of nature. We can welcome such feedback and commit to unwinding these inculturated patterns. But none of our approaches is complete unto itself nor wholly inclusive. While on this Path, entangled both in deluded systems and our delusions, purity is not to be found.
Might we instead foster vibrant collaborations, where necessary challenge rest on fundamental support? Perhaps we need new questions that can guide us with compassion when responding to each other’s callings, inquiries into the assumptions about humanity (e.g., buddha nature), attachment to view (e.g., emptiness as espoused in the Heart Sutra) and the guard-rails of ethics (e.g., five precepts). While all might need improvement, it is a wide and generous view that recognizes and welcomes every form of engagement as part of the Earth’s immune system while not giving into “anything goes.” Where our analysis and strategies might differ, we can nonetheless learn from and be inspired by one another.
Connecting and Deepening
In the realm of politics, organizing and a changing climate, 2019 will surely offer both more promise and more peril. While the night still has us long and to herself, we might pause in the silence, go deep and go dark, only to listen. In the quiet and guided by the Dharma, we might receive fresh wisdom about our Path, refine or deepen our aspiration and motivation. We can help ourselves and one another continue this journey, learn what it means in such times to be a practitioner, a devoted and whole human being.
As we at One Earth Sangha look forward to 2019, we are excited and inspired by the need to foster a Buddhist response to our global situation. With your support, we intend to deepen our commitment to the development and sharing of EcoDharma and offer new ways to access the EcoSattva Training. We hope to go further in 2019 to help you find one another and nourish your connections. We invite you to support our work and look forward to continuing this Path with you!