Shifting to “Years of Living Mindfully”

A recently released climate impact report from the IPCC clarifies that our situation is growing ever more perilous and that failure to act will result in unmanageable impacts on the systems that support life on Earth. Yet while global climate change is considered a serious threat in many parts of the world, citizens of the United States are relatively unconcerned (four-in-ten say climate change poses a major threat to the US). We at One Earth Sangha are highlighting an upcoming opportunity in the US to engage friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow practitioners on the truth of what is happening and what we can do about it. We can look and tell the truth of what we see.

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A full-length documentary entitled “Years of Living Dangerously” is a new television series designed to break the silence in the US on the topic of global climate change. Leveraging our direct experience of an astounding scale of floods, fires and melting of arctic ice, the producers seek to generate conversations among ordinary people. In a sense, they are provoking the questions: what are we doing; what does that lead to; do we want to go there? In a sense, they are inviting us as a people to be mindful.

Many of us are aware that climate change has become a deeply partisan issue in the US. We may be hesitant to initiate or participate in a conversation that we fear will cause separation. But recent polls show that even that is changing, including in the so-called “red states.” Perhaps we are not as divided as we thought.

Among those who are convinced of the seriousness of the threat, we struggle with how to respond effectively. This has been a conversation dominated by “experts,” yet increasingly the experts are recognizing the limits of their expertise. It is the collective voice of the people that will create the shift. Perhaps we are not as powerless as we thought.

Some advocates for wide-spread action on climate change, such as 350.org, are suggesting that we use the occasion of this series to gather members of our various communities together for a collective experience. We invite you to take up this idea with the first episode, already available for streaming from yearsoflivingdangerously.com, and consider leading a mindful discussion afterwards. You might chose one person in advance to lead the discussion to ensure that the conversation is non-judgmental and inclusive. This person can ask open-ended questions and facilitate a broad listening environment where no individuals dominate the conversation and all voices are heard. Here are some questions you might use to structure the conversation:

  • What came up for you – in your body, in your heart and in your mind – as you watched the documentary?
  • Is there a spiritual dimension to what arises? If we sense that we belong to something larger, how does that inform your response?
  • What skillful responses to your concerns are available to you? Are there barriers (hindrances) to these responses and how can they be addressed?
  • Because of the scale of the challenge, we can sometimes believe that our actions won’t make a difference.  What might it look like to respond skillfully as a practice, an embodiment of our wisdom and compassion, unbound by any need to be assured of impact?
  • (If many in the group are mindfulness practitioners) What do the teachings of the Buddhist tradition have to contribute to our collective response to the threat of climate change and/or its impacts?

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Please feel encouraged to share your experience, either as a comment here or as an email to gro.a1573982713hgnas1573982713htrae15739827131@tce1573982713nnoc1573982713.  And finally, if you throw this party and no one comes, or it doesn’t go as you intend, know that you are taking your own risks, acting in service of this life you love. We are in sangha with you!

Interrupting the Trance of Disconnection

The third noble truth teaches that there is a way out of suffering. In this third of a four-part series of posts transcribed from a July 2013 talk “The Dharma of Climate Change,” Dharma teacher Chas DiCapua discusses how clearly seeing our interdependence with all of life naturally alters our motivations and actions. Find the first and second parts of the series, or listen to the full audio below, generously made available by Dharma Seed.

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Interdependence

Another teaching or dharma principle related to global climate change is interdependence, or, as it is called in the teachings, “dependent co-arising“. I posed the question earlier – how could it be possible to extract something from the level of complex interdependence and call it mine? How could we own this? Another important question for us to ask ourselves is, given such depth and breadth of interdependence, is:

How could it be possible to harm a certain aspect of this world and in turn not harm ourselves?

Of course the answer to that question is, we can’t.

Intellectually it is not much of a stretch to see that we can’t. Yet one of the big reasons that we have gotten ourselves into this mess is that this wisdom, this knowledge that we can’t harm the world without harming ourselves, is not always fully present for us when we are making our decisions about our lives and about the things of the world. This wisdom – this principle of interdependence – is not steering the ship.

The Challenge of Staying Connected

Our dominant cultural narrative (certainly the narrative shared by the US, Canada, Great Britain, and, to some degree, Europe – the cultures that tend to have the largest impact on the resources of the world, and whose social and political impact also ripples out onto the world) – our dominant cultural narrative is that each of us deserves everything we want. Anything that gets in the way of that is wrong. Isn’t this true? Americans believe that we deserve whatever we want and anything that gets in the way of that is just wrong. According to David Korten,

“When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances they can become self limiting, even a threat to survival. That is our current situation.” Out of tune with its circumstances – not in alignment with the way things are.

It can be difficult, can’t it? To stay connected to the truths of our circumstances. Like the truth that our garbage, our waste, goes somewhere – it doesn’t just disappear! It takes an increasing amount of energy to run our electronics, and it takes energy to make our electronics. They have to be made somewhere. They have to be made in a factory that takes electricity. It takes electricity to charge the battery that runs them. That happens. It doesn’t just happen by magic – it is connected to all sorts of things. It’s hard to remember that right in the moment. It’s hard to remember that every time we get in our car and drive, we are putting carbon dioxide into the air. Every time we get onto a plane we are putting massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the most vulnerable part of the atmosphere. It is hard to remember the strawberry we eat in January probably flew 2-3 thousand miles to get to us. It’s just how we live.

It is difficult, especially given the fast pace of our lives, to keep these truths present within us. It’s also physically invisible. At least in this culture, because we are privileged that it be invisible. In other cultures it is not invisible. But at least here it has been invisible, until now – because we are starting to see and feel the effects of climate change. It’s not just a theory anymore. It is actually happening. It is becoming easier to see.

We’ve Done It Before

I want to point out an example of this wisdom that knows we cannot harm one part of this interconnected web without harming ourselves. There is one way that we have actually acted on that wisdom, and wisely so. And that is, in the arms race – the nuclear arms race – it was known, very clearly, that in an all-out nuclear war no side could win because the radiation that would be released would cause everyone to suffer terribly.

So this is one example of a time when we knew that harming one part of the population, the system, would harm everything. We knew that and when we know that – when that is clear to us – we act on it. There very consciously has not been a nuclear war. It is self protection, but it is still wisdom – it is that clear knowledge that is present as we make our decisions. So we can act appropriately when we have the right information, when it is present for us while we are making our decisions.

Our task as human beings and as dharma practitioners is to reflect on the understanding that we are all connected. Our task is not only to reflect, but to be mindful of things as they actually are when they arise, understand that we are all connected through our own experience, see how conditional things are. I know some of you have seen that and have recorded it – that thought precedes emotion, that things are connected, they are not happening in isolation. To the degree that we begin to tune into this cause and effect it becomes less possible to harm the environment and ourselves in the process. Once again a very natural morality arises from understanding. This is a deep and undeniable truth, this understanding. And it is one of the main truths or insights that we start to open to as we walk this path.

Our task as human beings and as dharma practitioners is to reflect on the understanding that we are all connected. When we begin to tune into this basic wisdom, it becomes less possible to harm the environment and ourselves in the process. Once again, a very natural morality arises from understanding.

So we are back to cause and effect, sometimes called karma. This is like this because that is like that. As that changes it effects this; as this changes it effects that. Cause and effect. When we think and act in accordance with this law of cause and effect, then the outcome is one of harmony and peace. There is harmony and peace because we are congruent with how things are. There is not friction – we are going with the flow. When we think and act in opposition to this law then the outcome is one of disharmony and much suffering.

Another example of how we came into accordance with this law of cause and effect is back in the 60’s when we found out that DDT was extremely harmful to living beings, and that human beings were going to suffer if we kept using it. Once that connection was clearly made, DBT was banned.

Overcoming the Trance

You might be thinking, aren’t we making the connection now? Aren’t we making the connection between cause and effect with CO2 and temperature rise? Aren’t we getting that? And aren’t we even making the connection between temperature increase and human suffering? Isn’t that cause and effect starting to dawn? Well, yes. And no.

Remember that study I mentioned (in part one of this talk), where people didn’t respond to the smoke coming through the vent? There are strong forces at play that are keeping us from making this connection to cause and effect. Some of these forces are outside of us and have to do with the industrial/political complex that runs the show these days. For example, the amount of air time climate change gets on the news, and what is reported, is a very calculated, conscious, controlled thing. Yet there are forces at play inside of us that can keep us from clearly seeing the cause and effect of climate change. I believe it is these internal forces, and how to work with them, that our dharma practice can most effectively address. I’m not saying we shouldn’t address the outer forces. What I am saying is that looking at our own lives, looking inwards at our own hearts, and using our dharma practice to shed light on these inner forces is a good place to start.


This transcription has been edited for readability as a Dharma article. Stay tuned for the final of four posts transcribing Chas’s talk. If you prefer, listen to the full talk here from Dharma Seed:
The Dharma Of Global Climate Change

Chas DiCapua is currently the Insight Meditation Society’s Resident Teacher, and has offered meditation since 1998. He is interested in how each person can fully and uniquely manifest the dharma. He teaches regularly at sitting groups and centers close to IMS.

The Heart Of The Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra

Book Review

Shariputra, be here always … .
Return to your original heart,
leave distorted dream-thinking far behind,
leap beyond fear,
and live without walls of the mind.
Always remember your deepest heart is true …

So sit the night patiently through
and gather you wayward mind.
Take up your own power
as in your heart
is the earth’s body …
plunge your life
into your unfathomable yearning …

BitterAlmondHedge
Core to One Earth Sangha’s mission is the cultivation and proliferation of the dharma of climate change. The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra is just such an offering, delivered in epic verse. Through this new text, renowned teacher Thanissara has the courage to make the connection between genocide and ecocide, colonialism and our current environmental crisis.

Juxtaposing the mystical Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism with the majestic beauty of the African landscape, the haunting voices of First Nation San, and the brutal legacy of South African apartheid, Thanissara’s text pivots on the Bitter Almond Hedge as a symbol of the separation. “The inception and first demarcation of apartheid began with the planting of the bitter almond hedge (brabejum stellafifolium) by the pioneer governor Jan van Riebeeck, in about 1666. It was one of his first acts on arrival at the nascent colony of Cape Town. The intention was to create a boundary and isolate the white settlers from the KoiSan and other Africans with whom, nevertheless, they needed to trade. The hedge became the first symbol of the laager, (circled wagons to ward off the enemy), and the later gated communities that define large areas of South Africa’s contemporary cities, particularly in Johannesburg.”

Speaking to the children of the conquerors, Thanissara offers hope for our deeply wounded hearts. Linking the objectification and abuse of First Nations with the objectification and abuse of the land, she declares the “ultimate apartheid [as] the mind’s own division against the heart.” Apartheid, in this context, is but one example of the myriad of ways in which the mind has erected walls against the heart. Drawing on the Buddhist text of the Heart Sutra (Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra), it is to this heart, “which is deeper and more aware, and which intuitively knows the ‘intimacy of all things,’” Thanissara encourages us to return. “It is this fundamental separation from the heart’s sensitive resonance with life … that generates escalating spheres of disconnect and madness. The ultimate madness is the current drive for pathological power and obscene profit which is killing the ecological systems that our collective lives depend on.”

In The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra, Thanissara simultaneously breaks our hearts and offers us hope. A hope that comes with mindful awareness and a turn towards our own wise and sacred hearts. As Thanissara explains in her introduction to the text:
“At its core, the Heart Sutra imparts courage. This is the courage of the unfettered, free, and alive heart inherent within the deepest seat of inner listening. This is the heart that knows intuitively the ‘intimacy of all things.’ This heart is our birthright, a gift from the divine. … It exists within the sacredness of the Earth and within each living thing, each breath, our bodies, our sexuality, our relationships, our work, and all manifestation. It is the reclamation of this sacredness that is our task.”

Here is the faith of the wild warriors
Who leave dream-thinking far behind.
Who leap beyond the walls of the mind.
Who know the intimacy of all things.
And who return to this, our human

that feels the scream
in each mindful moment
and chooses
to soften.
To breathe the mystery.
To enter the unknown gate.
To love fiercely every living thing,
right down to the last blade of grass.

The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra is available in its entirety here.

Thanissara is Anglo/Irish and originally from London. She was a Buddhist nun for 12 years in the Forest School of Ajahn Chah and has taught meditation internationally the last 25 years. She is co-founder of Dharmagiri, a small meditation center in the Southern Drakensberg in South Africa which also initiates and supports local community engagement projects. Thanissara currently resides between South Africa and the USA. www.dharmagiri.org.

Join Spirit Rock in their second annual Earth Day event. We will bring our attention to the urgency of climate change, and the capacity of our community to respond appropriately and compassionately. We hope you will go home inspired to act!

How Did We Come to This?

The second noble truth teaches that suffering has a cause. In this second of a four-part series of posts transcribed from a July 2013 talk “The Dharma of Climate Change,” Dharma teacher Chas DiCapua explores the roles that desire for sense-pleasure and our view of the world play in creating global climate change. Find the first of the series here, then follow or listen to the full audio below, generously made available by Dharma Seed.

"Pained Earth" from the artist  Beth Racette

“Pained Earth” from the artist Beth Racette

One of the first dharma teachings that comes up for me around global climate change, and that is really a root cause of climate change, is the strong habit pattern we humans have towards desire and sense pleasure. We like what’s pleasant. We don’t like what’s unpleasant. We have talked about the four noble truths. The second noble truth is that suffering has a cause. Desire for sense pleasures. This is the cause of suffering in general, and it is a major cause of global climate change in particular.

We live in a world that is constantly changing. Some of what gets dished up is pleasurable to us, it feels good to our senses, and some of it is unpleasant, it doesn’t feel good to our senses. This is the truth of the world that we live in. This is just how it is. At the same time, we have a deep habit pattern of only wanting what is pleasurable and not wanting what is not pleasurable. So there is a discord between what we want and how things how are.

The Price of Discordance

It takes energy to stay in discord with the way things are. Gravity pulls us down. If I hold out my arm and keep it there, I can do that for a while. I can fight the truth of gravity for a short time period, but the longer I keep my arm outstretched the more energy it takes. This is true with everything in life – the longer we stay out of alignment with how things are, the more energy it takes to do so. As a species, especially here in the West, we are living out of alignment with the truth of the way things are. And it takes a ton of energy – literally, tons of coal and oil – to do that. It just does.

It’s a warm day outside, about 85 degrees. Yet in our homes, offices and dharma halls, it is 70 degrees. There is a gap. It feels better at 70 degrees and dry instead of 85 degrees and humid. It is more pleasant. We like it that way; we make it that way. Something is running that air conditioner: electricity. It comes from some place and takes energy. In the winter, we like our houses to be warm: 10 degrees below zero outside in the winter; 70 degrees in the house. It takes energy to keep that discord. The house wants to reach the outside temperature – if left to its own, that’s what would happen. It would just come into balance.

This is not about being uncomfortable. I’m not saying we should all be uncomfortable and flog ourselves and then we’ll be enlightened and global climate change will stop. It’s not about that. I am just bringing attention to the fact that staying out of alignment with how things are takes energy. Cities in the desert ! This takes huge amounts of energy. The Colorado River does not reach the ocean, running dry 100 miles short of its ancient delta. Water is pumped out so that cities can be in the desert. We like it when its sunny and 80 degrees in January. We don’t like it up north or out east when it’s snowing and cold. Let’s go to the desert and live. We can. With our technology we can. But it still takes energy. Houses built solely for the view and not for a particular placement on the land that might actualize some solar gain from south facing walls or windows. Repainting the inside of our house only because we don’t like the color anymore. These things take energy. Paint comes from oil. These things aren’t wrong or bad. It’s just that the more and more we live our lives solely based on maximizing what is pleasant and minimizing what is unpleasant – if this is the main paradigm of our society – then we are going to use a lot of energy doing so because it is not in alignment with the truth of how things are.

Some people say that the Buddha was the first environmentalist. Not because he was out there holding a sign that said, “Stop drilling!” but because he was an activist for people to see things as they were. He said, “Follow these teachings and you will know the truth of how things are.” If we see the truth of how things are we are in accord with the way things are and when we are in accord with the way things are it takes less energy. This is from the Tibetan teacher Atisha: “Friends, the things you desire give no more satisfaction than drinking seawater. Therefore, practice contentment.” Contentment with the way things are. They are pleasant. Okay. They are unpleasant. Okay. Practicing contentment naturally lowers our carbon footprint. You don’t hear that on the news much.

This first Dharma principle that really is one of the pillars that supports global climate change is our addiction – our strong, strong habit pattern in the heart and mind – for sense pleasures. Then another principal that comes into play is the Sila practice – the ethical conduct or morality practice. I just want to come at this from one angle.

Is This “Mine”?

This idea that human beings can own land – and that the things of the land can be ours – is not in line with the truth of how things are. It is completely made up! We made that up. Why? Because it suits our purpose. It suits the desire for sense pleasures. Everything is connected to everything. Everything gives rise to everything else and in turn is created by everything else. How could it be possible to extract something from that level of interdependence and call it “mine”? It is not possible to do so and be in accord with the truth of things.

Monastics don’t own anything in this tradition. They have maybe two sets of robes, a bowl, mosquito net – depending on where they live. In this way they are really congruent with the ways things are. Nothing is mine, nothing belongs to me, I don’t own anything – and they literally don’t own anything.

Human Boundaries

“Human Boundaries” from the artist Beth Racette

In the 1960’s when the first astronauts went out into space to explore the moon it was said that “we went out to explore the stars, and what we found out was the truth about ourselves“. This is what happened when these astronauts went out to the moon – they turned around and saw the earth. We had never seen the earth before from outer space. Of course one thing the astronauts didn’t see was lines between countries. It was so obvious. But that’s not all. What we could all see, for the first time, was that the earth is just this little blue-green sphere in the midst of huge, vast, vast space.

Wow. There aren’t many of these out there. And we are all in this together – in this precarious blue-green jewel floating in the middle of this huge universe. This is a completely different perspective than when we’re down here saying, “That’s your country! This is my country!” A completely different perspective that occurred when we went out to explore the universe and ended up finding out a deep truth about ourselves.

What if we switched our view? From owning things – including the land and the resources on the land or under the land – to being stewards of things. How might that impact the way that we relate to the things of the world? We would see that the things of the world are not ours to do as we please with for our own pleasure and satisfaction. There naturally would be more consideration for all of life including the generations that come after us. The decisions we would make about how we use the earth’s resources and in what shape we pass on the biosphere to future generations would be made with these future generations in mind. This is the Sila practice, applied to global climate change. This “right view” or “wise view” would engender a very natural morality of non-harming, not as another “should”, but as something that springs forth naturally from this view.

Just as Wise View is the forerunner on the Eightfold Path of Wise Speech, Action, and Livelihood (the morality section of the eightfold path), how we view this world, the things in it, and our relationship to it is going to lead to a certain kind of morality. If our view is that we own the world – that the things of the world are ours to do as we please with and no one should get in the way of that – then this view is going to engender a particular kind of morality. If our view is that we are stewards of this world, that will engender a different kind of morality.


This transcription has been edited for readability as a Dharma article. Find the third of four posts transcribing Chas’s talk here or, if you prefer, listen to the full talk from Dharma Seed:
The Dharma Of Global Climate Change

Chas DiCapua is currently the Insight Meditation Society’s Resident Teacher, and has offered meditation since 1998. He is interested in how each person can fully and uniquely manifest the dharma. He teaches regularly at sitting groups and centers close to IMS.