What does October bring? For me it is always a time of looking forward, anticipation, of gratitude for what has passed. It is also the fall of the blossoming, growing and becoming and the moving into the seed, the dormant, the potential. Basically, winter is coming.
The environmental movement seems to also be moving into its fall and winter. We need to find the most probable ways to change and grow up in order to save our place on the planet, and soon. We need to stop looking outside of ourselves and start looking inward. Thích Nhất Hạnh’s book, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology provides us with a road map of how we can do this. It is only through a profound personal transformation that we will have the ability to address the present environmental crisis we all face. It is inside, where we find our spiritual practice, that the map leads us.
We are like sleepwalkers, not knowing what we are doing or where we are heading. Whether we can wake up or not depends on whether we can walk mindfully on our Mother Earth. [...] We need a kind of collective awakening. There are among us men and women who are awakened, but it’s not enough; the masses are still sleeping. They cannot hear the ringing of the bells. We have built a system we cannot control. This system imposes itself on us, and we have become its slaves and victims. Most of us, in order to have a house, a car, a refrigerator, a TV, and so on, must sacrifice our time and our lives in exchange. We are constantly under the pressure of time. In former times, we could afford three hours for one cup of tea, enjoying the company of our friends in a serene and spiritual atmosphere. We could organize a party to celebrate the blossoming of one orchid in our garden. But today we can no longer afford these things. We say that time is money. We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth. In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over some seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will be killed.
He points out that the American dream where everyone has to have a car of their own, a bank account, a cell phone, a television set, is not possible any longer, not even for the Americans who devised it. A sustainable economy was not created yet we all cling to this dream, depend on it, and believe it to be true. So how do we now become to see ourselves in another ‘reality?’
We have to have another dream: the dream of brotherhood and sisterhood, of loving-kindness and compassion and that dream is possible right here and now. We have the dharma; we have the means; we have enough wisdom to be able to live this dream. Mindfulness is at the heart of awakening, of enlightenment. We practice breathing to be able to be there in the present moment, so that we can recognize what is happening in us and around us.
The important thing is that we all act. The individual has to take action in their own life, we can’t wait any longer for the petitions, the politicians and the scientists to save the world. That is all looking outwards anyways. Violence, corruption, abuse of power, self-destruction, superstition and cruelty are just the outer reflection of what is happening within us when we are unaware and asleep. It is cultivating faith, determination, awakening and a big dream that can lead us to peace and hope. We have to learn to live with responsibility, compassion and loving kindness and to remember we each hold the power to decide the destiny of our planet. This means doing the inner work first, to awaken to our true situation, to initiate a collective change in our consciousness. To help people wake up to the fact that they are living in a dream. No one life is independent of all other life, each depends on the other in order to manifest and continue. We are outside each other at the same time as we are inside each other, in other words we are connected, whether we are comfortable with that or not yet, it is the truth.
Earth Holder is the energy that is holding us together as an organism. She is a kind of engineer or architect whose task is to create space for us to live in, to build bridges for us to cross from one side to the other, to construct roads so that we can to go to the people we love. Her task is to further communication between human beings and other species and to protect the Earth and the environment. [...] When you contemplate an orange, you see that everything in the orange participates in making up the orange. Not only the sections of the orange belong to the orange; the skin and the seeds of the orange are also parts of the orange. This is what we call the universal aspect of the orange. Everything in the orange is the orange, but the skin remains the skin, the seed remains the seed, the section of the orange remains the section of the orange. The same is true with our globe. Although we become a world community, the French continue to be French, the Japanese remain Japanese, the Buddhists remain Buddhists, and the Christians remain Christians. The skin of the orange continues to be the skin, and the sections in the orange continue to be the sections; the sections do not have to be transformed into the skin in order for there to be harmony.
Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests we follow the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Since they are non-sectarian and universal, they can be practiced regardless of religion, culture or ideology. They are one way to start the path of inner transformation and healing.
- First Training: we vow to cherish all life on earth and not support any acts of killing.
- Second Training: we pledge to practice generosity and not support social injustice and oppression.
- Third Training: we make a commitment to behave responsibly in our relationships and not engage in sexual misconduct.
- Fourth Training: we practice loving speech and deep listening in order to relieve others of suffering.
- Fifth Mindfulness Training: Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body and my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and the transformation of society.
The last training holds the key to the way out of the environmental crisis we are in according to Hạnh, by recognizing what to consume and what to refuse in order to propagate health in our own body and for the Earth and to reduce suffering for ourselves and others. I do hope we find a way to make wine and cheese that is mindful. I don’t feel we have to become a Buddhist monk to become an aware cultivator of a healthy planet. Yet we do need to all become environmentalists and to see that we are one family, all children of this planet and that we need to take care of each other and the Earth.