This retreat offers a fresh way of understanding basic Buddhist teachings and their meaning for us today. The first week’s talk emphasizes the connection between dukkha (suffering in the broadest sense) and our delusive sense of being a self that is separate from the world we are “in.” In contemporary terms, this sense of separation is a psychological and social construction that can be deconstructed and reconstructed—which is what the Buddhist path is all about.
The second week looks at the ecological implications of this sense of duality—which is our usual individual predicament—and our collective human predicament today in relation to the biosphere. The parallels suggest that the eco-crisis is not only an economic or technological crisis, but also a spiritual challenge. In fact, the personal and the collective can be viewed as two sides of the same predicament, which has come to a head in our time.
If so, what is the collective parallel to the individual awakening that Buddhism traditionally emphasizes? The third week outlines a new story—a new vision of who we are, what the world is, and our role in it—that tries to bring together what science has learned about cosmology and evolution with the most important teachings of Buddhism. It’s no exaggeration to say that some such story has become essential for the healing (literally, “making whole”) that is necessary today.
What does all this mean for how we are to live day-to-day? The final week offers a new understanding of the Bodhisattva path, which may be the most important Buddhist contribution to our present situation. It is becoming clear that personal transformation (which Buddhism emphasizes) can no longer be separated from social transformation (which the West has focused on). Today we must awaken not only from the individual delusion of a separate self (a self whose well-being can be pursued separately from the well-being of the whole), but also from our collective “consume-and-grow” trance. Is the earth calling upon all of us to become bodhisattvas?