Last year’s climate march in New York City was remarkable for its diversity and size. At over 300,000 strong, the demonstrators cut across class, ethnic, and religious lines, and were “joined, in solidarity, by demonstrations . . . across the globe, from Paris to Papua New Guinea,” according to the New York Times. Hundreds of Buddhists from a number of traditions turned out, marching with an interfaith contingent in which the world’s religions were well represented.
Rarely does any cause bring together so many, yet the current eco-crisis leaves no one untouched. Nor does it leave untouched any sphere of life, including its spiritual dimension. The overriding truth of our time is that cataclysmic change is inevitable and is, in fact, already happening. Our special section, “Reflections on an Impermanent World,” addresses from multiple viewpoints the challenge we now face. Recognizing with the author and environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert that the destruction of much of the planet’s biodiversity is already well under way, we’ve brought together contributors to offer the kind of knowledge and perspective we urgently need to make informed choices and to find hope in the face of peril.
No single issue or event or policy will turn things around and return the world to equilibrium. In all likelihood, the environmental crises we will encounter in the coming decades and probably centuries will bring great upheavals and immense suffering. It is all so hard to wrap one’s mind around because the problem is unprecedented in magnitude. At the same time, we have the whole history of human wisdom to draw upon in making our choices and taking action. The defining question of our age will be how we meet the calamities we will face, and how we will act to mitigate them and find our virtue in confronting them. The stakes couldn’t be higher, yet as human beings, we are not only expert in creating misery, we are also expert in working to resolve it. Both legacies, and the ability to choose which to follow, belong to us.
The Vietnamese poet, activist, and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh—Thay, as he is affectionately known by students—suffered a severe brain hemorrhage in early November of last year. Ever since he fell ill, his students worldwide have prayed for his recovery. As we go to press, we’ve received the good news that Thay has emerged from his coma, although he remains unable to speak.
In this issue, gardening columnist Wendy Johnson remembers the early days at Plum Village in southern France, where Thay’s spiritual community first took root; Thay’s longtime student Allan Badiner sharesmemories of 30 years on the path with his teacher; and in our practice piece, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us how to love ourselves and others. We offer these articles in honor of a Buddhist master who has played a seminal role in bringing Buddhism to the West and who has tirelessly worked to alleviate suffering worldwide.
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