The Green Buddha
Christopher Titmuss
Insight Books: Totnes, UK, 1995.
299 pp., $18.00 (paper).

One might be surprised that the restless and fervent voice of Christopher Titmuss in The Green Buddha belongs to a former Buddhist monk and a world­renowned meditation teacher, as well as a Green activist. Titmuss’ fundamental tenet, that “the root problem is a spiritual one,” will get no argument from anyone who is looking deeply at the vast array of interconnected problems facing us and future generations, but the moral haughtiness of his tone can be exasperating.

The reader is likely to crave more equanimity from such an elder statesman of the dharma. The author’s invective often belies oversimplification, and a too-hasty labeling of villains. There are few heroes in this book, where even the Buddha is found wanting. According to Titmuss the founder of Buddhism lacked an analytical spirit with regard to the social issues of his day. Such criticisms seem dislocated in time, unfounded and presumptuous. Moreover, the book’s primary flaw is this inconsistency between its strident tone and the dispassionate middle path itself.

Titmuss is unrelenting and sometimes shrill in his rejoinder that things are really bad—that the ego has already corrupted the heart of all human institutions, with “tragic consequences for humanity and the Earth.” In the light of a widespread analysis of global problems, he declares, any expression of optimism indicates foolhardiness, and he insists that if there is ever to be a new dawn, it will require the “drama of nonviolent revolution and widespread sacrifice.”

The possibility of a Green, value­infused economic community is given short shrift in The Green Buddha. According to Titmuss, employers are hostile to people on the path. While this is generally true, there is a significant and growing number of companies that encourage personal growth for their employees. Similarly, Titmuss is too quick to dismiss institutions of higher learning as mere “breeding grounds for selfish desire, ruthless ambition and arrogant lifestyles.”

What remains helpful is his in­your-face report on the shadow side of consumer economics and the globalization of the economy. He summarizes the ways in which poor nations are plundered by rich ones, and his historical analysis of institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, while Marxist in flavor, is convincing in its conclusion that “under the guise of independence, the Third World was economically and militarily recolonized.” Even though Green economics will be more expensive, he explains that the “current economic ideologies will cost us the Earth.”

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