UNLIKE the media staples of sex, money, and power, the more we read about environmentalism, the less inclined we are to read more. And yet, there are the facts. Facts and more facts. One’s genuine interest in the work of planetary healing could be killed off by facts alone. So pervasive is this dilemma that it questions the value of information itself.
In July 1969 millions of people crowded around television sets to watch men landing on the moon. Yet in the days following this momentous event, newspapers reported very diverse responses to it. It seems that in bars in Spain and in hotel lobbies in Bangkok and Bogota many were unimpressed. They had, so they said, seen it all before. To eyes accustomed to television, it was just another episode of Star Trek. In September of this year, during a panel discussion on media and consciousness held as part of the Parliament of World Religions, a member of the audience proposed a global twenty-four-hour television channel that would continuously display a “real” image of our rotating planet. The implication was that such a compelling sight would convince humanity of its intrinsic oneness, of its interdependency, and of the need to pull together to save the planet. But once again, we’ve seen this show before. Furthermore, the planet earth image is now not only familiar but almost mundane—and this familiarization process has coincided with tremendous social fractionalization, Bosnia and the former Soviet Union being only the two most current obvious examples.
The bombardment of new images of the devastation of earth tends to overwhelm us, producing fears and anxieties that may be appropriate but remain ineffective, even paralyzing. This issue’s special section, “Dharma: How Green Can It Grow?” offers a few approaches to the environmental dilemma that rely less on facts and image and more on cultivating a spacious view from which to approach the situation. In the opening essay, James Thornton goes to the heart of the Buddhist perspective. An environmental lawyer, activist, and longtime practitioner of Buddhism, Thornton relocates environmental activism in the human mind. This is the good news of Buddhist teachings: that the mind is not only the source of suffering, but the source of liberation from suffering. It is good news not because all environmental degradation will disappear with this recognition, but because it places the source of view, activity, and understanding within an arena that is inherently ours. The task is not easy, but the technology for accomplishing it lies squarely within our own humanness. Likewise, Joanna Macy seizes on the current environmental crisis as a way to recognize our opportunity namely, “being incarnated at a time when everything we’ve ever learned about interconnectedness, about trust, about courage, can be put to the test.” Allan Hunt Badiner asks the important, though often overlooked question: What is to be learned from living in the shadow of our own annihilation? Christopher Titmuss urges us to abandon ideas we have latched on to—the ideas that the future matters and that resources are worth saving—in a direct challenge to work for the environment in a way that is not attached to results. In “Nondual Ecology,” John McClellan confronts the sentimentality that has infused much of the discussion of the environment among both Buddhists and non-Buddhists and asks us to accept that reality is as perfect today as it ever has been.
In the excerpt from the Mountains and Waters Sutra, thirteenth-century Zen Master Dogen embodies a nondual view, revealing a Big Mind, a mind that is the world, not just invested in it. Elsewhere in his work, Dogen urges disciples to follow the dharma for the sake of the dharma, to follow the way for the sake of the way. This is a far cry from meditating for world peace or for the planet. He asks that we renounce any sense of investment, desire, compensation, greed, or goal that we may bring to meditation, to renounce our materialistic tendency to want something from it or to use it to attain our ideas of what is good or right. As a theory, this is Zen at its most bare-boned and radical and may be especially hard to swallow for well-intentioned activists. But Dogen’s way is not without pragmatic benefits. In the face of planetary calamity, who among us would not wish for more minds to know that, as he puts it, “Mountains’ walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains’ walking even though it does not look the same as human walking.”
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