It’s hard to imagine how Zen might live on beyond my lifetime if it were to be deprived of its ancient affinity with the natural world. So much of Zen’s heritage is an attempt to convey an essentially wordless experience in naturalistic metaphors and poetry, language that reaches for the truth through an acute awareness and appreciation of the seasons, plants, trees, birds, fish, flowers, waters, and wind.
But the more I read about our current climate crisis, the more I am convinced that the historically comfortable relationship we have had with nature is in grave danger. Many experts believe that we are fast approaching an unavoidable period of catastrophic environmental change for which we are politically and socially unprepared—and that is to say nothing of the lack of spiritual preparation that must necessarily precede any substantive change of course.
In saying this, I don’t wish to create a sense of despair about the future of our planet or to dismiss the good that many of us do by recycling, by not wasting resources, by simply appreciating what we have. Again, however, many credible experts believe that those efforts, positive as they are, will not be enough to avert an environmental disaster—so I am concerned about what more might be done. Of course, I am no environmental expert, and I have no way of knowing what the future holds. What I do know, however, is that we are alive right now, and, “like fish in little water,” we can make sure we live like we appreciate that fact, especially as a manifestation of the universal interdependence that supports all life on the planet. That is, I hope I might urge you to consider, with some level-headed urgency, your relationship to the natural world and what you think our collective role in protecting it ought to be. When I say “urgency,” I mean a kind of deeply spiritual determination to “practice the Way as though saving your head from fire.” Today, some environmental activists might suggest, as global warming is now reaching
truly unsurvivable levels in southern Asia and the mideast, that that “fire” may be more literal than metaphorical.
To help begin reflection and discussion on the climate emergency and how other Buddhists are shaping the “eco-dharma” movement in response, I hope you might sample at least one or two of a long list of resources that I have compiled. I do not claim that the list is all-inclusive or that all items are perfectly valid, but they are all reasonably well-informed and intelligently expressed. You’ll find this list at https://greatwave.org/eco-dharma-and-climate-crisis-resources/. If you know of other resources that really ought to be added to the list, please add them in a comment to this post.
Then, beginning with the August 2019 Gate of Sweet Nectar sesshin (August 7 – 13), I will be providing important context for a series of eco-dharma events that are currently being planned by Kevin Muzo Holohan, myself, and others. Using teisho, mindful walking outdoors, book discussions, and other activities, I hope to bring more focus on the spiritual crisis that lies like the greater mass of an iceberg below the surface of our current environmental woes. If there is any way that you can attend this retreat, I hope you will register very soon.
While most of our future eco-dharma events are expected to be scheduled for 2020, the first one will take place next month (August), and I hope you will participate. It is a beach sweep, organized in conjunction with the Adopt-A-Beach program of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Our beach sweep will
take place near the spectacular Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, just north of Ludington, on Sunday, August 11, from 9:00 – 11:00 AM. To register for this event, please visit http://greatlakesadopt.org/Secure/Event/15490. (Note, if you have already registered for the August sesshin, during which this beach sweep takes place, you will still need to register separately for the sweep. This helps the Alliance for the Great Lakes maintain its database of Adopt-A-Beach events.)
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Many of you know that the first of the Four Bodhisattva Vows is “Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.” This vow should never be allowed to dissipate into mere rhetoric, “dead words.” We live in a time when the mahasangha must produce the miraculous salvation it has promised to fulfill. Please practice diligently so that that possibility becomes an actuality.
Finally, thank you for reading this long post. I hope you will respond by posting your thoughts in a comment below.