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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 08 38 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 08 38 that summer sea ice will disappear within five years. According to the same IPCC report, all Himalayan glaciers are likely to disappear by 2035. Not surprisingly, Tibetan Buddhists are especially sensitive to this problem. The Dalai Lama has remarked: “Older people say that these mountains were covered with thick snow when they were young and that the snows are get- ting sparser, which may be an indication of the end of the world.” Climate change, the most consequential of a number of ecological crises, plays a major role in many of the others—for example, in the extinction of many of the species that share this Earth with us. Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s most respected biologists, is among those who predict that half the world’s plants and animals could be extinct by the end of this century. What does this mean for bodhisattvas, who traditionally vow to save all sentient beings? We don’t like to think about this ecological crisis, any more than we like to think about our own mortality. Yet an increasing number of scientists believe that the survival of human civilization, and perhaps even the human species, is now at stake. We have reached a critical juncture in our biologi- cal and social evolution. As eco-philosopher and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy points out, denial of what is happening is itself the greatest danger we face. Repression carries a high price: according to many psychologists, people in advanced industrial societies are psychically numbed as a result of being cut off from nature, unable to feel the beauty of the world—or respond to its distress. The perva- sive influence of advertising works by promising to fill this void. We spend our time pursuing substitutes that never satisfy, because we can never get enough of what we don’t really want. Yet haunted by a vague dread, we become more obsessed with the competition for power, fame, sex, and profit. The effectiveness of corporate misinformation about global warming suggests that our most immediate problem is lack of awareness—which brings us back to Buddhism. The Buddhist path is about awakening from our delusions. As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, we need a collective awaken- ing from our collective delusions—particularly from delusions that have been skillfully manipulated by fossil-fuel corporations. We cannot simply rely upon our present economic and political systems to solve the problem, because to a large extent they are the problem. Rather, we need to make conscious choices based on greater awareness of our true situation. The eco-crisis makes it clear that the kind of consumerist society we take for granted today is toxic to the environment. Continuing business-as -usual is a grave threat to our survival. To address our obsession with consumer- ism, we need different perspectives on the predicament and potential of the Robert Aitken Roshi: The time has surely come when we must speak out as Buddhists, with firm views of harmony as the Tao. I suggest that it is also time for us to take ourselves in hand. We ourselves can engage in the very policies and programs of social and ecological protection and respect that we have here- tofore so futilely demanded from authorities. This would be engaged Buddhism where the Sangha is not merely parallel to the forms of conventional society and not merely metaphysical in its universality...This greater Sangha is, more- over, not merely Buddhist. It is possible to identify an eclectic religious revolution that is already underway, one to which we can lend our energies. Excerpts taken from the forthcoming book When Snow Mountains Wear Black Hats: A Buddhist Response to Global Warming, edited by John Stanley, and co-edited by Gyurme Dorje and David R. Loy.