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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 11 40 measuring Gross national happiness, a more holistic index of a society’s quality of life. These progressive macroeconomic insights point in a dhar- mic direction: our way forward is in cultivating well-being in communities rather than individually accumulating more things. Mindful living can be good for the practitioner, good for our neighbors, and good for the sustainability of the planet. and as warner writes of the contemporary dissatisfaction with business as usual: “a craving for a simpler, slower, more cen- tered life, one less consumed by the soul-emptying crush of getting and spending, runs deep within our culture right now.” recently i encountered two helpful books on the fullness of mindful living. They both gaze insightfully at the impor- tance of our individual choices and actions as well as the larger systemic picture. The first is Zen practitioner stephanie Kaza’s Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Think- ing. she grounds her practical approach in the Buddhist pre- cepts, emphasizing the ethical commitment of practitioners who have taken refuge in the three jewels not to cause harm: “once we recognize the environmental impacts caused by human action, we can make a conscious effort to reduce that harm on behalf of the planet. reducing harm requires that we face the suffering of the world as it is, including the egregious ravaging of ecosystems that degrades them beyond repair.” Kaza frames green living as a matter of joyful celebration of natural sacredness rather than as actions based on “shoulds” that are laden with guilt. “The ‘work’ of green living becomes less a chore and more a locus of ethical development,” she explains. “we conserve water not because we should be fru- gal but because we respect the earth’s resources. This shift in thinking and understanding can be quite profound. The con- versation moves from personal sacrifice to real consideration of the nature of our connection with the earth. when we come to see ourselves as part of the great web of life, in relation- ship with all beings, we are naturally drawn to respond with compassion.” readers of suzuki roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind will recall his vivid evocation of the sacredness of water: “if you go to Japan and visit eiheiji monastery, just before you enter you will see a small bridge called hanshaku-kyo, which means ‘half-dipper bridge.’ whenever Dogen-zenji dipped water from the river, he used only half a dipperful, returning the rest to the river again, without throwing it away. That is why we call the bridge hanshaku-kyo, ‘half-Dipper Bridge.’ at eiheiji when we wash our face, we fill the basin to just 70 percent of its capacity. and after we wash, we empty the water toward, rather than away from, our body. This expresses respect for the water. This kind of practice is not based on any idea of being economical. it may be difficult to understand why Dogen returned half of the water he dipped to the river. This kind of practice is beyond our thinking. when we feel the beauty of the river, when we are one with the water, we intuitively do it in Dogen’s way. it is our true nature to do so.” Kaza acknowledges that walking the “green practice path” contains many challenges. Therefore, she encourages us to remain steadfast in our commitment through connecting with “wisdom sources,” including sacred places, animals, trees, and plants. The second book i have found helpful is economist Juliet schor’s Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. Just as the Buddha began his teaching by proclaiming the truth of suffering and its causes, the first half of schor’s book details why continuing the business-as-usual approach simply won’t work. The second half articulates what many are already doing to move in more enlightened directions. schor’s thesis in a nutshell: “we can hold on to business as usual, but the comfort of the familiar will likely come at a price of stagna- tion in incomes, continuing high levels of unemployment, and ongoing destruction of the environment. alternatively, we can scrap a failing system and go for plenitude, a new route to wealth based on respect for people and the planet.” initially, i was surprised to find a superbly documented study by a harvard-trained economist contemplating what, at first glance, might look like the current pop spirituality of “abundance.” a friend wondered if the approach of Plenitude was simply “making the best of hard times.” neither is true. “Plentitude,” schor explains, “calls attention to the inherent bounty of nature that we need to recover. it directs us to the chance to be rich in the things that matter to us most, and the wealth that is available in our relations with one another.” she encourages us to “work and spend less, create and connect more”—for our own sake, and the sake of the environment. These and similar calls for mindful living guide us toward manifesting the insightful awareness of meditation practice in everyday life. acharya Judith simmer-Brown predicted just such a practical confluence some years ago: “attention to the pressing issues of consumerism and globalization may generate a kind of Buddhist ‘liberation theology’ that would combine the best of contemporary social and economic theory and practice with the full lens of Buddhist teachings.” for the sake of all living beings, may our embodied practice of these principles make it so. • We cannot find true happiness by limitless expansion of material consumption. Our way forward is in cultivating well-being in communities rather than individually accumulating more things.