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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
DAVID R. LOY 27 taught to let go of our preconceptions in order to experience more immediately what’s happening right here and now; when we encoun- ter a homeless person who is suffering, for example, we should respond compassionately. But how do we respond compassionately to a social system that is creating more homeless people? Analyzing institutions and evaluating policies involves conceptualizing in ways that traditional Buddhist practices do not encourage. A similar disparity applies to the ways that Buddhists have responded to the climate crisis and other ecological issues. My guess is that most people reading this have so far been little impacted personally by global warming, except perhaps for slightly larger air- conditioning bills. We have not personally observed disappearing ice in the Arctic or melting permafrost in the tundra, nor have we become climate refugees because rising sea levels are flooding our homes. For the most part, the consequences are being felt elsewhere, by others less fortunate. Traditional Buddhism focuses on individual dukkha due to one’s individual karma and craving. Collective karma and institutional causes of dukkha are more difficult to address, both doctrinally and politically. I’m reminded of a well-known comment by the Brazilian arch- bishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” Is there a Buddhist version? Perhaps this: “When Buddhists help homeless people and prison inmates, they are called bodhisattvas. But when Buddhists ask why there are so many more homeless, so many people of color stuck in prison, other Buddhists call them leftists or radicals, saying that such social action has noth- ing to do with Buddhism.” Perhaps the individual service equivalent that applies to the cli- mate emergency is personal lifestyle changes, such as buying hybrid or electric cars, installing solar panels, vegetarianism, eating locally grown food, and so on. Such “green consumption” is important, of course, yet individual transformation by itself will never be enough.