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The World Is Burning: Climate Change and Voluntary Simplicity

The Buddha taught: “The world is always burning, burning with the fires of greed, anger and foolishness; one should flee from such dangers as soon as possible.” The fires of greed, anger and foolishness refer to the three poisons said by Shakyamuni to lie at the root of samsara. He taught that one should “flee from such dangers.” Although this passage might be used to support a world-denying attitude toward life, it is important to note that what the Buddha taught was that it was the kleshas, the unskillful, unwise forms, feelings, mental formations, perceptions and consciousness that burned, and not the world itself. The Hopi people referred to this state of imbalance as Koyaanisqatsi. We are not the first people to experience this. The difference today is that without our commitment to wise intervention, we could be the last. The Buddha emphasized the need for introspection and the development of mindfulness first of all to take action in the outside world.

The 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change was an exceptional step by the international community, dedicating their intent to prevent global temperatures from rising a further 1.5 degrees. The signatories returned to their respective countries to find the wherewithal to “Change Climate Change.” What is missing from all the deliberations and press releases was a candid recognition of the “Cascade Effect” – a notion well known in biology. Tipping points in sea level rise and temperature connect to tipping points in air pollution, which connect to tipping points in polar ice melt and trigger further tipping points in deforestation, desertification and so on in a cascade that cannot be stopped. The reality is not the reversal or change of Climate Change, the question and strategy is about learning how to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change.

The obstacles preventing the general public taking wise action with regard to Climate Change are a mixture of fear, despair, sheer laziness, disempowerment and a sense of hopelessness. These apply to all forms of a burning world – war, poverty, resource inequality, ideological extremism, hatred and bigotry. “What on earth can I do to make a difference?” is a phrase muttered all over the world in countless languages. Followed by “So why should I do anything?” There is certainly global awareness, but also fear about our future place on Planet Earth. This is understandable. The overwhelming terror of Gaia crashing down on us is unbearable, as there is evidence that we may be a primary cause.

I wrote in 2008 in Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves that a critical mass of 2% will be satisfactory as a tipping point, the catalyst to get things moving in the right direction. But I underestimated the impact of the carbon fuel cabal, a complex web of powerful corporate and government interests. Not just in the energy industries of oil and gas, this carbon economy extends into the manufacturing and servicing sectors, supported in an insulated ecosystem by financial institutions that control the marketing and advertising sectors. This collective power, when extended into the media, has attempted to make science and ecology into public enemy number one. It is supported in the United States by strong and well-funded political action committees with immense resources. This powerful, intermeshed cabal can easily circumvent the Climate Change accords agreed to by the international community.  They have also tried to influence other public policy such as rights of women and children, clean air and water, the efficacy of education and even the wars that show no sign of abatement. People everywhere are aware – but feel helpless in the face of this power. So what are we to do?

In terms of action, we have data-based evidence (and the voice of the Buddha telling us) that we must cut back, simplify, make-do with less and implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. Reduce meat consumption, walk or cycle more, drive less, create an organic garden, plant a tree – just do it! Reduce our ecological footprint by conserving energy with one eco-friendly act every day, then global consciousness as a collective human phenomenon will change. Different questions will be asked and different solutions found, as a new mind-set of shared consciousness emerges to make the necessary decisions for change. The challenge is to be in society, but as a still island of mindfulness.

Of course we must think globally and be aware of the bigger picture and step beyond the smaller pictures of ourselves created from fear and disempowerment. Yet we can also act locally with great vigor in our families and communities. Our intentions then spread as ripples from a pebble dropped in still water. We cannot truly hold officials, politicians and corporate culture to account, until we have mindfully begun the small things that we can do. At the same time we can alert the political and corporate decision makers that we do mean business as voters and consumers deeply concerned about the planet and our location on it. This is very important.  Our leaders are a manifestation of our collective will, when the collective will changes, our leaders will surely act differently.

Building Epicenters at Pine Gate as a Revolutionary Act

Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in Ottawa, Canada encourages Voluntary Simplicity and Community Ethics as a way of life and creates epicenters to bring this about. Starting with the Earth – our organic garden produces an abundance of vegetables, apples and flowers that are shared with neighbors and sangha members. It is a solace for me to spend time with the Earth, observing bumblebees and butterflies while gardening with assistance from neighborhood children. They once went into hilarious laughter when they saw that the plant I had carefully nurtured turned out to be a giant weed and not a tomato plant! We had great fun returning it to the compost bin. At the back of the garden is a beautiful fountain that murmurs amidst the flowers that are gathered and sent to the elderly folk living on our crescent. A simple underground economy arises from the sharing. A solar panel fuels the hot water system. Everything else is as eco-friendly as we can make it for our fifty year old bungalow with a meditation hall in the basement. This eco-effort became an example for other friends as they did the math on how much cash we were saving.

I have always thought of the present millennium as the century of the daughters. Not so much as a gender separate thing, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind. This connection with the feminine was naturally carried into my peace activism. I have been musing about this, reflecting on the annual Ottawa Friends for Peace Day, which is put on by Pine Gate. I realized fifteen years ago, when I founded Friends for Peace as the engaged arm of Pine Gate that I was making a conscious choice to focus my energy and work on the local, my home city of Ottawa.  Pine Gate’s focus was on mindfulness in schools, city environment, youth at risk and above all else – on the empowerment of women. I am astonished by the results, for at the local level there was continuity with great women who helped make things happen.  There is now a two week Peace Festival in Ottawa that precedes the Friends for Peace Day.  It has all grown in ever increasing concentric circles. The foundation of mindfulness and the empowerment of women through the fifty organizations we partner with have taken root in our northern city. All use some form of the Friends for Peace mandate – peace, planetary care and social justice – voluntary simplicity and community ethics at work.

The drive behind Pine Gate Mindfulness Community is to foster a strong cadre of people in Ottawa who make a difference for the betterment of society. Women are in the forefront of this endeavor. They are the heart that holds the living waters and that heart is the dynamic epicenter of the mind/will/emotions that lead to action. That is how we get things done differently in our northern city with an evolving Manifesto to create a different course of action and living. 

Dr. Ian Prattis is Professor Emeritus at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He is an award winning author of fourteen books. Recent awards include Gold for fiction at the 2015 Florida Book Festival (Redemption), 2015 Quill Award from Focus on Women Magazine (Trailing Sky Six Feathers) and Silver for Conservation from the 2014 Living Now Literary Awards (Failsafe: Saving the Earth From Ourselves). His poetry, memoirs, fiction, articles, blogs and podcasts appear in a wide range of venues.

 

Ian at Rachel's Point

Vietnam War Memorial

On a recent visit to Washington DC I visited the Vietnam War Memorial. The massive black granite slabs rising out of the earth with the names of fallen soldiers seared through me and I found myself in tears. The poem below wrote itself.

Vietnam War Memorial                                                                                Ian Prattis 

 

Gaunt with grief:

Motionless:

Stilled, Silenced:

Cold December day:

Grey and bleak.

 

I could not move:

Stunned:

Frozen in Time:

Unbelieving:

Damn it all!

Damn!

It!

All!

 

It was not my war

don’t you know?

They were not my people

don’t you see?

Do I protest too much?

 

Name engraved black marble slabs

rising from the earth

sear into my soul.

Burning deep to feel the pain,

of so many deaths, such futility.

Ball of fire flames my chest,

chills the marrow of my bones.

 

Subterranean edifice                                                                                                                                         hurts me awake,

transforms deep memories

for my own kind.

Fellow Humans.

 

Americans,

Vietnamese,

All peoples

caught in the sinister web

of dark and deadly shadows

that lurk in all of us:

Hate, Greed and Power.

 

I circle the profanity of war,

nerve center of our world.

Grimly aware thought:

Our world must be transformed:

Our world must be changed:

 

And we must do it.

Transforming ourselves

then others in swift urgency.

Else the memoirs

of our civilization

are no more than

Monuments To The Dead.

 

Our Dead:

Yours

And

Mine.

Buddha's Geet

Buddha Mind

Notes on Buddha Mind                                                                         

Reflections on Mentoring and Mindfulness Trainings.

2,600 years ago – 5 Wonderful Precepts                   1966 14 Mindfulness Trainings

The trainings were created under radically different circumstances – but have the same underlying thread of implementing the Bodhisattva Way.

  • Where did the Five Precepts come from? They had to come from somewhere.  There are three major causes and conditions that permitted their emergence.  The first is the awakened mind of the Buddha; the second is the great skill of the Buddha as a teacher; the third is Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful rewording of the Five Wonderful Precepts of the Buddha.  In a language that would appeal to the consciousness of the 21st century, the Buddha’s Precepts were renewed as the Five Mindfulness Trainings, in tune with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments.  So when we study and penetrate deeply into these mindfulness trainings we touch all three conditions, in particular the awakened mind of the Buddha.  At the same time we also touch our potential to be similarly awakened.
  • The 5 MT and the 14 MT are for the lay community – created at different times by different sages (Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh), also under drastically different conditions.

2,600 yrs ago Gautama Shakyamuni awakened under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya in India.

Before that he practiced many deflections and trained in limited spiritual paths.

  • Ascetic practice almost killed him when he tried to subdue his mind and his body.
  • Buffalo herder Sujata saved his life – fed him – he focused on the Middle Way so his mind could settle. He sought out the bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya and sat in an imperturbable manner at the foot of the tree.

Two considerations:

  • The man Gautama Shakyamuni
  • The Buddha Mind – a universal, mystical level of consciousness. Christian mystics talk about this as “Christos.”

At Bodh Gaya we have #1 stepping into #2 and never being the same again. Gautama became the Buddha on his awakening.

Buddha’s Creation of the 5 Precepts for the Lay Community – Avatamsaka Sutra

– Avatamsaka Sutra: Establishes how to enter the Buddha’s world and mind, the reality witnessed by enlightened beings whose vision and mind is no longer clouded by egocentric addictions. What can be communicated from the Buddha Mind to our mind is the vision the Buddha first obtained under the Bodhi tree. The Avatamaska Sutra – known as the Flower Ornament Scripture – was translated from Chinese texts by Thomas Cleary in 1993. It has a surreal, mystical aspect. The Chinese scribes describe how it was delivered in full by the Buddha soon after his awakening – to all the heavens and galaxies.

The Avatamsaka Sutra requires more than an intellectual understanding. It needs a visceral response to grasp it. It is a universal phenomenon – a Buddha-verse of enlightened beings no less, bringing awakening and empowerment in their wake. It comprises thirty nine books, each one a sutra in itself – everything in Buddhism is derived from this. Tucked away in it are the 5 Precepts for Lay People.

The template of Avatamsaka lays out the Bodhisattva path in all its intricacies. A visionary, mystical text – millions of enlightened beings from all the galaxies listen to the Buddha’s revelations, or so the Chinese scribes tell us! We join them with our mentoring program for the 14 Mindfulness Trainings at Pine Gate. The 1966 Mindfulness Trainings lay out a framework for the Bodhisattva thread to be re-woven. We will encounter a multi-dimensional reality that transcends time/space/past/future.

A prior stage of emphasis on this Bodhisattva paradigm was supplied by Shantideva in 8th century India at Nalanda University. This is an example of Buddha Mind at work – Shantideva  provides an example of multi-dimensional reality, as did Milarepa in Tibet during the 11th century.

  • “Eats, Sleeps and Shits” was the observation of Shantideva’s attributes, described by his teachers and fellow students. He was set up by the students to give the Graduating Speech so that he would likely be disgraced. Shantideva, however, delivered his classic poem, “The Way of the Bodhisattva” and took the entire audience into a trance – then disappeared from the throne built for him. He was never seen again. He had devoured all the sutras and books in the great library at Nalanda and stepped into Buddha Mind. Distinct parallels with the Avatamsaka Sutra in terms of mystical reach.
  • Pema Chodron – “No Time To Lose” – titles her foreword “People Like Us Can Make a Difference” in her book about Shantideva. She brings awakening down to the everyday level Shantideva prescribed – changing our minds and living in a particular kind of way by following the Way of the Bodhisattva.
  • Shantideva’s greatest gift: “Verse 14 – Great Sins are utterly consumed by Bodhichitta” – damaging patterns/habits burned up by refraining from causing harm. We also refrain from firing the 2nd arrow of fear and anger into our consciousness.
  • Bodhichitta – Awakening of the Heart and Mind
  1. Boddhisattva – an Awakened Being, who chooses to stay in the mess and turmoil and takes steps to transform it.

Same energy experienced when we do walking meditation at Pine Gate and connect to the Earth Mother through our feet while walking – bodhichitta rises up when we make an authentic connection with the Earth Mother.

Relative Level – Yearning to transform ourselves with bodhichitta and then transform others

Absolute Level – Buddha Mind

  • Shantideva shows us how to work with emotional reactivity, develop bodhichitta so it becomes a way of life. His “Way of the Bodhisattva” is a guidebook for compassionate action. Think Bigger. Unwavering encouragement to deal with suffering, fear, habits, collapse, depression, anxiety and so on.

2016 MENTORING PROGRAM AT PINE GATE – 14 Mindfulness Trainings

  • It is vital that you make each of the 14 Trainings your own.
  • I should emphasize that there is no right way of doing the reflecting and rethinking of the MT’s. It is all in the sharing with dharma friends – you can rewrite, or paint or make up a poem, dance or song from your insights, prepare a skit, create a photo essay etc. Identify and document the personal process you took in the investigation of each one of the Trainings. This is very important as the transformation vehicle is YOU!  How you express your own experience of each MT is not at all restricted to the written form.  Feel free to express yourselves as you wish to. It is the sharing process that provides the real “fire” of understanding, which brings me to Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966.

Thich Nhat Hanh – LOTUS IN A SEA OF FIRE 1966 – Continues “The Way of the Bodhisattva.”

In the middle of the Vietnam War Thich Nhat Hanh creates the Tiep Hien (Order of Interbeing), based on the 14 Mindfulness Trainings – 6 members were ordained. He took an incredible revolutionary step – taking Buddhism out of the monastery and into society. The emphasis was on Engaged Buddhism, though Buddhism was always engaged from the get-go! Buddhist monastics conveniently forgot the significance of the “Engaged” part of the Buddha’s dharma talk to the five ascetics about The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (plus Engaged Buddhism!) They by and large busied themselves in creating a monastic semi-feudal structure that fed off the hinterland of monasteries.

  • In 1966 Thich Nhat Hanh touched the Buddha Mind to lay down a radically different template – 50 years ago. Since that time there are two major crises not anticipated:
  1. Internet explosion – distraction technologies leading to blatant addiction with cellphones.
  2. Climate Change – denial, lack of understanding, ignoring science – in particular The Cascade Effect that compromises a safe niche for humanity on Planet Earth.

The present task of the mentoring process is to update, refine and relocate the 14 MT within current circumstances. It is not easy to bring about change in a spiritual bureaucratic organization. It took ten years to get “mitigate” considered rather than “reversal” of Climate Change into the trainings. Evidence from climate change scientists, seismologists, particularly the Cascade Theory from James Lovelock, brought a few concessions. The best we can actually do is to mitigate the impact of Climate Change and learn how to adapt. The 2015 Paris Accords on Climate Change also overlooked the notion of “mitigate.” I unilaterally changed the wording in the trainings at Pine Gate and it quickly caught on with many communities. In dealing with the bureaucracy I relied heavily upon the Hopi Prophecy of 2000: “Do not take anything personally!”

REQUIREMENTS FOR INVESTIGATION

  1. Intelligence
  2. Personal Experience and Suffering
  3. Focus and Investigation
  4. Silence
  5. Deepening of Practice
  6. Allow Buddha Mind to enter – flash of insight, the pen writes something you did not intend, be open
  7. End result (hopefully) – being totally authentic. Just you at your best!!
12042852_1715880898640947_3047739141824356391_n

Engaged Practice

My understanding of the Order of Interbeing charter and the transmission ceremonies is that they presented me with the heart of the Buddha and the heart of Thay. In my experience of the transmission ceremonies with Thay – the 14 Mindfulness Trainings and the Dharma Lamp – I certainly felt Thay’s love and encouragement but also felt his steel. For me, this was never an invitation. My direct experience was that I was authorized by Thay to teach the dharma, build sangha and skilfully engage with the wider society and environment. In engaging with creativity, experimentation and skilfulness, I felt that

I was actualizing the spirit and the letter of the OI charter. Thay gave me a driver’s license and the keys to the car and I drove it as far and as fast as I could.  There was plenty of creativity and experimentation though I was initially lacking in skilfulness. In my sense of urgency I kept the gas pedal to the floor and went flat out at high speed – this was not wise.  I quickly learned that action followed consciousness, not the other way round and so I eased up on the gas pedal!

My grounding was in Pine Gate Mindfulness Community, founded by Carolyn and I in 1997 after my return from teaching meditation in India.  Sangha life was a subtle ebb and flow through a series of concentric circles.  At the core was the practice of sangha leaders (Carolyn and I), the next circle was senior OI members and aspirants, then a circle of sangha members committed to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, then a circle of sangha members young and old, and then extending to a vast circle beyond the boundaries of Pine Gate to the wider community.  The ebb and flow between concentric circles breathed us in and out and the energy generated became the basis of action.  A good alternative to keeping the pedal to the floor!

An unusual set of circumstances led to a particular form of engaged action. This is not a blueprint or a formula – just what arose from the depth of sangha practice in the midst of global crisis – the international war against terrorism and Global Warming.  The beginnings of Friends for Peace began with the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003.  Friends from across the city of Ottawa worked together together and organized candlelit vigils all across the city prior to the outbreak of war.  Over 3,000 people responded to this hastily put together initiative.  We also organized a Peace Song Circle on Parliament Hill, the seat of Canadian government, to send the strong message that mindful living was preferable to the warlike alternative.  Pine Gate members provided the nucleus for this nascent movement.

The organization of this event was left in their care as I left for two months in India just before the event took place.  It was in highly competent hands. On a cold, wet March day in 2003 a sea of multi–colored umbrellas adorned the grounds of Parliament Hill.   Choirs from all over the National Capital Region were there to give their hearts for peace. Earlier that morning I had received news of the shock and awe bombing campaign of Baghdad – and was filled with anger and grief.  This was not the appropriate mind state to lead this event, so I took refuge in the sangha. Carolyn took care of all the final arrangements, while I did walking meditation in Pine Gate Meditation Hall to calm and look deeply into the causes of my anger and to let it go.  Then I could be peace.

The incessant rain symbolized the tears of Iraqi children, your tears, my tears. Young, old, multi faith and diverse – the faces in the rain moved me deeply as people sang, danced and stood up for peace.  The NOWAR group was due on Parliament Hill after us and they had a more violent agenda.  I had talked to their leaders and requested that they join us on the Hill but without noisemakers and slogans.  They came with anger after burning effigies of George Bush and Tony Blair outside the US embassy. We felt the anger of their demonstration as they joined us, then it suddenly calmed and dissipated as they sang and danced with us in the downpour. The Sufi Universal Dances of Peace group organized 5,000 people to do a dance, chanting “May Peace be With You and With You be Peace” in English, French, Hebrew and Arabic.  When the rain came down like a monsoon – nobody ran for cover.  We danced and sang for peace together. The NOWAR group meditated with us in silence at the end.

From the response to these events Friends for Peace was created and registered as a non profit organization with a mandate for peace, planetary care and social justice. It has a charter and a mandate.  All parts of the mandate are active with respect to outreach, support and action. The first thing put into motion was an annual Friends for Peace Day every Fall, which was a celebration of all that we stood for.  It had the feeling of a country fair with lunch kitchen, activist tables, Silent Auction, great entertainment and Peace Awards to prominent citizens who delivered their often very edgy Visions for planetary care, social justice and peace.  Peace Grants were also awarded to organizations making a real difference. This day has now grown into the final bookend of a two week Peace Festival in our city of Ottawa. The growth and enthusiasm is there because there are tangible results from each area of the mandate.  There is a new six storey apartment building for low income families downtown that we supported, there is a pristine watershed – the Dumoine River – that we helped to get protection for, there are direct results from our support of aboriginal rights in the apology from the Government of Canada to First Nations, there is the annual Peace Camp Canada bringing Palestinian and Israeli teens to Ottawa for a peace camp.  And much more that is unfolding – the promotion of Orkidstra and the Dandelions Dance Theatre,  Tibetan and Syrian resettlement in Ottawa and many other causes.

The consequences of engaged practice for Pine Gate are confidence, clarity and skilfulness. Friends for Peace now comprises a loose coalition of over 45 groups throughout the city – activist, environmental, peace, business, faith, cultural, schools, government – and they are a force to be reckoned with in a good way.  The former Mayor of Ottawa has described Friends for Peace as the face of the city he wants to see in the future.  That future is now! The present Mayor, Jim Watson, had this to say: “Friends for Peace is an outstanding organization that does very important work, promoting, strengthening and maintaining peace, planetary care and social justice within our communities and the environment.”

The confidence from doing all this has led to the sanghabody jumping into the river of the Buddhadharma and kindly carrying me along with them. This is all due to deep internal practice and intelligent engaged practice. The home of Pine Gate had a major eco-retrofit – solar panel to heat the hot water, low flush toilets, energy efficient furnace and wood burning fireplace, energy windows and doors, solar blinds on south facing windows, insulation, rain barrels and so on.  The neighbours and sangha are watching very closely and enquire about cost, rebates and results – and several have followed suit.  Our money is where our mouth is, as this is a planetary care project right at the heart of Pine Gate, which is also the heart of Friends for Peace. And on it goes all the way back to the hearts of Thay and the Buddha.

I have also planted an apple tree on the front lawn, so that as the fruit ripens passersby and neighbours with their children may just pick them and eat them. There are many ripe fruits on the sangha tree, especially young people. They are storming the barricades, transcending boundaries and breaking down barriers. I ask only one thing, that they hold out their hand and wait for me – because I am going with them.

 

Galillee 2

New Planet, New World

The final bookend of a trilogy is now ready for publishers’ eyes. Sci Fi novel that takes place in the near future. It is the final bookend of a trilogy – “Chronicles of Awakening.” Redemption is the first book in this trilogy that has Trailing Sky Six Feathers as the second book. The final tome of this trilogy takes characters from the prior two books, placing them in the future on a new planet. I place in the mouth of Dr. Tom Hagen a blistering rant to the UN in 2080 that I would certainly like to give from the future. It is about the willful ignorance displayed by corporate and government cabals invested in the carbon/oil complex, while eco-militias murder in the streets and social disorder is a norm. Here is an extract from the opening chapter, where Catriona and Rising Moon do their best to kill one another.

She looked around for combustible material to build a fire, while her mind deeply grieved the loss of her parents. There was an abundance of dry weathered wood on the sandy beach. Catriona quickly gathered a clumsy pile and ignited it with her small hand laser. Then she consumed the emergency landing rations – protein, liquid and sedative. She followed all the necessary protocols as the wood caught fire. Then the shock hit her. She was shaking uncontrollably, frightened and at a total loss. Catriona sat weeping next to the bonfire. Tears splashed on her delicate hands, leaving wet blotches on her grey space tunic. Her sobs were accompanied by the gentle lapping of the lake, as it washed ashore driven by wind.

She felt a presence close by and turned around. A young woman wearing an embroidered buckskin dress and calf length laced moccasins was standing there with her bow pulled back, an arrow pointed right at the middle of her chest. She gasped at the stern yet beautiful face, noticing a cut on the woman’s forehead and a long black braid of hair hanging loosely at the front. She took everything in about this fierce apparition, who clearly meant her harm. She watched the woman carefully approach closer, one silent foot after the other, the arrow unwavering from its destination. The woman had a long knife in a sheath at her embroidered belt. Her deep dark eyes pierced right into Catriona. She had not been on the spaceship.

Catriona summoned all her courage, abandoning her shock and grief. Her voice quivered, “Who are you? Where did you come from? How are you here?” Her cry echoed through the deadly silence.

In halting English the strange woman replied tersely, “Why you need to know?”

There was a fierce edge to her words. The stranger’s eyes glared steadily at the young red haired, blue eyed woman dressed in a body tunic from neck to feet. She noticed the tear lined face and the strange craft pulled up on the shore. Catriona bravely stood her ground though her hands were shaking. She stepped forward and in an instant the intruder lowered her bow and swiftly threw a lariat so the noose settled around Catriona’s neck. With a sharp jerk Catriona went face first into the sand. Her assailant quickly bound her hands behind her back with a leather strap from her belt. She then jerked Catriona upright and they were face to face.

Catriona’s deep blue eyes blazed with anger. She was suddenly alert and yelled into the woman’s face, “I am not your enemy. We may be the only two people on this planet and you choose stupidity.”

Then Catriona head-butted the dark eyed woman on the bridge of her nose, just as she had learned in martial arts training aboard the spaceship. As the woman stumbled back, Catriona with her hands still tied behind her back, pivoted on her left foot and landed a perfect round house kick to the side of her assailant’s head with her right foot, followed by a swift side kick into her ribs.

Catriona’s onslaught briefly caught the woman by surprise yet once again she faced an arrow aimed right at her heart. Catriona saw the woman pull the bowstring back and stared into dark angry eyes. Time stood still, then the woman’s eyes suddenly changed and her mouth fell open. She had heard her mother’s voice speaking inside her mind to put the bow down. She felt the weight of her mother’s hand lower the bow. The two young women were both breathing heavily. The fire leaped in flames as it caught the adjacent logs. There was only a ripple of air across the lake. Both women were indifferent to the morning’s layered colors across the lake and into the sky.

In the groove

Violent Consumption and Dharma Disconnect

I begin with a story. Shortly before the 2016 Christmas season my grand-nephew celebrated his ninth birthday. He was asked how he felt about being nine. Jacob replied that he felt awful and would prefer to stay five years old. When asked why, he replied that if he could stay five forever then the Earth would not explode. I pondered for a moment on what I could say to little Jacob. I could not say that everything will be OK, that my generation will fix things, as he was much too intelligent for such a placebo. So I spoke to him about the steps taken by the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in Ottawa. We simplify, make do with less, share and adapt. The intent is to create environmental leaders and that includes him. “Why not become a leader for your generation?” I asked him. He thought about that intensely. Then I told him about a talk I gave recently about mindless consumption and consumerist madness. His sharp mind held on to every word.

I pointed out that festive occasions like Christmas provide opportunities for the best and the worst within us to come out and play. Compassion and kindness are quickly overshadowed by greed, selfishness and consumer madness. We need to begin a re-assessment, as it is time to move on from being so self-absorbed and distracted. Let us locate ourselves in something bigger – a humanitarian cause, respecting the earth, making our thinking better, being kinder and more generous. How about examining our habit energies around gift giving and learn to give gifts that make a difference?  I pointed out to Jacob the small steps I have taken. I no longer buy Christmas gifts, instead present gift certificates in the name of family, grand-children and young neighborhood friends. These gift certificates provide: education for a girl in Afghanistan, grants for female led families, rebuild forests in Haiti, literacy packages and mosquito nets where needed, support for Habitat for Humanity building houses for the destitute and so on. Such gifts are bigger than our self-absorbed egos and create happiness for less fortunate people. I related to Jacob that my grandchildren proudly take their Christmas certificates to school for Show-and-Tell periods. They play it forward with their class mates and teachers. One boy on the crescent where I live had received such gifts from me for several years. For his most recent birthday he asked all his friends not to give him presents, but to bring a donation for the Ottawa Humane Society that looks after hurt animals. All of his friends brought donations, a splendid sum of one hundred and eighty dollars. They all went together to the Humane Society and happily handed their bag of cash to the surprised staff there.

The greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of global crises is Freedom and Caring. It involves stepping onto the Bodhisattva path – or something like it. (Jacob knows that I am a Zen teacher!) I explained to him what a Bodhisattva was and stated that it is time for the Bodhisattva-within-us to enter the 21st century as an example for action. This enables us to deeply transform ourselves and our civilization. We nurture this paradigm by cultivating two aspects that lie dormant within us. The first aspect is Interbeing, knowing that we interconnect with everything – the earth, oceans, forests and mountains, all species and most of all – with all people. The second aspect is Non-Discrimination, which carries the energy of compassion and dilutes selfishness. Taken together – these buried aspects, once they manifest from within us, open pathways and bridges to build a better world.

Jacob asked “How?” I said, “We cultivate energies of transformation – Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. Always, at every opportunity we bring Interbeing and Non-Discrimination to the forefront of our daily lives. We shape the future of the 21st century because we begin to live differently. We are not intimidated by present crises. We are certainly shocked and hurt by such circumstances but are much stronger than we think.” I emphasized that “Enter the Bodhisattva” is our guiding paradigm and alluded to Bruce Lee’s classic Enter the Dragon, which was one of Jacob’s favorite old time movies. I told him that it brings the fierceness of the warrior to the fore and the determination of a saint to overcome tragedy and set a new course. It takes practice, smartness and creative vision. I assured Jacob that we are equal to the task and did not hold back anything from him. He is an unusually bright boy and asked questions and demanded clarification. Yet I knew he had grasped what I had said. He came up to me as I was leaving and whispered in my ear that my chat with him was his best birthday present ever.

Violent Consumption

The focus of this essay is on Violent Consumption and how it dominates our planet, mind and body. I also examine the relevance of dharma and sangha to modern realities, as I clearly see a Dharma Disconnect from modern crises. There is drastic need for updating and refreshing both dharma and sangha.

Jacob’s greatest fear was about the planet’s ecological crises, from mining disasters in Brazil and China, Amazon deforestation making way for cattle ranches all the way to the Gulf Oil Spill, which has the specs to suit all disasters. BP deliberately underestimated the amount of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from its destroyed Deepwater Horizon oilrig. Their spin did not fool the stock market, as the share values of this corporate giant plummeted down. Yet BP ads continued to tout their environmental sensitivity. The ads could not be taken seriously. But do people actually think or just get caught in a whirlwind of spin from business, government and other stakeholders in environmental disasters like this? Not only are ocean ecosystems and wetlands at risk, vital economic sectors are doomed. Fishing, tourism and real estate are at risk in all Gulf states. The tons of toxic oil dispersants used to break up the surface oil slick settled on the ocean floor. It contaminated the entire oceanic ecosystem. Not only are fish, marine mammals and other wildlife being killed, the industries and communities that their harvest support are also being eliminated.

The US administration, CNN, FOX and other media had their own spin doctors to amplify the volume, so spin became a norm.  How do we get off this mad carousel of lies? We must stop, locate ourselves in the present moment and make different choices by examining our minds, consumption patterns and personal culpability in the creation of such a huge disaster. Guidelines are necessary and can be found in the Mindfulness Trainings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – particularly the Fifth Training about mindful consumption.

It takes us back to what we do with our minds. I apply this to walking meditation, taught to students and friends who come to Pine Gate Mindfulness Community, where I have the privilege of being the resident Zen teacher. When we concentrate on our breath and focus on slow walking, we have a brilliant piece of engineering to quiet the mind and body and be present.  When we add a third concentration – aware of how our feet touch the earth – we have a meditative practice for our times.  We focus our mind on the mechanism of each foot touching the earth – heel, then ball of foot, then toe.  We slow down even further and with our body – not our intellect or ego – and make a contract with Mother Earth to walk more lightly and leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use, and commit to decreasing the size of our ecological footprint, all from walking with astute awareness. Our conscious breath co-ordinates our steps as we notice how our feet touch the earth. The energy of wellbeing that arises from this practice is stronger than our habit energies and mental afflictions. And so the latter falls away.  Insight and clarity then guide us in the direction of what to do. Nobody requires a lecture from me. We do know how to reduce our ecological footprint. We also know that taking care of the earth and the oceans takes care of ourselves. We must begin it now for the future, which is our tomorrow shaped by the actions we take at this moment.

I had told Jacob that if rampant consumption remains our deepest desire we will certainly have a degraded planet that will blow up.  Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas – are targeted by the captains of industry for optimal retail returns, and mindless consumerism is fuelled to the max. At Christmas we are far removed from remembering the significance of this spiritual celebration. The mantra of western civilization – endless economic growth – provides a promise of expectations being met without any awareness of consequences for either our own health or the health of the planet.  Our current non-sustainable energy and economic systems are subsystems of a global ecology that is disintegrating before our very eyes.  If we do not simplify, make do with less and change then the vicious downward spiral of environmental degradation would definitely occur.

I added that if we are driven to search for, strive and even fight to obtain that “something” we crave, we will suffer all our lives. We are never happy with what we get or achieve, as there is always that “want” for more.  We need the big insight that our habits of consumption are the obstacle to true happiness. We must be prepared to release the habits rather than be held captive by them.  We can stop this process by meditating, being present and looking deeply into the driving force of our deep desires.  Instead of greed and fame we foster the desire to awaken at the highest level – the desire to bring loving kindness to everything we connect with.

There is also violence to our bodies through the food we eat, driven by internal desires that have disastrous consequences, particularly for our connection to all living beings. The vast consumption of meat and alcohol constitutes a grossly excessive ecological footprint.  Industrial animal agriculture, which is the norm in North America, is not really farming. Animals are treated solely as economic commodities and subjected to horrible cruelty.  The stress, despair and anger generated in the animals are the energies we consume when they end up on our plate.  We are eating their suffering and pain, taking it into every cell of our bodies and consciousness.  The ecological footprint created by our dietary preferences is huge, costly and damaging.  Furthermore it is not good for our health – physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. Although this is horrific – it is not the card I want to deal from the deck.  There is a much bigger card.

FAO produced a scathing report in November 2006 titled Livestock’s Long Shadow. Relentless statistics demonstrate how industrial animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gases than the entire sum of emissions from cars and trucks worldwide. Vegetarianism is no longer just a healthy lifestyle choice. It is a direct and rapid means to restrain the livestock industry from damaging the planet beyond the point of no return. We can actually save the planet by not eating animal products. It is unrealistic to expect folk to go vegetarian in an instant. Yet scrupulous shoppers could do their best to buy free range meat and be vegetarian one week per month and move gradually to eating organic foods and less meat products. This change in basic consumption does far more than taking our car off the road. The present mind-set that drives our consumption requires an essential planetary saving change for we are eating our mother. Also our children, as we are depriving future generations of their chance to live. Our dietary preferences have to be called by their true name – cannibalism. The FAO report concludes that it is essential to reduce meat industry products by 50%. That was in 2006. Consumers can still make this happen by changing their minds about what and how they eat.

With awareness we can change our minds and patterns of food consumption. We re-educate and retrain ourselves mentally, as well as physically, and choose to support our body, consciousness and planet by shifting deeply ingrained food habits.  We step more lightly on the planet when we consume with mindfulness and radically decrease those activities that pollute. Furthermore, the chronic degenerative diseases common in western civilization find their origins in the toxic food we eat.  Yet if we know how to eat mindfully, then we also know how to take care of ourselves, of others, and the environment. Before eating, simply look at what is there on the table, where it has come from, how it has been prepared, and whether it will truly nourish you, and at the same time protect the environment and future generations from harm. It means reducing as much as possible the violence, destruction and suffering brought to living creatures and to the planet. If we bring violence into our own biological system and consciousness, then we inevitably bring violence to the other systems – political, economic, planet – we engage with through our thoughts, speech and actions.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings and Dharma Disconnect

Where did the Mindfulness Trainings come from? I identify three major conditions that enabled their emergence. The first is the awakened mind of the Buddha; the second is the great skill of the Buddha as a teacher; the third is Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful rewording of the Five Wonderful Precepts of the Buddha. In a language that would appeal to the consciousness of the 21st century, the Buddha’s mindfulness trainings were renewed to be in tune with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments. When we study and penetrate deeply into the mindfulness trainings we touch all three conditions, in particular the awakened mind of the Buddha. At the same time we also touch our potential to be similarly awakened. Thich Nhat Hanh’s revisions were an important step not taken by other traditions.

There is an energy in the trainings that comes directly from the awakened mind of the Buddha, which is continued through us. As a sangha collectively and diligently practices the Five Mindfulness Trainings, an extraordinary energy emerges that uplifts everyone who is suffering. When I think about taking refuge in the trainings I smile. My home sangha, the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community founded in 1997, has matured so that it operates very much as an organism. There are many leaders in the sangha choosing to walk the Bodhisattva path and be of support to everyone else. We take one another’s hand and walk together through the early part of the twenty first century. Great confidence and clarity emerge from our engaged practice in the city of Ottawa for peace, environment and schools. The experience of the fruits of practice transforms our wider community. We become more skillful and aware that we are infusing mindfulness throughout our city.

Previously I briefly documented the toxic overload on our planet, and in our minds and bodies. It is critical that necessary re-education also find a place in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. They are a guidance system to encourage us to no longer participate in a non-sustainable economic system driven by greed and distraction. This global ethic is our protector as it helps us to stop, look deeply and throw away our harmful patterns of behavior. Crises such as Climate Change prompt us to refresh and refine the trainings but there were some awkward disconnects in their creation. The Buddha was clear about impermanence and new challenges. He created the Five Mindfulness Trainings for the lay community and told Ananda that the minor precepts should be revised according to the culture and the time. But Ananda and the Buddhist elders were confused about which precepts were the minor ones and misunderstood what the Buddha was talking about. And so nothing changed for 2,600 years.

There was no preparation for modern realities, as monastic precepts had not changed and were not equipped to handle issues ranging from internet, terrorism, a world full of refugees, to Climate Change. The seeds of disconnect are not just with the trainings but with dharma in general, but we see that Thich Nhat Hanh was able to overcome this awkward divide. The disconnect reveals itself in terminology. Minor precepts refer to the Five Mindfulness Trainings for lay people while major precepts define monastic ethics. This language creates a divide between lay and monastic with the latter considered as superior, which is certainly not the case. In the modern era it is the lay dharma teachers who are the true bodhisattvas. They are in society, working in the trenches of everyday life, creating transformation in alliance with many other groups of lay people. Whereas the monastic community is secluded, cut off from everyday reality and are not in a position to create transformation in the wider society.

This disconnect is a marker of modern Buddhism in the west and was noted by David Loy in his excellent article in Buddhadharma (Winter 2015.)  Loy addresses the current ecological crisis and questions the deep rooted ambivalence within Buddhism towards it. He asks “Does the ecological crisis have nothing to do with Buddhism?” I add a further enquiry, “Where are the Buddhist politicians, CEO’s, entrepreneurs in political, ecological and economic spheres?” There is a wide disconnect in Western Buddhism between playing the capitalist game, yet only being concerned with the so-called peace of the inner self. The latter is the refuge we so readily withdraw to. This can never be satisfactory. Loy points out that the issue is structural as well as personal, making the challenge that of changing the economic and political systems rather than remaining in blissful denial. He identifies the two main obstacles as:

  1. Changing the mind is where it’s at.
  2. Beliefs of Buddhist practitioners that we do not waste time trying to reform the unsatisfactory world, just concentrate on transcending it.

Both obstacles are major dharma mistakes, traps about higher spiritual reality that reflect disconnect in modern times, preventing us from engaging fully with the world. Social, political and ecological engagements are devalued as we place our backsides on the cushion, chant and avoid the reality all around us. Modern Buddhism needs a wake-up call. The basic premise of the Bodhisattva path is to walk it, not as a separate self, but as an engaged self. An authentic sense of awakening naturally extends into political, economic and ecological spheres of potential action. I agree with David Loy that the reconstruction of our mind necessarily involves the reconstruction of our world – economic, political and spiritual. I like his comment that “Bodhisattvas have a double practice – as they deconstruct and reconstruct, they also work for social and ecological change…….Such concerns are not distractions from our personal practice but deeper manifestations of it.”

Gardening in the Mind

I offer eight simple steps to refine the mind and at the same time take it into the world as engagement that does not disconnect with the Buddha’s intention. Ananda and the Buddhist elders really got it wrong about periodically updating the minor precepts. Furthermore, the terminology used by the Buddha was fine for his times but needs to be better framed for the 21st century. Yet the Buddha mind continues through time, permitting a re-creation of creed and understanding. If we are intelligent with what we do in the modern era, we can correct both.

  1. Clear time and space for spiritual practice at home and throughout your daily schedule. You – learn to be still and quiet!
  2. Create a stress reduction menu and subtract the “weeds” in the garden of your mind.
  3. Be determined to meditate daily – do the weeding.
  4. Focus on and soften your heart – cultivate the soil of your mind’s garden.
  5. Water the seeds of mindfulness at home, work or in retreat.
  6. Simplify, make do with less, de-clutter your mind and home.
  7. Taste the fruits of your spiritual practice.
  8. Engage with the world. This thread (8) runs through all of the prior steps (1-7) as you become more mindful.

Just as our mind must be transformed and re-constructed, our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms must also be re-constructed. 1 – 7 and 8 are two sides of the same practice. Tasting the fruits of practice and transforming (7) is not the ultimate step. It provides a beginning for intelligent engagement. We must also re-think the nature of sangha. This was a brilliant creation by the Buddha 2,600 years ago, but it has entered the modern era with some missing and necessary extensions. Most bodhisattvas are not to be found sitting on cushions during weekly meetings with chants, bells and dharma talks. There are many forms of sangha and I do not cling to any rigid form. In Ottawa I founded Friends for Peace Canada and am part of the National Capital Peace Council. I also work with organizations such as Orkidstra and the Dandelion Dance Company to name only a few. These groups are all sanghas in their own right, with commonly held ethics and a determination to change things for the better within the city and elsewhere. They provide the means to galvanize parents, friends and volunteers so that good kids are created and excellent citizens emerge – all this with an eye on society, economics, ecology and politics.

We all have the capacity to awaken the mind and transform it. If we do not access such capacity then we become pre-occupied with self-importance and attach more distractions to our separated self. There is a Zen saying that the goal of practice is to discover our true face. This is heart consciousness and there are many ways to this source. Finding stillness and inner silence is a necessary first step. We have to find a way to create the conditions for this to happen (1 – 7). In our modern world of fast paced lifestyles there are so many distractions that make us outwardly dependant and un-centered. We often fail to find the time or discipline to access the store of mindfulness just waiting to be cultivated. The external restlessness amplifies the internal restlessness in a feedback loop that ignites our untrained mind. We have closed the doors due to wrong perceptions, ignorance and continual suffering. Our hearts are not open and the tapestry of our consciousness is limited. We hold on tight to self-imposed dramas and suffering, slamming the door shut and keeping dysfunctional habits well fed and alive. We find it easier to close down rather than open up our hearts. Thus we remain wounded and suffer all our lives, driven by scars, anger and fears. The remedy is, however, within reach. We unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful. This is brought about by organic gardening in the mind.

Why should we do all this stuff? Here is why. When you can be open and receptive you become an epi-center of light for others. When you can just sit with pain, come face to face with what hurts, breathing in and breathing out, you feel the sting recede as you calm. Stay open by never closing your heart. If you start to close down ask yourself, “Do I really want to take a pass on happiness?” Always let go once you feel you are clinging. I have a fridge magnet – Let Go Or Be Dragged – that I see every day and take to heart with a quiet smile. It is essential to learn to be quiet, to stop clinging and find the way to be present. As the Hopi advise us – never take anything personal and look around to see who is with you. As you do all of this, transcendental love becomes your calling card and Buddha consciousness becomes your state of being. The world changes as a consequence. Such a destination is well worth your try.

 

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VIOLENCE IN THE MIND

If rampant consumption is the deepest desire then we have a degraded planet.  Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas – these special days are targeted by the captains of industry for optimal retail returns, and in the process mindless consumerism is fuelled to the max. At Christmas time we are far removed from remembering the significance of this spiritual celebration. Christmas products created by fossil fuel energy feeds consumerism and consumerism fuels Global Warming. The chain of interconnection is clear. Whether it is holidays, housing, transport, gifts and so on, our consumption requires the continuous use of fossil fuels. The mantra of western civilization – endless economic growth – provides a promise of expectations being met without any awareness of consequences for either our own health or the health of the planet.  It is becoming clearer with every passing day that our current non-sustainable energy and economic systems are actually subsystems of a global ecology that is disintegrating before our very eyes.

Yet even those few policy makers who recognize this, rush to find energy alternatives to fossil fuels without addressing the root causes of rampant consumerism – the major behavioral manifestation of western industrial civilization.  Biofuels are not the answer, as their production will destroy ecosystems rather than replenish them. New energy technology is certainly needed, but if placed within the existing paradigm of current values and consumption habits then the same vicious downward spiral of environmental degradation would occur. Until such time as the underlying causes of rampant consumerism have been understood and changed.

Consumerist addiction and craving, fostered to keep the wheels of industry turning, can take over our entire life with disastrous consequences.  It is a state of consumption wherein we cannot be happy without the object of our cravings.  We are then driven to search for, strive and even fight to obtain that “something” we crave.  This makes us suffer all our lives, as we are never happy or present with what we get or achieve, as there is always that “want” for more.  We need the insight that this kind of consumption is in fact the obstacle to true happiness, for we also have within us the capacity to “be”, to live fully in the present moment. Yet these capacities are obscured and covered up by habit energies, by acquired and inherited addictions.  We must be prepared to release these obstacles rather than feed off and be held captive by them.  We stop this process by meditating and looking deeply into the driving force of our deep desires.  Then create an opportunity to transform them. Instead of lust, greed and fame we foster the desire to awaken at the highest level – to experience joy and happiness in the here and now – the desire to bring loving kindness to everything we connect with and the desire to alleviate all suffering. Just as addictive consumption provides food for our consciousness, the desire to awaken and be present is also a food for our consciousness.

 

 

Advisors of Vesak in Ottawa 2014 - from left - Venerable Master Bon Dat -  Dharmacharyaia Ian Prattis - Bhante Sam Rath Viriyad (2)

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, Climate Change, Voluntary Simplicity

The Buddha practiced Socially Engaged Buddhism giving dharma talks wherever he went in society.  His first dharma talk emphasized the Four Noble Truths, the Middle Way and the Engaged Nature of mindfulness practice.  He formulated the Five Wonderful Precepts for lay practitioners, which evolved into the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In the 4th Century AD in India, the Brahma-Net Sutra was recorded.  It was known as the “Moral Code of the Bodhisattvas.”  It was translated by the Indian monk, Kumarajiva, into Chinese during the 4th century AD and contained three groups of precepts:

  1. Do not what is evil (Do not create suffering)
  2. Do what is good (Do wholesome actions)
  3. Do good for others (Be of benefit to all sentient beings)

Contained within the Brahma-Net Sutra are the ten major precepts of wholesomeness and forty eight minor precepts.  This was practiced in China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea as an early expression of Socially Engaged Buddhism.

In 14th century Vietnam, the Bamboo Forest Master (formerly King Than Nhan Tong, 1258–1308), went from village to village teaching the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Ten Wholesome Precepts derived from 4th century India, strongly influenced by the Brahma-Net sutra and the Buddha’s initial dharma talk. In the 20th century, Socially Engaged Buddhism was renewed in Vietnam and extended to the West. Thich Nhat Hanh ordained the first six members of the Tiep Hien Order in February 1966 during the Vietnam War.  The Fourteen Tiep Hien Precepts (The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing) contain the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the Noble Eightfold Path and are a renewal of the earlier Bodhisattva Precepts.  Thich Nhat Hanh brought them up to date to be in tune with our times, in step with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments yet resting on the foundation provided by the Buddha and 4th century expressions of socially engaged Buddhism.  “Tiep” – one meaning is to continue, as when we tie two strings together to make a longer and more durable string. “Hien” – means to realize from direct experience, to make it here and now, totally in the present. Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Lotus in a Sea of Fire and the fourteen ethical statements that he carefully sculpted, presented a revolutionary statement of Engaged Buddhism.

The World is Burning.

The Buddha taught: “The world is always burning, burning with the fires of greed, anger and foolishness; one should flee from such dangers as soon as possible.” The fires of greed, anger and foolishness refers to the three poisons said by Shakyamuni to lie at the root of samsara. He taught that one should “flee from such dangers.” Although this passage might be used to support a world-denying attitude toward life, it is important to note that what the Buddha taught was that it was the kleshas, the unskillful, unwise forms, feelings, mental formations, perceptions and consciousness that burned, and not the world itself. The Hopi people referred to this state of imbalance as Koyaanisqatsi. We are not the first people to experience this. The difference today is that without our commitment to wise intervention, we could be the last.

Question: Do the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh provide an adequate response to Climate Change?                                   

The 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change was an exceptional step by the international community, dedicating their intent to prevent global temperatures from rising a further 1.5 degrees. The signatories returned to their respective countries to find the wherewithal to “Change Climate Change.” The latter is the logo of the Canadian government. What is missing from all the deliberations and press releases was a candid recognition of the “Cascade Effect” – a notion well known in biology. Tipping points in sea level rise and temperature connect to tipping points in air pollution, which connect to tipping points in polar ice melt and trigger further tipping points in deforestation, desertification and so on in a cascade that cannot be stopped. The reality is not the reversal or change of Climate Change, the question and strategy is about learning how to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change.

The obstacles preventing the general public taking wise action with regard to Climate Change are a mixture of fear, despair, sheer laziness, disempowerment and a sense of hopelessness. These apply to all forms of a burning world – war, poverty, resource inequality, ideological extremism, hatred and bigotry. “What on earth can I do to make a difference?” is a phrase muttered all over the world in countless languages. Followed by “So why should I do anything?” There is certainly global awareness, but also fear about our future place on Planet Earth. This is understandable. The overwhelming terror of Gaia crashing down on us is unbearable, as there is evidence that we may be a primary cause.

I wrote in 2008 in Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves that a critical mass of 2% will be satisfactory as a tipping point, the catalyst to get things moving in the right direction. But I underestimated the impact of the carbon fuel cabal, a complex web of powerful corporate and government interests. Not just in the energy industries of oil and gas, this carbon economy extends into the manufacturing and servicing sectors, supported in an insulated ecosystem by financial institutions that control the marketing and advertising sectors. This collective power, when extended into the media, has attempted to make science and ecology into public enemy number one. It is supported in the United States by strong and well-funded political action committees with immense resources. This powerful, intermeshed cabal can easily circumvent the Climate Change accords agreed to by the international community.  They have also tried to influence other public policy such as rights of women and children, clean air and water, the efficacy of education and even the wars that show no sign of abatement. People everywhere are aware – but feel helpless in the face of this power. So what are we to do?

In terms of action, we have data-based evidence (and the voice of the Buddha telling us) that we must cut back, simplify, make-do with less and implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. Reduce meat consumption, walk or cycle more, drive less, create an organic garden, plant a tree – just do it! Reduce our ecological footprint by conserving energy with one eco-friendly act every day, then global consciousness as a collective human phenomenon will change. Different questions will be asked and different solutions found, as a new mind-set of shared consciousness emerges to make the necessary decisions for change.  Mass awakening, however, does not mean that everyone “wakes” up right away.

Here is my task and it draws on the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. The challenge is to be in society, but as a still island of mindfulness.  Take small steps at first, then larger ones.  The small steps are to realize that many cannot drop present lifestyles or make dramatic changes cold turkey. But we do not have to be caught by the fast pace of consumerist madness.  We just need to make essential changes in energy use, diet, language, media and outreach.  Voluntary Simplicity is a good starting place.  It means being more aware of our consumerism, making deliberate choices about how we spend time and money rather than living on the automatic pilot of busyness. Free up time – be television free for several evenings, write in a journal, meditate and sort the clutter of the mind. We support environmental causes with the excess clutter in the basement, always thinking about whether we really “need” to buy something more.  Enjoy being simple and living modestly by shifting our perceptions just a little bit.  See clearly that commercial meat farming is a larger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and resource overuse than any other cause – not to mention the suffering of factory farmed beings. This catalogue of things we can do is not a big deal really – just look deeply into what we do with time, money, clutter and our choices, and change.  Then see whether the consequences are peace and happiness for YOU. The world will follow.

Where do we start? Of course we must think globally and be aware of the bigger picture and step beyond the smaller pictures of ourselves created from fear and disempowerment. Yet we can also act locally with great vigor in our families and communities. Our intentions then spread as ripples from a pebble dropped in still water. We cannot truly hold officials, politicians and corporate culture to account, until we have mindfully begun the small things that we can do. At the same time we can alert the political and corporate decision makers that we do mean business as voters and consumers deeply concerned about the planet and our location on it. This is very important.  Our leaders are a manifestation of our collective will, when the collective will changes, our leaders will surely act differently.

I write about this in my book New Planet, New World, which will be published in 2016. Intertwining plotlines arc into the epiphany of the final chapter, which muses about human survival anywhere. The inclusiveness of science combines with Tolstoy’s vision, Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical and not repeating the mistakes of the carbon cabal. The underlying message is from Tolstoy, the ‘Conscience of Humanity.’ He described humanity’s bottom line as the cultivation of love, the mainspring for authentic and responsible living to create enduring ethics that would thrive. In this sci-fi story the pioneers on the new planet decide to create communal villages and eco-towns based on self-sufficient neighborhoods of elegant architecture and easy access. It has a public transport system without personal vehicles, eco-towns engineered to be ecologically friendly and socially inclusive. Also neighborhoods full of community gardens and eco-landscapes with permaculture zones, with green tech industries a priority. They endorse a set of financial regulations crucial to the new venture of expanding communities. Education, medical care, music and recreation are a responsibility supported by the companies. No company is permitted to get too big and the emphasis throughout is on preserving ecology. Business operations plough thirty per cent of profits into a communal fund for the eco-communities in addition to taxes. The energy source is a lattice of sophisticated solar units – and one company furnishes this. Furthermore, any search for carbon based fuels is forbidden.

It is their sacred duty to create and foster a caring, sharing community and apply the same in equal measure to the environment they are located in. I also draw on Pope Francis and his powerful call in 2015 to protect Planet Earth. This is a moral and ethical imperative, for without it the pioneers would certainly die. Everyone is a good steward for this new planet – and see it as sacred and worthy of respect. Tolstoy framed his writings within a reference to Christianity, yet his views are best described as a humanist spirituality – without archaic church structures and without oppressive state militarism. His refreshing solution was to create the conditions for people to be authentic and responsible. This begins with a co-operative style of community that encourages personal example as the driving force. Combined with a strong work ethic to bring a sense of responsibility to the fore, the pioneers use their imagination to co-operate and invent ways to make things move smoothly. The drive is to create a tangible spirit of co-operation, the willingness to share and be supportive and intuit how to cross the bridges of misunderstanding.

In this 2016 sci-fi novel I am able to take liberties and choose mentors, yet my intention is to provide a scenario reflected in the real world today, for soon the uber-rich will only be able to live in heavily guarded compounds. The rich and wealthy will likely inhabit armed, gated communities – and they will all be targets for eco-militias and popular uprisings drawn from the impoverished masses – intent on revenge. (Shades of Stanley Kubrick’s The Clockwork Orange.) To avoid this likely outcome for all citizens it is wise to take the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings very, very seriously. They are the necessary prior training for the emergence of Voluntary Simplicity and Community Ethics. The trainings are sound as they address that toxic mixture of fear, despair, sheer laziness, disempowerment and sense of hopelessness that I wrote about at the beginning of this essay. The trainings were updated in 2012, yet attention to more skillful wording is necessary in a few of them and I would like to see more of a sense of urgency expressed. Nevertheless, the Fourteen Trainings infuse the direction and action of Pine Gate.

Building Epicenters at Pine Gate as a Revolutionary Act

Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in Ottawa, Canada encourages Voluntary Simplicity and Community Ethics as a way of life and creates epicenters to bring this about. Starting with the Earth – our organic garden produces an abundance of vegetables, apples and flowers that are shared with neighbors and sangha members. It is a solace for me to spend time with the Earth, observing bumblebees and butterflies while gardening with assistance from neighborhood children. They once went into hilarious laughter when they saw that the plant I had carefully nurtured turned out to be a giant weed and not a tomato plant! We had great fun returning it to the compost bin. At the back of the garden is a beautiful fountain that murmurs amidst the flowers that are gathered and sent to the elderly folk living on our crescent. A simple underground economy arises from the sharing. A solar panel fuels the hot water system. Everything else is as eco-friendly as we can make it for our fifty year old bungalow with a meditation hall in the basement. This eco-effort became an example for other friends as they did the math on how much cash we were saving.

In December 2015 I spoke to the Pine Gate Community about the plight of the Syrian refugees as being very similar to the Christmas story. Joseph and Mary were a Middle East couple and had nothing but a cattle shed for their child to be born. With their mystic insight the three wise men could locate and honor them. The Syrian refugees and their families are in the same boat – they have nothing. I put it out that we all have the opportunity to join the three wise men as there are Middle East couples and children on the run that we could help. I tend to think that the Christmas story applies to everyone, not only to Christians. And so we became an epicenter for fund raising for Syrian families relocating in Ottawa. How? By becoming informed, by sharing our monetary resources through responsible relief organizations and even by opening our own homes. This was similar to our efforts to support Tibetan re-settlement in Ottawa over the past few years. The community also organized a fund raising concert to support the rebuilding of the Galai School in Liberia which had been destroyed by the civil war. Yet, perhaps the most significant epicenter is a deliberate focus to empower women.

I have always thought of the present millennium as the century of the daughters. Not so much as a gender separate thing, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind. This is why I began my exploration of the Sedona region of Arizona with Oak Creek River – the feminine face of Water. This was one component of the Five Great Elements in Buddhist thought I was familiar with: Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Consciousness. I understood the sequence as the correspondence of all things to each other driven by the feminine vessel of enlightenment.

This connection with the feminine was naturally carried into my peace activism. I have been musing about this, reflecting on the annual Ottawa Friends for Peace Day, which is put on by Pine Gate. I realized fifteen years ago, when I founded Friends for Peace as the engaged arm of Pine Gate that I was making a conscious choice to focus my energy and work on the local, my home city of Ottawa.  Pine Gate’s focus was on mindfulness in schools, city environment, youth at risk and above all else – on the empowerment of women. I am astonished by the results – more true to say “blown away.” For at the local level there was continuity with great women who helped make things happen.  There is now a two week Peace Festival in Ottawa that precedes the Friends for Peace Day.  It has all grown in ever increasing concentric circles. The foundation of mindfulness and the empowerment of women through the fifty organizations we partner with have taken root in our northern city. All use some form of the Friends for Peace mandate – peace, planetary care and social justice – voluntary simplicity and community ethics at work.

Each year Friends for Peace presents Peace Awards to Canadian citizens who have devoted their lives to securing peace, planetary care and social justice.  The majority of the Peace Award recipients are women. The funds raised from the day are used to issue Peace Grants to organizations, in Ottawa and internationally, and we make a point of honoring women who run organizations that make a significant difference. In particular we have supported youth organizations to burst on to the local scene guided by magnificent women – I refer to these particular friends as Canadian Kick-Ass Women! Founded in 2007, Orkidstra is led by Tina Fedeski. www.leadingnotefoundation.org. It gives children from under-served communities the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, play as an ensemble and sing in a choir. Three hundred and fifty children now arrive with thirty three different languages and cultures. This mosaic of diversity learns together and Orkidstra is creating good kids and splendid citizens for the future. Furthermore, they are building a quiet social revolution in city schools and neighborhoods. The Dandelion Dance Company is the creation of Hannah Beach. An Ottawa based youth dance company, which explores social issues through movement. Their repertoire is driven by the experiences, reflections and passion of young women who range in age from ages thirteen to nineteen, and include children’s rights, hunger, authenticity, bullying, stereotypes and inclusiveness. This program has entered the curriculum of many Ontario schools. Both youth organizations perform regularly at the Friends for Peace Day. www.hannahbeach.com/dandelion

The drive behind Pine Gate Mindfulness Community is to foster a strong cadre of people in Ottawa who make a difference for the betterment of society. Women are in the forefront of this endeavor. They are the heart that holds the living waters and that heart is the dynamic epicentre of the mind/will/emotions that lead to action. That is how we get things done differently in our northern city with an evolving Manifesto to create a different course of action and living. We draw on the Fourteen to prepare the pathways and keep ourselves steady.

Acknowledgements

This essay benefited greatly from insights, prompts and corrections from two good friends. I offer a deep bow of gratitude to Maggie McLeod and Bob Allen.

 

Practicality In Complexity

far reaching musing by Nora Bateson

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How can we use knowledge of complexity in a practical way? I am often asked this question. I am confused by it. Practical at what level? By “practical” what is meant?

Practical to offer quick but un-systemic solutions?

Or practical to offer better understanding of the complexity of the context?

Executive decisions define our lives, and evidence based research with deliverables is required to back those decisions up. In this era substantive demarcations of what makes an effort worth the time and money it costs should be provided at the outset of a program. Consequently we see, in workshops, lectures, conferences, and universities, an insatiable appreciate for another pret a porter improvement program. There is always the next new step by step program ready to be sold with the promise of improvement for individuals, organizations and ministries. Usually they read something like The Five Steps to the Seven Applications… for…

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Mentoring for the 14 Trainings

MENTORING PROGRAM – SIX EXERCISES 

The exercises are to be completed preferably in a group, as the real fire for cooking insight is in sharing.  The sharing is strictly confidential and remains in the process and is not communicated outside.  This builds trust and protects everyone participating as sangha friends.  The six exercises are to root your experience in sangha practice. You may have specific agendas in front of you at present, however, I think a deep dive into re-examining the 14 Mindfulness Trainings will solidify things for you.

 First Exercise

 Dear Friends,

The first task is to learn and sing “The Incense Offering” and “Invitation to Meditation.” They are the first and last track on the Pine Gate meditations CD. I am sure Carolyn will be happy to help you with the singing! Find someone to sing it with and have fun as you sing it together over the phone.  The second task is to reflect on and rewrite the first two mindfulness trainings in your own words and from your own experience and suffering.  Share this task with others.

The First Mindfulness Training: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.

The Second Mindfulness Training: Non-Attachment to Views

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

Enjoy together.

Dear friends,

I should emphasize that there is no right way of doing the reflecting and rethinking of the MT’s.  It is all in the sharing with buddies – you can rewrite, or paint or make up a poem, dance or song from your insights, prepare a skit, create a photo essay etc.  How you express your own experience of the MT’s is not at all restricted to the written form.  I hope that you feel free to express yourselves as you wish to. It is the sharing process that provides the real “fire” of understanding.  This is a very important point. Take one another’s phone numbers and perhaps arrange a monthly coffee sharing before you come and see me.

There are six exercises in all.  Future exercises will have rewritten/ reformulated Mindfulness Trainings considered along with:

  1. The Heart of the Prajnaparamita – Thay’s updated version/ MT 3 & 4 (Exercise 2);
  2. A Verse from Transformation At The Base/ MT 5, 6 & 7 (Exercise 3);
  3. Sangha Building/ MT 8 & 9 (Exercise 4);
  4. Engaged Practice/ MT 10 & 11 (Exercise 5);
  5. Living Dharma/ MT 12, 13 & 14 (Exercise 6).

Guidelines and pertinent readings for each exercise are provided from my E Books and website – www.ianprattis.com  Click on Articles sidebar.  Check out the pertinent dharma talks that are on the YouTube Pine Gate Channel – www.youtube.com/user/pinegatesangha

After each exercise provide a brief report, which will be of assistance to others.  Interbeing rocks on!  I hope to create fun and a good environment for the mentoring.  Singing on….

Second Exercise

 Dear Friends,

The second exercise involves your rewriting of the 3rd and 4th Mindfulness Trainings.  Once again drawing on your own experience and words.  This is so the MT’s become personal, not just something you recite by rote.  The meaning to you of each training thus deepens.   Do share the rewritten MT’s with your buddies.  That is a vital stage of the exercise.

The singing continues with the second exercise of the training program, this time with some study.  The focus is on Thay’s new version of “The Heart of the Prajnaparamita.”  First of all learn to sing it, with the bell at the appropriate time.  To study this keystone of practice – read it and sing it through a few times and jot down what insights come to you.  Then turn to the UK sangha’s Manual of Practice.  The UK sangha have produced an excellent manual of mindfulness practice.  Chapters 1 – 4 give explanations of the basic teachings and guidance on following the practice in our daily life.  It is now available as a web based on-line book.

http://www.interbeing.org.uk/manual

For the Heart Sutra study – be aware that there is a dance between the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.  What does “No attainment” mean in the Historical as opposed to the Ultimate?  If we try to understand it in the Historical we get stuck as it belongs in the Ultimate Dimension.  What does “no eyes, no ears etc” tell you about perception through the senses?  Go deep with this one.

An article that charts my difficulties with these two dimensions is available from my website.  Go to http://www.ianprattis.com/articles.htm and download “My Practice in the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.”  Take your time with this “homework” and enjoy the exploration together.

The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue. 

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop understanding and compassion, we are determined to come home to ourselves, to recognize, accept, embrace and listen to suffering with the energy of mindfulness. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. We know we can realize the path leading to the transformation of suffering only when we understand deeply the roots of suffering. Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer, so we can help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

Third Exercise

 Dear Friends in the practice of mindfulness,

The Third Exercise in the OI training program is to rewrite MT’s 5, 6 & 7 from your own experience and suffering.  The study is for you to take one of the fifty verses from Thay’s book “Transformation At The Base.”  Whichever verse appeals to you the most.  Then make that verse your meditation and contemplation focus for the next month.  Have a notebook handy to jot down insights and questions that arise.

A chapter that appears in Vol II of Keeping Dharma Alive E Book would be useful to examine. The chapter draws on Thay’s Fifty verses in large measure and is titled “Consiousness As Food.”  After you meet together, once more write a brief report and then come to meet with me.  There is a lot to this exercise so take your time with it – can even stretch over two or three months.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Compassionate, Healthy Living

Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, we are determined not to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying nor to take as the aim of our life fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, which can bring much suffering and despair. We will practice looking deeply into how we nourish our body and mind with edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. We are committed not to gamble or to use alcohol, drugs or any other products which bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness such as certain websites, electronic games, music, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. We will consume in a way that preserves compassion, wellbeing, and joy in our bodies and consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of our families, our society, and the earth.

 The Sixth Mindfulness Training: Taking Care of Anger

Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are committed to taking care of the energy of anger when it arises, and to recognizing and transforming the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger manifests, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking to acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We know that the roots of anger are not outside of ourselves but can be found in our wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in ourselves and others. By contemplating impermanence, we will be able to look with the eyes of compassion at ourselves and at those we think are the cause of our anger, and to recognize the preciousness of our relationships. We will practice Right Diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same.

 The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, in all situations. In this way, we will be able to cultivate seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness. We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.

Fourth Exercise

Dear friends,

The fourth exercise is to rewrite the next two mindfulness trainings – 8 & 9 – once again from the perspective of your own experience.  The study portion of Exercise Four asks you to take a chapter from “Friends on the Path” compiled by Jack Lawlor, or a chapter from Thay’s “Living Joyfully.”  Present your thoughts on different chapters to one another with your reflections and insights about sangha building in your own practice community.  Also take a look at the experience of the Pine Gate sangha at: http://www.ianprattis.com/pinegate.htm  Then report about the nature of your discussion and insights.

The Eighth Mindfulness Training: True Community and Communication

Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. Knowing that true community is rooted in inclusiveness and in the concrete practice of the harmony of views, thinking and speech, we will practice to share our understanding and experiences with members in our community in order to arrive at a collective insight. We are determined to learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. Whenever difficulties arise, we will remain in our Sangha and practice looking deeply into ourselves and others to recognize all the causes and conditions, including our own habit energies, that have brought about the difficulties. We will take responsibility for the ways we may have contributed to the conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.

 The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumors nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.

Fifth Exercise

 Dear friends,

The fifth exercise brings your attention, experience and skills to mindfulness trainings 10 & 11.  The study portion has its focus on Engaged Buddhism, which is the heart of Thay’s practice and teaching.  There are many books and teachings on Engaged Buddhism.  Select a particular chapter or dharma talk from Thay that appeals to you and use this as the basis for your discussion with your fellow aspirants. There is also a dharma talk about Engaged Buddhism on YouTube.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit, or transform our community into a political instrument. As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body. As a true cell in the Sangha body, generating mindfulness, concentration and insight to nourish ourselves and the whole community, each of us is at the same time a cell in the Buddha body. We will actively build brotherhood and sisterhood, flow as a river, and practice to develop the three real powers – understanding, love and cutting through afflictions – to realize collective awakening.

 The Eleventh Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that contributes to the wellbeing of all species on earth and helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of economic, political, and social realities around the world, as well as our interrelationship with the ecosystem, we are determined to behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens. We will not invest in or purchase from companies that contribute to the depletion of natural resources, harm the earth, or deprive others of their chance to live.

Sixth Exercise

 Dear friends,

Almost done – for now anyways!!  The final three mindfulness trainings – 12, 13 & 14 – are the last trainings for you to think about from the standpoint of your own experience and suffering.  You have traveled a long way from the first exercise and you should be encouraged by the diligence and intelligence you have brought to this mentoring program.  Also know that your fresh eyes and insights have enriched my own understandings in so many ways.  I thank you all deeply for this. The study portion of the final exercise asks you to explore the issue of “Living Dharma.”  Thay talks about this in Chapter 3 of “Joyfully Together.”   There is also a dharma talk given in Plum Village by Thay on January 19, 2003 that addresses “Living Dharma.”  You can access this through the website:  http://langmai.org/TNH_DharmaTalks.html

“The Small God Limited Dharma Syndrome”, which is a chapter in “Keeping Dharma Alive” addresses these issues in the context of conservative and fundamentalist hierarchies within North American spirituality.  It is available from http://www.ianprattis.com/articles.htm and will also be sent to you as a Word File.

The Twelfth Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life

Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, compassion, and the insight of interbeing in our daily lives and promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, ethnic and religious groups, nations, and in the world. We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life, prevent war, and build peace.

The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating generosity in our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: True Love

[For lay members]: Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends. Seeing that body and mind are one, we are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and to cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness for our own happiness and the happiness of others. We must be aware of future suffering that may be caused by sexual relations. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with compassion and respect. We are determined to look deeply into the Four Nutriments and learn ways to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will regularly meditate upon their future environment.

It has been a privilege to share this journey, a deep bow to each one of you.

With metta,

Cymbals at vesakDharmacharya Ian