Monthly Archives: January 2016

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.

 

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.

 

 

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

norabateson

DSC_0996

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…

View original post 1,299 more words