Category Archives: Buddhism

Vesak in Ottawa, May 5, City Hall 10am – 2pm

The roaring beat of Cambodian temple drums opens the day with a bang.  They are followed in procession by the monastic Sangha walking mindfully to their places next to the podium, led by Bhante Savath from the Cambodian Temple in Ottawa. From the monastic chanting all the way through to the finale – the day unfolds in a majestic way. City Hall is decorated with beautiful artwork, food tables and booths for Asian embassies and other community groups for this celebration of Vesak Day. It is always a stunning day.

Asian Buddhist communities in Ottawa – from Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand – created this Vesak Celebration with Visita Leelaratna organizing the many parts of the day. He is the founder of this celebration. The first Vesak Festival in 2014 received guidance from three spiritual advisors – Master Bon Dat, Bhante Rath Sam and Dharmacharya Ian Prattis. They each come from different Buddhist traditions in Ottawa and three different countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada. They established a common cause to spread the seeds of Buddha Mind across Ottawa by creating an atmosphere of generosity, humility and kindness.

The Vesak and Asian Heritage nature of the event brings messages from the Governor-General, Prime Minister of Canada, and the Mayor of Ottawa. This is a wonderful support for multi-culturalism and interbeing from all levels of government in Canada. The vigorous Lion Dance from the Vietnamese Youth Group always lights up the crowd. A talk on Loving Kindness is offered by the Buddha Meditation Centre in Toronto. Lawrence Greenspon also talks about his tour of Buddhist World Heritage sites in Asia. Connections are made, bridges are crossed and the organizers and audience went home very happy.

Here is some background about Vesak and the Buddha.

Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived and taught in India ca. 2,600 years ago. 550 million people in the world identify Buddhism as their religion or way of life.

Vesākha Day is the day Buddhists remember the birth, the enlightenment, and the passing away of the Buddha. The United Nations marks Vesākha Day as an official holiday, worldwide. As Buddhism spread from India, it was adapted to many cultures, and consequently Vesākha Day is celebrated in many different ways in various countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, and Nepal, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama.

Some will visit their local temple before dawn, to raise the official Buddhist flag, which represents a rainbow. Some may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and incense, which serve as a reminder that just as the beautiful flowers will wither, and the candles burn out, so too is life subject to impermanence. In some countries, birds and animals are released in a symbolic act of liberation. Vesākha Day is therefore a time when we reach out across the various Buddhist traditions to celebrate, and to non-Buddhists to enjoy dialogue and harmony.

And that is what happens in Ottawa City Hall on May 5, 2019!

Wise Words from Joanna Macy 

“Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure. How do we begin to deal with the plastic in the ocean that covers areas the size of countries? What are cell phones and microwaves doing to our biological rhythms? What exactly is in our food? How do we address genetic modification of crops? We are so hooked on all of this, on every level. How do we begin to contain it?

Carrying capacity is the level most people talk about. It’s a defining aspect of the climate crisis. How will we grow the food we need given huge variations and extremities of weather? How will we handle the natural disasters and famines that will result from a chaotic climate? The deeper level is that consequences will extend far beyond the collapse of this civilization. The third level of crisis is the enormous increase in the rate of extinctions – creating a loss of biodiversity so extreme that we can glimpse the doom of complex life forms. It takes highly differentiated, integrated and diverse systems to produce life forms complex enough for consciousness. The fourth level of crisis would be the destruction of everything more complex than anaeorobic life forms, because of the loss of our oxygen production in the oceans and on land.

Our little minds think it must be over, but the very fact that we are seeing it is enlivening. We know we can’t possibly see the whole thing, because we are just one part of a vast interdependent whole–one cell in a larger body. So we don’t take our own perceptions as the ultimate. My world view has been so interwoven between the Buddhist teachings and living systems theory. They inform each other so powerfully. But even in Buddhism, where impermanence is a matter of course, there are no obvious concepts to deal with super-impermanence, in the sense that humans are now bringing an end to the Cenozoic era. In the best case, there may be an Ecozoic era to follow it. Continuing on our “business-as-usual” trajectory will acidify the oceans and trigger runaway global heating, epic mass extinction and a completely new cycle of geological time. A few climate scientists consider we may have already entered into runaway climate change.

So the choice is how to live now. With the little time left, we could wake up more. We could allow this whole experience of the planet, which is intrinsically rewarding, to manifest through our heart-minds—so that the planet may see itself, so that life may see itself. Unfortunately the dominant institution of our time has been created in the image of a psychopath, and it is legally mandated to behave as such. The American broadcast media is thoroughly controlled by corporate ownership or advertising revenue. They have reduced the population to a state of such stupidity. The experiential work, is to help people make friends with uncertainty, and reframe it as a way of coming alive. Because there are never any guarantees at any point in life.

And as far as Buddhism is concerned, I find that Western Buddhists tend to privatize their practice, and look for what I call premature equanimity. They go for peace of mind and that is such an inadequate response. A major change is the relevance people are now finding in Native American teachings. There’s a deep respect for the wisdom that is there, and for the nobility of character that it fostered. I think that it is a precious addition to our triple gem—this fourth gem of our time—that the native peoples are speaking out.”

See also:  http://ianprattis.com/OurWorldIsBurning.html

Our World is Burning is an inspiring and informative read. Ian Prattis offers us valuable insight, wisdom and perspective in finding our way to a healthier world, one based on compassion and commitment, mindful of how everything we do impacts the whole.

  • Laurence Overmire, Author of “The One Idea That Saves The World”

 

Vesak Ottawa Project on Mindfulness

I will present a session on Mindfulness at the Ottawa Public Library, at Laurier/Metcalfe branch. Saturday, September 15, 12.30pm – 1.45pm, Main Room B 125. There are 35 seats available. Register by clicking on the green Register button to the right of the page. Enter your library bar code number and PIN (usually the last 4 digits of their phone number) & click on Register again. https://biblioottawalibrary.ca/en/event/mindfulness-dr-ian-prattis

Lalith Gunaratne will continue at 2pm – 4pm with Mindful Leadership and Emotional Balance – in the same room. https://biblioottawalibrary.ca/en/event/mindful-awareness-inquiry-ways-finding-emotional-balance-our-modern-lives

Bhante Savath, co-ordinator for Vesak in Ottawa will do the introduction. My session at 12.30pm will begin with a wellness chant. My talk afterwards is taken from the opening chapter of my new book – Our World is Burning: My Views on Mindful Engagement. Let me tell you a story …..

My grand-nephew James was celebrating his birthday, yet he felt awful about being nine years old. He wished he could stay five years old forever. When I asked him “Why?” he replied that if he could stay five then the Earth would not explode. His lips quivered and tears welled up in his large brown eyes. “I am scared it is too late, that there will be nothing to save,” he exclaimed with a frightened voice. He dropped the unopened gift in his hand. He was so upset. I gently guided him from the hallway of his home to sit with me on the back garden steps. It was quiet there.

James said, “I don’t want to grow up and live in a world that is burning.”

After a long talk I gave James a mindfulness plan to follow.

I talked about “Gardening in the Mind” – a basic strategy of Engaged Buddhism. I offered him eight simple steps to refine mindfulness and then engage differently with the world.

  1. Yo James – learn to be silent and quiet! Clear time and space for spiritual practice at home and throughout your daily schedule. James shouted back: Yo Uncle Ian – right on – got it!
  2. Create a stress reduction menu and subtract the negative energies in the garden of your mind.
  3. Be determined to meditate daily – do the weeding of getting rid of negative energies..
  4. Focus on and soften your heart – do not be mean – cultivate the soil of your mind’s garden.
  5. Cultivate the seeds of mindfulness – Love, Compassion, Joy, Equanimity and promote them at home, school, work and in solitude.
  6. Simplify, make do with less, de-clutter your mind and home.
  7. Taste the fruits of your spiritual practice that change your mind.
  8. Engage with the world.

James was entering all of this on his tablet as I continued to talk. “Our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms need to be re-constructed.” I assured James that “Gardening in the Mind” has the capacity to transform how we think. Finding stillness and inner silence is a necessary first step. “We have to find a way to create the conditions for this to happen. In our modern world of fast paced lifestyles there are so many distractions that make us outwardly dependant and un-centered. We also find it easier to close down rather than open up our hearts. But the remedy is within reach. We can unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful. This is achieved by gardening in the mind. The 8 point menu helps you to get there.”

I assured James that we are equal to the task and I chose not to hold back anything from him during this long conversation on his birthday. He is an unusually bright boy, as he 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.

http://ianprattis.com/OurWorldIsBurning.html

Our World is Burning is an inspiring and informative read. Ian Prattis offers us valuable insight, wisdom and perspective in finding our way to a healthier world, one based on compassion and commitment, mindful of how everything we do impacts the whole.

  • Laurence Overmire, Author of “The One Idea That Saves The World”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through Nine Year Old Eyes.

My grand-nephew James was celebrating his birthday, yet felt awful about being nine. He wished he could stay five years old forever. When I asked him “Why?” he replied that if he could stay five then the Earth would not explode. His lips quivered and the tears welled up in his large brown eyes.

“I am scared it is too late. That there will be nothing to save,” he exclaimed with a frightened voice. He dropped the unopened gift in his hand. He was so upset and I gently guided him to sit with me on the back garden steps where it was quiet.

James said, “I don’t want to grow up and live in a world that is burning.”

Silence stretched between us. I wondered what to say. I could not say that everything will be OK. He was much too intelligent for such placebos. So I spoke to him about the mindfulness community I created and the deliberate steps taken for planetary care. We simplify, make do with less, share and adapt. Our 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 and asked what else did the community do?

            I pointed out that we encourage voluntary simplicity and community ethics as a way of life. We start with the Earth. Our organic garden produces an abundance of vegetables, apples and flowers that are shared with neighbors and community members. I mentioned that it is a solace for me to spend time with the Earth, observing bumblebees and butterflies while gardening with assistance from neighborhood children. I told James that the kids once laughed hilariously when they saw that the vegetable plant I had carefully nurtured for months turned out to be a giant weed and not a tomato plant. At the back of the garden is a beautiful fountain that murmurs next to the flowers, which are sent to the elderly folk living on our crescent. A solar panel on the roof fuels the hot water system of our home. 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 has become quite an example for other friends as they consider how much we are saving and implement something similar. In addition our focus is on mindfulness in schools and city environment, teens at risk and the empowerment of women. I admitted to James that I am amazed by the results. At the local level there were great women who helped make things happen.

“You mean girl power?” asked James incredulously.

“Exactly that,” I replied “I believe that the present millennium  is the century of daughters, not so much as gender separation, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind.” (I must add that the wonderful Women’s Marches all over the world in January 2018 turn this belief into a reality.) I told him that the idea is to foster a strong group of people in Ottawa making a difference for the betterment of society and the earth. Women are in the forefront of this endeavor. I explained that they are the heart that holds the living waters, the dynamic epicentre that leads to effective action. That is how we will get things done, creating a different course of action and living. James was taking it all in, instinctively knowing that major changes were needed. I suggested that when enough of us change, then our ideas will be in charge. I told him about a speech I had given about the consequences of pathological consumption and pointed out that festive occasions like Christmas provide opportunities for the best and the worst within us to come out and play. And that unfortunately compassion and kindness are quickly swamped by greed, selfishness and consumer madness. We need to re-assess, to move on from being self-absorbed, greedy and distracted.

“How?” he asked again, as he really wanted to know. I chose my words carefully.

“Locate in something bigger than ourselves; a humanitarian cause, respecting the earth, making our thinking better, being kinder and more generous. How about examining our habits about gift giving and learn to give gifts that make a difference?  I no longer buy Christmas gifts, instead present gift certificates that provide items like education for a girl in Afghanistan, micro-loans for female led families, rebuilding 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 us and create happiness for less fortunate people.”

I told James how 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 has received such gifts from me for several years. For his recent birthday he asked his friends not to give 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 two hundred and eighty dollars. They all went together to the Humane Society and happily handed their bag of cash to the surprised staff. Other children in the neighborhood have followed suit.

This resonated with James and he said, “I can do that with my ice hockey team. My dad is the coach and he would help.” He waited for me to continue.

“James, the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of global ecological crises is sharing and caring. It involves stepping onto what the Buddhists call the Bodhisattva Path.” (James knows that I am a Zen teacher). I explained that a Bodhisattva was a person who stayed in the global mess and did their best to awaken the minds and hearts of people. I firmly stated that it is time for the Bodhisattva-within-us to enter the 21st century as the example for action. It takes training, practice, intelligence and creative vision.

“You mean like Jedi training?” he enquired. I nodded with a smile and referred briefly to my years of training in ashrams and monasteries in India and France and with indigenous medicine people. I confided that the real kicker for me was the time spent alone in the Canadian wilderness.

“So what is the big deal about your speech on pathological consumption?” James asked.

I replied that it totally dominates our planet, mind and body. I tried to explain how, knowing that James’ greatest fear was about the planet’s ecological crises. He worried about mining disasters in Brazil and China, wildfires in Canada’s Boreal forests, Amazonian deforestation and the Gulf Oil Spill.

“How do we change the destruction of the planet?” James exclaimed.

I said, “We must come to a stop, locate ourselves in stillness and make different choices by examining our minds and patterns of consuming. We must look at how we actually participate in creating these terrible disasters.” I noted that this kind of awareness takes us back to what we do with our minds.

“Just how?” was his one line mantra.

“You can start by making friends with your breath,” I said. James looked up at me quizzically.

“Bring your focus and attention to your in-breath, then on your out-breath. Really concentrate on the whole length of breath coming in and breath going out. Do this ten times. This kind of focus peels away anxiety, frustration and anger so that you become calm and clear. Try it with me and notice the difference for yourself.” (I ask all readers to do this with me now.)

James did so, and grinned with agreement. I told James that 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, is shaped by the actions we take right now. I suggested to James that was enough for him to digest, but he yelled, “No, I want to hear more.”

I could not turn away from his eagerness. I mentioned that if rampant consumption remains our deepest desire we will continue to degrade the planet, eventually destroying its ability to harbour life . His fears were correct. Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day and so on 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. Endless economic growth, the mantra of modern civilization, provides a promise of expectations without awareness of the consequences for 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.  We must simplify, make do with less and change, or the burning world will definitely occur.

I told him that we can change our minds and patterns of food consumption. We re-educate and retrain ourselves mentally, choosing to support our body and planet by shifting ingrained habits.  It takes training but we can begin to step more lightly on the planet. It means reducing as much as possible the violence, destruction and suffering brought to living creatures and to the planet. Bringing peace into our own biological system and consciousness, inevitably brings it to all the other systems that we engage with through our thoughts, speech and actions.

“Is this your Buddhism?” James then asked.

I smiled, “The Buddha was very smart. He taught that the world is always burning, but burning with the fires of greed, anger and foolishness. His advice was simple; drop such dangers as soon as possible. What the Buddha taught was that it was the unskillful speech, selfish feelings, negative mental formations, wrong perceptions and badass consciousness that burned the world.

James laughed, “Did the Buddha really use the term badass?”

I grinned and said that was my embellishment, then pointed out that the Hopi people also referred to the burning as a state of imbalance known as Koyaanisqatsi. We are not the first people to experience this. The difference today is that without our commitment to wise intervention about climate change, we could be the last.

“Is climate change our basic problem then?” he asked.

I paused for a moment before replying. “The basic issue is whether we can adapt to climate change. You know about the 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change. We talked about it before.” James nodded. “It was an exceptional step by the international community, showing their determination to prevent global temperatures from rising a further 1.5 degrees. The signatories returned to their respective countries to “Change Climate Change.” What was missing from all the deliberations and press releases was a candid recognition of the “Cascade Effect,” a notion from ecological science. Tipping points in sea level rise and temperature connect to tipping points in air pollution, which connect to tipping points in polar ice melt, hurricanes and forest wildfires. All of these trigger further tipping points that create deforestation, floods, desertification and so on in a relentless cascade. I reminded him of the wildfires in Alberta and British Columbia and pointed out that the entire boreal forest in Canada is a tinder box due to climate change. The reality is not about a reversal but about learning how to adapt to the consequences of climate change.”

I emphasized to James that the disasters all over the world interconnect. Whether wildfires, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tsunamis or millions of aquatic creatures dead on beaches, it is all connected. The media and news reporters cast science to the wind when they report the drama and hype of terrible things happening world-wide but rarely tell the truth that it is another manifestation of climate change. News programs are often focused on ratings and some openly promote corporate interests that are contributing to these interconnected disasters. The general public are, by and large, not educated by the media about the terrible realities happening on our planet. Other obstacles that prevent the general public from taking wise action are a mixture of fear, despair, laziness, disempowerment and a sense of hopelessness.

“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 this planet. Maybe this is why you want to stay five years old forever. The difficult thing for you, for anyone, to grasp is that we are the primary cause.”

James shrugged in exasperation.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “In terms of action, we have clear data-based evidence that we must cut back, make-do with less and implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. So, where do we start? Of course we must think globally and be aware of the bigger picture despite fear and disempowerment. But we can also act locally in our families and communities. Our intentions then spread like ripples from a pebble dropped in still water. We can hold officials, politicians and corporate culture to account. We can tell the politicians and corporate decision makers that we, as voters and consumers, are deeply concerned about the planet and our impact on it.”

I continued speaking on a personal note, “So James, the challenge for me is to be in society, but as a still island of mindfulness. Take small steps at first, then larger ones. We just need to make essential changes in energy use, diet, language, media and outreach. Voluntary Simplicity is a good starting place. It means making deliberate choices about how we spend time and money. We can support environmental causes with the excess clutter in the basement and always think about whether we really “need” to buy something more.  Enjoy being simple and living modestly by shifting our perceptions just a little bit.  If we look deeply into what we do with time, money, clutter and our choices, then we can change.  Notice whether the consequences are peace and happiness for you. The world will follow. To avoid drastic outcomes, it is wise ro take training very, very seriously. This helps to avoid all the negative stuff I have told you about”

“Wow,” exclaimed James. “OK, I get it about training but what does it look like?” I was relieved by his intelligent questions but hesitant to talk to him about what I was thinking.

He watched me and said, “Just lay it out for me.”

I then proceeded to talk about “Gardening in the Mind.” I offered him eight simple steps to refine the mind and then engage differently with the world.

  1. You – learn to be silent and quiet! Clear time and space for spiritual practice at home and throughout your daily schedule.
  2. Create a stress reduction menu and subtract the “weeds” in the garden of your mind. The weeds are the negative energies we have cultivated.
  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. Cultivate the seeds of mindfulness at home, school, work or in solitude.
  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.

James was entering all of this on his tablet as I continued to talk. “Our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms need to be re-constructed.” I assured James that we have the capacity to transform the mind. Finding stillness and inner silence is a necessary first step. We have to find a way to create the conditions for this to happen. In our modern world of fast paced lifestyles there are so many distractions that make us outwardly dependant and un-centered. We also find it easier to close down rather than open up our hearts. But the remedy is within reach. We can unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful, achieved by gardening in the mind.”

I paused for a while to find the words to bring our conversation to an end.

“Why should we do this stuff James? Here’s why. When you are open and receptive you become an epi-center of light and energy for others. When you can sit with pain, face to face with what hurts, breathing in and out, you feel the sting recede as you calm. If you start to close down ask yourself, “Do I really want to take a pass on happiness?” Remember this – always let go once you feel you are closing down or clinging.” Then I said to him, “Do you know that I have a fridge magnet at home with the words – LET GO OR BE DRAGGED? I see it every day and I take the message to heart. It is essential to learn to be silent, to stop clinging and find the way to be present in the moment. As the Hopi advise us, never take anything personally and look around to see who is with you. Doing these things helps the world change. Such a destination is well worth your effort don’t you think?” James nodded his agreement.

I assured James that we are equal to the task and I chose not to hold back anything from him during this long conversation on his birthday. He is an unusually bright boy, asking questions and demanding 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.

You can order “Our World Is Burning” ($19.95) and receive one FREE autographed copy of a prior book plus Meditation CD as a thank you http://ianprattis.com/OurWorldIsBurning.html

Order Tab has options re Autographed Copies, Giveaways, Pick Up and Delivery plus Amazon and Indigo/Chapters.

 

Invitation to Our World is Burning.

Invitation

 

As an idealistic teenager, I wanted to save the world. I still do. Over the years though, I discovered I first had to save myself, because I was every bit as screwed up as the world.

Indeed, saving myself and saving the world seems to be the same struggle, because we are all connected, one to another, and the forces that warped me are the same that warp the world. These views-essays form the chapters in this book and come out of my long struggle. Please accept them as a gift; my thoughts on how to transform ourselves and our world. The sixteen views-essays are not candidates for academic bickering or pawns in the intellectual constructions of clever talk.

When a breeze caresses a falling leaf, it is transformed in its descent to earth. Sunlight catches one side then glances off the other as the leaf gently spirals down. The impermanence of this gift of nature is part of what makes it beautiful. Yet, notions of permanence reflect our fear of the unknown and foster the limitations we impose on reality. Impermanence connotes our true nature of interconnectedness with a constantly changing web of life. We are fully alive in our connection to everything else.

The theme of these views-essays is change, cycles of transformation and discovering how we contain everything within ourselves. They rest on the ever-changing cycles that mark our journey in these tumultuous and dangerous times.

The opening piece – Our World Is Burning sets the theme for this book and it focuses heavily on climate change and Mankind’s devastating role in this major issue. Rant From the Future and Chronicles of Awakening draw their inspiration from and are based upon my 2016 book New Planet, New World. Ottawa Independent Writers brought out a unique anthology in 2016. My part in that stellar release is Dawson’s Desert Legacy, and I share those views in an expanded manner via Chapter 14’s viewpoint-essay.

Chapter-essay 4 Punk Palace finds its inspiration via an earlier article published in a different form in The Shambhala Sun (September 2005). I expand upon it in this collection of writings on a wider stage.

Excellent editing by Meghan Negrijn and Michael avie ensured that my essays wove an elegant tapestry about how to manifest mindfulness in our difficult times.

“Our World is Burning: My Views on Mindful Engagement” can now be ordered at: http://ianprattis.com/OurWorldIsBurning.html It examines our fragile future and offers an alternative way of living based on mindful engagement. This book is my life work.

 

Call to Action

Call to Action                                                                                      

I quote from the May 2017 edition of the Lion’s Roar magazine: “Thirteen leading Buddhist teachers, joined by over 200 additional signatories, called on Buddhists and all peoples of faith to take a stand against policies of the new United States administration that will create suffering for the most vulnerable in society……Feeling the reality of this suffering, we remember that peacefulness does not mean passiveness and non-attachment does not mean non-engagement…..The dharma is not an excuse to turn away from the suffering of the world, nor is it a sedative to get us comfortably through painful times. It (the dharma) is a powerful teaching that frees and strengthens us to work diligently for the liberation of beings from suffering…..While Buddhism has traditionally emphasized the personal cause of suffering, today we also discern how the three poisons of greed, aggression, and indifference operate through political, economic and social systems to cause suffering on a vast scale…….

As we resist the heightened threat of many of the new administration’s policies, we also recognize that under-represented and oppressed communities in the United States have long suffered from systemic greed, aggression, aversion and indifference…….While some argue that the principle of non-duality suggests that Buddhists should not engage in or take sides on political or social issues, we believe the opposite is true. It is because we and others are not separate that we must act…….. For those who are new to this, please remember that there are many people who have dedicated their lives to the work of social change. They have the useful skills of compassionate organizing and building sustainable movements. Find them, get involved and learn from them.”

I shape this into a simple personal mantra – “I refrain from causing harm.” I know that by refraining from one thing that causes harm, I then prevent other harmful things from happening. I arrive at my own insight, which is not imposed by any outside authority. I issue a Call to Action. Bhikkhu Bodhi in Buddhadharma, spring 2017 urges Buddhist advocacy in alliance with progressive leaders to defend the United States’ embattled democracy from President Trump’s “cabinet of bigotry.” He states; “We can call in unison for a policy of global generosity in place of rash militarism, for programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, for the advancement of social and racial justice, and for the rapid transition to a clean-energy economy …….and bring the moral weight of the dharma to bear on matters that affect the lives of people anywhere – now and long into the future.”  His statement was followed by the stance taken by Buddhist leaders in the May 2017 issue of Lion’s Roar magazine

I also call out the Hopi Elders’ Prophecy in 2000: “Create your community. Be good to one another. And do not look outside yourself for your leader… See who is there with you and celebrate…. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

For our part we can work with municipalities, conservationists and River Keepers to clean up our waterways and environment. Ensure that children in schools go with you and prepare them to handle cyberbullying and neglect. We hold politicians and corporations to account. Create coalitions with progressive organizations who share our love of kindness and decency.

Walk upon the Earth – Lightly. Be fully Here and Present – Lightly.

A Manifesto for the Future

“A Manifesto for the Future” is the final essay in my forthcoming book, “Our World is Burning: Essays in Mindful Engagement.” As the planet’s life support systems erode due to Climate Change, do we seek guidance from spiritual ethics or are we trying to transcend an unsatisfactory world? The Mindfulness Trainings are there yet social, political and ecological engagements are devalued. Walk the Bodhisattva path not as a separate self but as an engaged self.

 

A Manifesto for the Future

 

As a Zen teacher I make a commitment not to cause harm. I am guided by spiritual ethics yet am aware that the current disastrous state of the planet will not bring forth strategic plans of how to fix things. I could go on and on about the terrible things taking place in society and to the planet – and will divert to that in a moment. Yet the bottom line for me is to remember and refine a system of ethical conduct. I go deeper into meditation and mainly fix myself to be steady and insightful. I register with Mindfulness Trainings, as it brings out all that I would like to see in people around the planet.

The bottom line for me is that awakening and mindfulness are active. Activism, on its own, does not have the inner resources to maintain effective social and planetary transformation. I know from personal experience that re-training the wild mind is a necessary ingredient to precede activism. Becoming environmental or political is only one part and cannot be fully effective until the internal side is in place.

We have no alternative but to concentrate on sustainable living, rather than exploiting the spoils of perpetual economic growth. Profit cannot be the sole reason for commerce. There must be responsibility tied into the equation. At present, we are totally out of sync with the earth’s resources. The fragile threads of ecosystems around the globe are severely compromised. We are in the position of either going down the collective sewer or changing our values in the direction of awakening.

Jane Goodall issued a dire warning in 2016 that ‘life is hanging by a thread,’ as all living things will be negatively impacted by rapid climate change. In particular, she advocates the necessity of creating programs that stop tropical deforestation by making rural communities custodians of the forests.

This is difficult when President Trump, an influential leader, has begun to dismantle environmental regulations, setting in motion irreversible consequences around the world. The United States is ignoring climate change, obstructing clean energy and many forms of conservation. Noam Chomsky in 2016 refers to Trump’s priorities as “…racing as rapidly as possible to the destruction of organized human life.”

Stephen Hawking’s thoughtful piece in the Guardian (December 1, 2016) places a focus on elite behavior creating further inequality as he examines Brexit and the Trump presidency. His question is how will the elites change? “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality and people see only a slim chance at earning a living at all.” Hawking acknowledges this dangerous moment in humanity’s evolution.

Earth is like a giant living cell, all parts are linked symbiotically. Biologist Thomas Lewis created this metaphor with humanity just as one part of a vast system. This is not something that powerful and corporate people have paid much attention to. The reality is that the life support systems of the planet are severely threatened by climate change, aided by accelerating global consumerism. Our ignorance and neglect are destroying Earth, because we do not know how to respect ourselves, others, and the planet. Unless we radically change, there is no possibility of balance, environmentally or socially.

This became clear in my filmed distance course “Ecology and Culture” at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I wanted to connect the many levels of violence and fear we engage with to the environment, and to the everyday use of harmful speech and mindless consumption. With ethical guidelines rooted in spiritual practice, we do not generate the energy that enables terror and violence to grow. Comparing an everyday situation to an overall climate of fear, hatred and vengeance, I suggest that it is all the same. We just need to learn how to behave differently.

These issues were examined with great clarity by the awakened mind of the Buddha, 2600 years ago. His teachings are timeless, as relevant to the modern world as when first spoken. The Buddha taught the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a design for living. Thich Nhat Hanh reworked them to relate to modern realities. They are non-sectarian and all spiritual traditions have their equivalent. The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in oneself, family and society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity and not exploit other beings. The third is responsible sexual behavior for all people, to protect couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconciliation. The fifth is about mindful consumption, which helps us not to bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind.

I asked the students in my Ecology and Culture class if anyone would care to read them out to their classmates during my lecture on environmental ethics. There were many volunteers. I did wonder if this borrowing from Buddhism would go over well with students and the viewing audience. Much to my surprise, students and the public viewers wrote in to tell me that this was a wake-up call, the first time they had been presented with specific environmental ethics. Let me be clear, the trainings are not there to judge others. They are an internal guide so that, as individuals, we wake up to love and compassion and take heed of the directions the mindfulness trainings take us in. The trainings are not a coercive design for conformity. They simply assist us to be more aware of what is going on, around and within us. They enable us to distinguish what is good for ourselves, our minds and the world and what is not. It is not necessary to complete the practice perfectly, as that is not possible. It is, however, possible to move in the direction of responsible and ethical living and make a difference to our society and environment. Do we bring to violence, indifference and terror a renewed application of the same or do we step back and consider these teachings?

There is a solution to our present situation. Our leaders have often become trapped by corporate and electoral agendas, following a similar script, seeking justification and in some cases, avocation for the use of violence. Large scale change is difficult to find within this system but the Buddha offers a path. The implications of his Five Mindfulness Trainings apply to the dangerous times we live in. Our world needs guidelines like these.

A flip side to global violence is the growing concern over the absence of love, decency and compassion in daily public life. This preoccupies and worries many citizens and scholars.  If there was ever a time to learn anew from these teachings, it is now. When we touch base with the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are being reminded to wake up. Neglect, terror and fear are states of mind. Therefore, we need tools that reconnect us to a mind state driven by love, decency and positivity.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are presented as an antidote to the contemporary crises. The ethics of the Five Mindfulness Trainings provide a necessary balance to find our true nature, while caring for all we connect with. In addition to addressing social and environmental crises, the building of inner spiritual strength through meditation and mindfulness is crucial.

However, I must point out that it is critical in the 21st century that necessary re-education also find a place in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. They are indeed 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 as we will see there were some awkward disconnects in their creation. This begs the question of how to relate to the trainings without a disconnect to their intentions?

The Buddha was clear about impermanence and new challenges. He created the Five Mindfulness Trainings for the lay community and told Ananda, his faithful attendant, 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 or anticipation for modern realities, as monastic precepts have not changed very much 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. 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 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 – self-absorption in the separate self – the deal we fall into.
  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 trainings and the world. Social, political and ecological engagements are devalued as we place our backsides on the cushion, chant, drink tea and avoid the reality around us. Modern Buddhism in the West definitely 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. Then 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.”

Thich Nhat Hanh was able to overcome this awkward divide when he created the Order of Interbeing during the Vietnam War. Socially Engaged Buddhism was renewed in Vietnam by him and then extended to the West. Thich Nhat Hanh ordained the first six members of the Order of Interbeing in February 1966 during the Vietnam War. The Order’s foundation ethics for engaging with the wider society are the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings created by Thich Nhat Hanh. They contain the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the Noble Eightfold Path and are a renewal of the earlier Bodhisattva Precepts. Thich Nhat Hanh was up to date and in tune with our times. He ensured that the Fourteen Trainings of the Order are in step with modern historical, cultural and socio-economic developments yet rest on the foundation provided by the Buddha and 4th century expressions of socially engaged Buddhism.

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. Since 1966, the revolutionary part has been diluted, particularly in the West where the disconnect noted by Loy is in full swing. The Order of Interbeing established by Thich Nhat Hanh seems in the twenty first century to have morphed into an ineffective bureaucracy.

To emphasize that it is not just me who is way out on a limb here, I refer to a senior Theravada monk and scholar – Bhikkhu Bodhi (Buddhadharma Spring 2017). This respected monk looked at Donald Trump’s “cabinet of bigotry” and at the same time noticed the absence of Buddhists on a petition of objection to it, which was signed by 2,500 religious leaders in America. He asked the obvious question; “why are Buddhists not visible as advocates for peace, sanity and social justice?’ Where are they indeed, given that Buddhism is the pre-eminent religion of peace and compassion? He stated forcibly that not to participate in active engagement with politics, environmental and worldly events runs counter to the Buddha path of enlightenment. He points out that Buddhists fail to realize that the battleground over power and position are ethical contests. Trump’s ascendancy to power shakes every Buddhist Mindfulness Training and this requires a strong push back from Buddhist leaders. So where is our agenda of collective resistance?

Bhikkhu Bodhi urges Buddhist advocacy in alliance with progressive leaders – religious and lay – to defend America’s embattled democracy and leads the charge of relating to the trainings in a way that has no disconnect with present global concerns. That is the point of this essay – for there is nothing wrong with the trainings, apart from some essential rewording. The disconnect lies with contemporary Buddhists in the West who do not engage with the intent of the Trainings laid out by the Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh. The Trainings are right here! Do we engage with them from the vantage points of self-seeking and separate-self OR engage with them from an open and engaged heart?

Bhikkhu Bhodi struck a chord with Buddhist leaders in the United States. I quote from an article in the May 2017 edition of the Lion’s Roar magazine.

“ Thirteen leading Buddhist teachers, joined by over 200 additional signatories, called on Buddhists and all peoples of faith to take a stand against policies of the new United States administration that will create suffering for the most vulnerable in society……Feeling the reality of this suffering, we remember that peacefulness does not mean passiveness and non-attachment does not mean non-engagement…..The dharma is not an excuse to turn away from the suffering of the world, nor is it a sedative to get us comfortably through painful times. It (the dharma) is a powerful teaching that frees and strengthens us to work diligently for the liberation of beings from suffering…..While Buddhism has traditionally emphasized the personal cause of suffering, today we also discern how the three poisons of greed, aggression, and indifference operate through political, economic and social systems to cause suffering on a vast scale…….

As we resist the heightened threat of many of the new administration’s policies, we also recognize that under-represented and oppressed communities in the United States have long suffered from systemic greed, aggression, aversion and indifference…….While some argue that the principle of non-duality suggests that Buddhists should not engage in or take sides on political or social issues, we believe the opposite is true. It is because we and others are not separate that we must act……..It is true that our numbers are small, yet we can join with others who share our convictions and values. For those who are new to this, please remember that there are many people who have dedicated their lives to the work of social change. They have the useful skills of compassionate organizing and building sustainable movements. Find them, get involved and learn from them.”

This May 2017 Manifesto is a major step in relieving the disconnect problem in Buddhism. This brings me to the tricky role of Impermanence.

Impermanence

To change structures of elitism, greed and corporate dominance requires a mass change in consciousness. Mindfulness supports that outcome. The Buddha’s teachings on impermanence also spur such a radical change. Can we grasp the insight of extinction – of ourselves, our civilization – even of the planet? Without the insight of impermanence, we will not be able to change our mindsets. We have to find a way to adjust to our changed political and environmental circumstances. We can no longer hold on to a view of how it once was. Once we can accept that we have created the present global situation, then and only then can we find a respite, discovering insights that bring radical change to our values, habits and mindset.

It is very difficult in our western culture to accept death. The usual response is fear and denial. We have to re-educate our minds to get past these two obstacles. When we can recognize that our present form of civilization is dying, we will recognize that despair and denial will do us no good. We need only find the courage to surrender and rely on our practice of mindfulness to provide a measure of safety. Instead of denial, a space opens in our mind for lucidity and steadiness to enter, which could propel our species to live differently. Such a future on Earth requires a mass awakening of attributes that run counter to the ecology of greed. It requires a candid acceptance that our global civilization in its present form is coming to an end. Such an acceptance of our true reality on the planet can alleviate the course of environmental collapse. The energy and power to avert the disaster facing us rests in our minds and in a new collective choice to live very differently.

Thich Nhat Hanh brings this home to us in a direct and challenging way, making it very clear that any view not based on impermanence is wrong. He shows how the Buddha provided meditations on impermanence for his followers so they could recognize that the only thing that follows death is the fruit of our action and thinking, of our speech and of our acts during our lifetime. Specifically, on climate change he is very blunt:

“If we continue to consume unwisely, if we don’t care about protecting this wonderful planet….the ecosystem will be destroyed to a large extent and we will need millions of years to start a new civilization. Everything is impermanent…. We are our environment, which is in a process of self-destruction.”

 

This brings a certain peace and clarity to our minds and perhaps we can implement ethics, structures and technology to ensure a niche on this planet. We have a job to do in terms of cultivating a transformation in our consciousness, bringing about a new way of living in harmony with one another and on Earth.

We must deliberately cultivate positive ethical attributes in our minds. We have to shine the light of recognition and mindfulness on our suffering, so that we can become steady and full of resolve to live differently. We have to shift the tide of negativity, change our mindset and not squander our life. The Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings provide us with templates to do that, as we consciously choose to nurture patterns of behavior and habits that are wholesome and generous. In other words, we make mindfulness practice our new habit. It is an internal transformation of consciousness at the core of our being.

I shape all of this into a simple personal mantra – “I refrain from causing harm.” I know that by refraining from one thing that causes harm, I then prevent other harmful things from happening. I arrive at my own insight, which is not imposed by any outside authority. It takes mindfulness to do this and the Five Mindfulness Trainings provide the starting point, a guidance system and a deep well of internal ethics to live by. My commitment is to actualize these trainings in my life, and in the lives of others, to the best of my ability.

I issue a Call to Action and bring Bhikkhu Bodhi back. In Buddhadharma, spring 2017 he urges Buddhist advocacy in alliance with progressive leaders to defend the United States’ embattled democracy from President Trump’s “cabinet of bigotry.”

He states; “We can call in unison for a policy of global generosity in place of rash militarism, for programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, for the advancement of social and racial justice, and for the rapid transition to a clean-energy economy …….and bring the moral weight of the dharma to bear on matters that affect the lives of people anywhere – now and long into the future.”  His statement was followed by the stance taken by Buddhist leaders in the May 2017 issue of Lion’s Roar magazine

I also call out the Hopi Elders’ Prophecy in 2000:

“Create your community. Be good to one another. And do not look outside yourself for your leader… See who is there with you and celebrate…. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

For our part we can work with municipalities, conservationists and River Keepers to clean up our waterways and environment. Ensure that children in schools go with you and prepare them to handle cyberbullying and neglect. We hold politicians and corporations to account. Create coalitions with progressive organizations who share our love of kindness and decency.

Walk upon the Earth – Lightly. Be fully Here and Present – Lightly.

 

Climate Change in 2017

Climate Change in 2017                                                                                            

As a Zen teacher I make a commitment not to cause harm. I am guided by spiritual ethics yet am aware that the current disastrous state of the planet will not bring forth strategic plans of how to fix things. The bottom line is to remember and refine a system of ethical conduct. So I go deeper and mainly fix myself to be steady and insightful. I register with mindfulness trainings to bring to the surface all that I would like to see in people around the planet.

Awakening and mindfulness are active. Activism on its own does not have the inner resources to bring about effective social and planetary transformation. I know from personal experience that retraining the wild mind is the necessary ingredient to precede activism. Stepping out on the environmental or political stage is only one part of the dance. It cannot be fully effective until the internal choreography is in place, the wild mind tamed. It will take smart discernment in order to step lightly on the planet. We have no alternative but to concentrate on sustainable living rather than greedily exploiting the spoils of perpetual economic growth. Profit cannot be the sole reason for commerce, there must be responsibility tied into the equation. At present, we are totally out of sync with the earth’s resources. The fragile threads of ecosystems around the globe are severely compromised. We are in the position of either going down the collective sewer or changing our values in the direction of awakening.

Jane Goodall issued a dire warning that “Life is Hanging by a Thread,” as all living things will be negatively impacted by rapid climate change. In particular she advocates the necessity of creating programs that stop tropical deforestation by placing rural communities as custodians of the forests. This is a tall order, as Donald Trump’s presidency has pulled the plug on a livable climate, dismantling environmental regulations and setting in motion irreversible consequences around the globe. The United States is now set on a course of ignoring climate change by obstructing clean energy and any form of conservation. The fox is already in the hen house and the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord may be the first bird to die. Noam Chomsky refers to Trump’s priorities as “…racing as rapidly as possible to the destruction of organized human life.”

Stephen Hawking’s thoughtful piece in the Guardian (December 1, 2016) places a focus on elite behavior creating further inequality as he examines Brexit and the Trump presidency. His question is how will the elites change? He states, “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality and people see only a slim chance at earning a living at all.” Hawking acknowledges this dangerous moment in humanity’s evolution. I note very little impetus of our species working together, whereas it is essential that elites learn the lessons of Brexit and Trump and retrain for a new world and not hang on grimly to their ill-gotten gains.

Our Planet Earth is like a giant living cell, whose parts are all linked in symbiosis. Biologist Thomas Lewis creates a metaphor of the Earth as a giant cell with humans just as one part of a vast system. This is not something that the elites and corporate moguls would pay much attention to.

Ian Prattis is Zen teacher at Pine Gate Sangha in the west end of Ottawa. Silent meditation every Thursday 7.00pm – 8.00pm, Mindfulness Gathering every First Saturday of the month. Latest book http://ianprattis.com/NewPlanet.html  

 

 

Invitation to my book for 2017

Our World is Burning: Essays on Mindful Engagement

As an idealistic teenager I wanted to save the world. I still do. Over the years though, I discovered I first had to save myself, because I was every bit as screwed up as the world. Indeed, saving myself and saving the world seems to be the same struggle, because we are all connected, one to another, and the forces that warped me are the same that warp the world. These essays come out of my long struggle. Please accept them as a gift; my thoughts on how to save ourselves and our world. The fifteen essays are not candidates for intellectual sophistry or a pawn in the intellectual constructions of clever talk. The reader’s experience, however, is the warp and weft of the universal tapestry.

When a breeze caresses a falling leaf, that leaf is transformed in its descent from tree limb to earth. Sunlight catches one side then glances off the other as the leaf gently spirals down. This gift of nature is not permanent. Yet notions of permanence reflect our fear of the unknown, immense dimensions within ourselves and foster the limitations we impose on reality with minds that are not free. Impermanence connotes our true nature of interconnectedness with a constantly changing web of life. We are fully alive because we are not alone. Everything connects to us. The theme of these essays is about change, cycles of transformation and discovering how we contain everything within ourselves. They rest on the ever-changing cycles that mark our journey in these tumultuous and dangerous times.

Introduction to Essay 15: Guidelines to Reconstruct our World

As a Zen teacher I make a commitment not to cause harm. I am guided by spiritual ethics yet am aware that the current disastrous state of the planet will not bring forth strategic plans of how to fix things. I could go on and on about the terrible things taking place in society and to the planet – and will divert to that in a moment. Yet the bottom line for me is to remember and refine a system of ethical conduct. So I go deeper and mainly fix myself to be steady and insightful. In the final essay of this collection I register with mindfulness trainings, as they bring to the surface all that I would like to see in people around the planet. It may sound simple minded but it is more useful than the tedious rants about what is drastically wrong and dangerous to our future.

The bottom line for me is that awakening and mindfulness are active. Activism on its own does not have the inner resources to bring about effective social and planetary transformation. I know from personal experience that retraining the wild mind is the necessary ingredient to precede activism. Stepping out on the environmental or political stage is only one part of the dance. It cannot be fully effective until the internal choreography is in place, the wild mind tamed. It will take smart discernment in order to step lightly on the planet. We have no alternative but to concentrate on sustainable living rather than greedily exploiting the spoils of perpetual economic growth. Profit cannot be the sole reason for commerce, there must be responsibility tied into the equation. At present, we are totally out of sync with the earth’s resources. The fragile threads of ecosystems around the globe are severely compromised. We are in the position of either going down the collective sewer or changing our values in the direction of awakening.

Jane Goodall issued a dire warning that “Life is Hanging by a Thread,” as all living things will be negatively impacted by rapid climate change. In particular she advocates the necessity of creating programs that stop tropical deforestation by placing rural communities as custodians of the forests. This is a tall order, as Donald Trump’s presidency has pulled the plug on a livable climate, dismantling environmental regulations and setting in motion irreversible consequences around the globe. The United States is now set on a course of ignoring climate change by obstructing clean energy and any form of conservation. The fox is already in the hen house and the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord may be the first bird to die. Noam Chomsky refers to Trump’s priorities as “…racing as rapidly as possible to the destruction of organized human life.”

Stephen Hawking’s thoughtful piece in the Guardian (December 1, 2016) places a focus on elite behavior creating further inequality as he examines Brexit and the Trump presidency. His question is how will the elites change? He states, “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality and people see only a slim chance at earning a living at all.” Hawking acknowledges this dangerous moment in humanity’s evolution. I note very little impetus of our species working together, whereas it is essential that elites learn the lessons of Brexit and Trump and retrain for a new world and not hang on grimly to their ill-gotten gains.

Our Planet Earth is like a giant living cell, whose parts are all linked in symbiosis. Biologist Thomas Lewis creates a metaphor of the Earth as a giant cell with humans just as one part of a vast system. This is not something that the elites and corporate moguls would pay much attention to.

 

Waves Into Water

When Thich Nhat Hanh ordained me as a dharma teacher he transmitted the Lamp of Wisdom in a ceremony at Plum Village in France. I was required to present a dharma talk to the monastics present on this occasion. I talked about waves and water and came around to the significance of silence. This is what I said.

Thich Nhat Hanh uses a wonderful analogy of waves and water to understand how the Ultimate and Historical dimensions of reality are interwoven. Waves rise, they fall and die when they wash up on a seashore or riverbank. This is the analogy for the Historical Dimension. Many other notions within time/space constraints situate the wave clearly within the historical dimension of viewing reality, which provides a metaphor for our daily existential cycle of life – our crises and cycles of ups and downs. But no matter what attributes apply to waves there is always a constant. While a wave is about its business of being high or low, born or dying, coming or going, it is always water. The constant of water refers to the Ultimate Dimension.  With the interconnected nature of waves and water, the idea is that if we touch the waves of life deeply with our insight then we can touch the water of life – the Ultimate Dimension that we can call Nirvana, the Kingdom of God.  This is a transcendent reality, a dimension outside of time and space, distinct from the time and space constraints of our daily existence.

I have heard Thich Nhat Hanh many times express the waves and water analogy, and the metaphorical qualities certainly made intellectual sense to me. But my experience was such that deep looking into my waves did not lead me to touch the water of the Ultimate Dimension. My “Waves” did not shoot me through to the “Water” as I certainly expected them to do, after listening to my teacher. I wondered for a long time about this disjunction between my intellectual acceptance of this notion and my lack of personal experience. There were three logical options for me to investigate.

  1. The first option was that Thich Nhat Hanh was incorrect.
  2. The second option was that Thich Nhat Hanh was neither correct nor incorrect. He was simply very generous in choosing not to chart the difficulties of transition from waves to water.
  3. The third option was that Thich Nhat Hanh was correct and that something crucial was missing from my practice.

I eliminated the first option as I have great trust and faith in Thich Nhat Hanh as a teacher.  There may be something to the second option as I know how generous a teacher he is, that he may choose to encourage rather than chart the difficulties on the path. Yet, I realized very early on that the real investigation was the third option – to investigate just what was missing from my practice of mindfulness. I was aware that my waves were too small to carry me through to the Ultimate Dimension – too small in terms of insufficient concentration, insight and mindfulness – the three energies of transformation. What I needed was a tidal wave to make my waves full of concentration, insight and mindfulness so that this energy could provide the “voltage” to transition from waves through to water. I knew that a tidal wave has the properties of increasing energy and appears to disobey the second law of thermodynamics. It is described as a “soliton” in science, with characteristics of both wave and particle and therefore a kinship with elementary particles such as the photon and electron. So my investigation was into my internal state for the causes and conditions that would make my waves into “solitons” – into tidal waves full of concentration, mindfulness and insight. As I pondered this deeply I stumbled across where I had to go.

It was into Silence. Deep Silence and stillness amidst the world I lived in. This is where I found the causes and conditions that would provide tidal waves of energy to my cells and consciousness. Silence producing Tsunami was the initial equation. I could truly look deeply into my suffering, into the dark areas that held hostage my mental formations of an unwholesome nature. And so over the past decades I have built more and more silence into my everyday life. On a daily basis I stop, look deeply and dialogue with the feminine seeds in my consciousness – a practice received from my Native American medicine teachers. I listen deeply in the silence to the communications from the wholesome attributes of feminine wisdom within me to address issues and questions. For a long time now this has been, and still is, my fieldwork of life – observation and understanding the field of consciousness within me through the eyes of the internal feminine. Silence and skilful deep looking were certainly important yet the dialogue with the internal feminine was the key for me. My consciousness was guided by these seeds of awareness to transform difficulties and impediments in my life, enabling me to move on.

My home and sangha life, supported by the entire Pine Gate Sangha, enables me to retreat into silence on a regular basis. In this way – through silence and deep looking – my waves became bigger, more infused with concentration, insight and mindfulness.  Deep silence and dialogue with the internal feminine provided the causes and conditions for my waves to become Tsunami.  As I continued to stop in the silence and look deeply into my shadows, there emerged the distinct experience of touching the water. Thich Nhat Hanh was correct. I had to discover for myself the significance of silence, skilful deep looking and consulting with the wisdom of the internal feminine.  The fruits of this practice of silence and non-action were many and particularly manifest in my study of the Lotus Sutra.

Silence had given me a better understanding and experience of the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions. I applied myself to study the Lotus Sutra, particularly Burton Watson’s 1993 translation from the Chinese version done by the Central Asian scholar-monk Kumarajiva in 406 CE. Prior to this intensive study I was much more comfortable with accepting the Buddha in Historical form. The story of the Buddha’s life, awakening and ministry was enough for me and I had not paid too much attention to the Buddha in the Ultimate Dimension. That changed radically through reading the Lotus Sutra from my practice of silence. For in the Lotus Sutra the Buddha in the Ultimate Dimension is revealed in no uncertain terms. In its beauty, grandeur and compelling intimacy with all that is, ever was, and ever will be, my scepticism about the Ultimate Dimension of the Buddha disappeared. As I read different chapters of the Lotus Sutra I was transported to the worlds and dimensions described. I would read a little then put the book down as I felt myself going deeply into meditation. I was profoundly moved by the words, the dimensions, by the energy that I experienced through the series of translations into Chinese then into English. And I would remain in a trance like state for hours. My wife Carolyn would come home from work, take one look at me and say: “You’ve been reading the Lotus Sutra again, haven’t you?” She was right!

My direct experience of the energy of this Mahayana masterpiece brought home to me so many insights. The most pertinent one was that I would not be able to experience the Lotus Sutra in this way if my waves were still too small – lacking in insight, concentration and mindfulness.  Over the years I took steps to remedy my small wave syndrome as best I could, through protracted periods of deep silence and skilful deep looking. I still continue with this practice.  Without the silence and what it enabled, I am sure I would have had a different experience from my study of the Lotus Sutra – a superficial reading that would not have allowed me to touch its depth and magnificence. The Lotus Sutra is full of the activities of bodhisattvas, sages and holy beings, and of how we may understand their role. The bodhisattvas are described as being immersed in the Ultimate Dimension, and from there they return to the Historical Dimension to transform suffering. This is the Action Dimension – shaped for us through the Six Paramitas – plus one – Upaya! As “water” bodhisattvas live the life of a “wave.” Their example in choosing to do so encourages us to come face to face with suffering, to step away from fear and take our own steps into freedom. This is the task of the true revolutionary of the twenty first century. Not to pick up a gun and shout hatred, but to penetrate “Water” from the “Waves” of life. There are so many bodhisattvas from all spiritual traditions who are choosing to do this.  In a way this ushers in the end of Religion – of being attached to the identity gained from one’s religion.  The task before us in the 21st century is to step out as Spiritual Warriors and not be caught by our religious identities but to connect and walk hand in hand with friends from other spiritual traditions who are doing the same. Thus I am expanding the term bodhisattva so that it embraces far more than Buddhism.

I came through this process with waves that are not so small anymore, with joy and happiness, and a full heart to share with everyone. I also experience a distinct cycle of interconnectedness.  Empowered by my study of the Lotus Sutra, I institute yet more silence into my life even when I am talking to someone or offering a dharma talk. I became available to the Three Gems in a manner I was not before. My waves carry more voltage and my Seven Paramitas are filling up rather than being half empty as my skillfulness grows. My activism for peace and the environment rests on a foundation of silence and the initial necessity of non-action.  The true art of doing nothing! It all weaves together like a spider’s web glistening in the morning dew.  It is so lovely. I offer my insight gatha when receiving the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in  Plum Village, France.

Lotus Sutra sings.

Fresh dharma rains penetrate

My heart – wide open.