Tag Archives: Trump Antidote

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  

 

 

Our World is Burning

                  

Leonardo DiCaprio has presented passionate videos that Climate Change is a fact. He draws on the unanimous scientific consensus. Not so the Trump presidency, where Climate Change in America is swiftly being placed on the back burner and will soon be out of the door. Trump has dubbed climate change as a hoax created by the Chinese government to make US manufacturing non-competitive. He tapped Myron Ebell, America’s most prominent climate change skeptic, to oversee the transition of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) with a view to roll back the extensive environmental platform created by the Obama administration. Myron Ebell is not a scientist and does not believe in scientific facts endorsed by climate scientists. He talks glibly about the actual benefits of climate change and rightly earned the “climate criminal” tag from Greenpeace.

Trump then selected Scott Pruit to run the EPA. Pruit is an ally of the fossil fuel industry and his selection will destroy the US Clean Power Plan and all the other environmental measures put in place over the past eight years. He proposes to open up federal lands for logging and carbon extraction – oil, gas, coal – and rejects the Paris climate change accord. Conservation is not part of his vocabulary, so it is in the cards that the XL pipeline will be built, federal parks will end up drastically diminished, off-shore drilling permits will be abundant while conservation measures are dumped world-wide.

The strategic momentum engineered by these two climate change deniers makes America a rogue state. Its impact will destabilize global efforts to reign in climate change. Myron Ebell’s organization – Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) – is financed by Exxon and the coal industry. It is part of the powerful international misinformation machine that pours millions of dollars into the campaign that discredits climate scientists. CEI masquerades as a think tank but is in fact a corporate lobbying group that buys the politics that protect the interests of billionaires, who, by the way, have no concern for a sustainable environment. Fossil fuel interests greeted Trump’s strategy with elation in anticipation of a new bottom line – protection of carbon profits for Trump’s corporate cronies. The existence of the EPA is endangered and will likely be cast aside. Trump and his acolytes give no hope for our deteriorating planet. The recipe is in place to create disastrous global consequences.

My latest book New Planet, New World is set in 2080. It charts the inevitable space mission to inhabit a new planet made necessary by willful ignorance about Climate Change on Planet Earth. Culture crash late in the twenty first century opens this epic novel. Children travel via spacecraft to a distant planet to escape Earth. A sharing of cultures-technologies ensues as they join other Earth refugees to form a new, sustainable, caring community with ethics and a moral compass. Intertwining plotlines arc into the epiphany of the final chapter, the end game of a philosophy for the future. 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. This final chapter – Musings on the Future of Humanity – was written long before Trump ascended to the presidency in America. However, readers pointed out that I had provided an antidote for all that Trump intends to implement.

I bring a more sensitive and poignant stance to your attention, by seeing climate change through the eyes of a terrified nine year old boy. My grand-nephew James was recently celebrating his birthday, yet he felt awful and very sad about being nine. He wished he could stay five years old forever. When asked 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. He said, “I don’t want to grow up and live in a world that is burning.” In the silence that stretched between us I wondered what to say. I could not say that everything will be OK, that my generation will fix things. He was much too intelligent for such placebos. So I spoke to him about the mindfulness community I created in 1997 – Pine Gate – 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 intensely and asked what else did Pine Gate do?

            I pointed out that Pine Gate encourages 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. 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 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 ‘midst the flowers, which are picked and sent to the elderly folk living on our crescent. A simple underground economy arises from the sharing. A solar panel on the roof 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 has become an example for other friends as they do the math on how much cash we are saving and implement something similar. Our focus is on mindfulness in schools, city environment, teens at risk and on the empowerment of women. I admitted to James that I am blown away by the results, for at the local level there were great women who helped make things happen.

“You mean girl power?” asked James incredulously.

“Exactly that,” I replied and told him that I have written elsewhere that the present millennium  is the century of the daughters, not so much as a gender separate thing, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind.

The idea behind Pine Gate is to foster a strong cadre of people in Ottawa to make a difference for the betterment of society and the Earth Mother. Women are in the forefront of this endeavor. They are the heart that holds the living waters and that heart is the dynamic epicentre that leads to effective action. That is how we get things done to create a different course of action and living. James was taking it all in. He knew instinctively that major changes were needed. I intimated that when enough of us change, then we will be in charge. I told him about a speech I gave about violent consumption. His sharp mind held on to every word as I pointed out that festive occasions like Christmas provide opportunities for the best and the worst within us to come out and play. Yet compassion and kindness are quickly overshadowed by greed, selfishness and consumer madness. We need to re-assess, as it is time to move on from being self-absorbed and distracted.

“How?” he asked again, as he really wanted to know. So I gave him this list.

Locate in something bigger than oneself; 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 pointed out to James that 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 items like education for a girl in Afghanistan, micro-loans 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 James 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 has received such gifts from me for several years. For his most recent birthday he asked all 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 one 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 could 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 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, smartness and creative vision.

“You mean like Jedi training?” he enquired. I nodded with a smile. I referred briefly to my years of training in ashrams and monasteries in India and France and with Native American medicine people. I confided that the real kicker for me was the time spent alone in the Canadian wilderness. I promised to talk to him about this at some future time.

Then he asked, “So what is the big deal about violent consumption?” I replied that it totally dominates our planet, mind and body. I knew that James’ greatest fear was about the planet’s ecological crises, from mining disasters in Brazil and China, wildfires in Canada’s Boreal forests, Amazon deforestation – all the way to the Gulf Oil Spill where tons of toxic oil dispersants contaminate the oceanic ecosystem.

“How do we change this mad destruction of the planet?” James exclaimed. I wondered how best to explain matters to him, yet trusted his intelligence.

I said, “We must come to a stop, locate ourselves in stillness and make different choices by examining our minds, consumption patterns and then see 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. “You just bring your focus to your in-breath, then on your out-breath with full attention on breath. Really concentrate on the whole length of breath in and breath 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.”

He did so, nodded 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 shaped by the actions we take at this moment. I looked at James and indicated that was plenty 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 have a degraded planet that will certainly blow up. 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 being met without any awareness of consequences for 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 to a burning world would definitely occur.

I said to him, “Do you know that there is also violence to our bodies through the food we eat, and that it has disastrous consequences for our connection to all living beings?” He did not, yet his mind was a sponge soaking up every word. So I carried on providing him with a road map to investigate. “The vast consumption of meat and alcohol constitutes an excessive ecological footprint. Industrial animal agriculture 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.”

“That is so gross,” remarked James. I told him that we can change our minds and patterns of food consumption. We re-educate and retrain ourselves mentally and choose to support our body and planet by shifting ingrained food habits.  It takes training but we 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. If we bring violence into our own biological system and consciousness, then we inevitably bring violence 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, 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 as we have discussed it before.” James nodded. “It was an exceptional step by the international community, dedicating their intent to prevent global temperatures from rising a further 1.5 degrees. The signatories returned to their respective countries to find the wherewithal to “Change Climate Change.” What 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, boreal forest wildfires and triggers further tipping points that create deforestation, desertification and so on in a relentless cascade that cannot be stopped. I reminded him of the wildfires in Alberta. It was not a singular disaster at Fort McMurray, as the entire Boreal forest in Canada is a tinder box due to the powerful forces of Climate Change. The reality in front of us is not the reversal of Climate Change. The question is about learning how to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change.”

I emphasized to James that the disasters all over the world interconnect and reinforce each potency to explode. Whether it is wildfires, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tsunamis, millions of aquatic creatures dead on beaches, it goes on relentlessly. 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, “Here is another manifestation of Climate Change.” News programs are often showbiz and full of fake news. Journalists function as pawns to corporate interests that are culpable in the first place for creating the tipping points that cause these interconnected disasters. So the general public are not educated by the media about the terrible realities happening on our planet. That is a big obstacle. The other obstacles preventing the general public taking wise action are a mixture of fear, despair, sheer laziness, disempowerment and a sense of hopelessness.

I said, “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 all understandable, which is why you wish to remain five years old forever. The difficult thing for you to grasp is the clear evidence that we are the primary cause.”

I confessed to James that in my previous books I underestimated the impact of the carbon fuel cabal, a complex web of powerful corporate and government interests. This carbon economy extends into the manufacturing and servicing sectors, supported by insulated 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. This powerful, intermeshed cabal can easily circumvent the Climate Change accords agreed to by the international community.  People everywhere are aware, but just feel helpless in the face of this power. So what are we to do? 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 and step beyond the smaller pictures of ourselves created by fear and disempowerment. But 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. Then we can hold officials, politicians and corporate culture to account. We alert the political and corporate decision makers that we mean business as voters and consumers deeply concerned about the planet and our location on it. This is very important.”

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 rather than living on the automatic pilot of busyness. 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.  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.”

I told him I had written a futuristic book – New Planet, New World – which provides a counterpoint story to the demise of our modern civilization. In this book I chart a communal Hero’s Journey to reconstruct society based on ecology, caring and sharing. The final chapter muses about human survival anywhere. 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 novel my intention is to provide a reflection of the disasters of the world today. The rich and uber-wealthy already inhabit armed, gated communities and will be targets for eco-militias and popular uprisings drawn from the impoverished masses – and they are intent on revenge.

“Have you ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s film The Clockwork Orange?” James had not and I told him it was a gruesome movie that could well emerge in the real world. “To avoid this likely outcome it is wise to take training very, very seriously. All of this is to do an end run around the toxic mixture of fear, despair, sheer laziness, disempowerment and sense of hopelessness that I spoke about.”

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

He looked at 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.
  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 typing all of this down on his tablet as I continued talking. “Our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms must all 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 unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful. This is brought about by organic gardening in the mind.”

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

“Why should we do all this stuff James? Here’s why. When you can be open and receptive you become an epi-center of light and energy 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. 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 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 take the message to heart with a quiet smile. It is essential to learn to be silent, to stop clinging and find the way to be present. As the Hopi advise us, never take anything personally and look around to see who is with you. As you do all of this then the world changes as a consequence. 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 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.

My conversation with young James was all about Engaged Buddhism – the essential teachings of the Buddha. Engaged Buddhism is a modern term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh to remind buddhists that the Buddha’s teachings were always based on Engaged Buddhism. In the past there was too much attention on forging feudal structures to support monasteries in the East and so the foundation of Engaged Buddhism got lost. It is up to us to revive Engaged Buddhism and live it in every moment of our lives.

If the reader connects the dots of my conversation with young James, you would see clearly that Engaged Buddhism is the antidote to all that Donald Trump stands for.