“Interest in eco-dharma – the ecological implications of Buddhist teachings – is finally growing after years of apparent indifference and little conversation about it in Buddhist sanghas. … Indifference to eco-dharma seems to be reflective of a larger problem with socially engaged Buddhism in the West. … we are getting better at pulling drowning people out of the river, but we are not much better at asking why there are so many more people caught in the river. Who or what is pushing them in upstream? When we dare to ask why so many are homeless in the wealthiest country in history, or why so many languish in prisons, we are dismissed as radicals or leftists. “These concerns,” goes the common response, “have nothing to do with Buddhism.”
Does the ecological crisis also have nothing to do with Buddhism? Or is the disconnect due to our misunderstanding of Buddhism? The philosopher Slavoj Zizek has argued that this disconnect applies generally to Western Buddhism, which “enables you to fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it; that you are well aware of how worthless this spectacle is; and that what really matters to you is the peace of the inner self to which you know you can always withdraw.” His point has some validity.[…]
While much of traditional Buddhism is concerned about transcending (in one way or another) this unsatisfactory world, much of modern Buddhism is about adapting to it better. In the first case, this world is the problem because it is a place of suffering, while in the other, one’s mind is the problem. These are differing perspectives on the path, but they can both have the effect of devaluing social and ecological engagement. In different ways, each is resigned to the way this world is—or seems to be—and therefore is not concerned about reforming it.
It is not surprising, then, that both perspectives offer the same “solution” to the ecological crisis. When our attention is drawn to what is happening—to the fact that our ecosystems are deteriorating quickly and our collective response to this situation remains woefully inadequate—we can sit on our cushions and meditate, or perhaps chant, and after a while we feel better because we have “let go” of our dis-ease about what is happening to the earth.
Fortunately, there is another way to understand the Buddhist path: that it is about deconstructing and reconstructing the self—or, better, the relationship between one’s sense of self and the world. […]
Buddhism provides a wonderful archetype that can bring individual and social transformation together: the bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas have a double practice—as they deconstruct and reconstruct themselves, they also work for social and ecological change. Actually, these are two sides of the same practice. As we start to see through the delusion of our separateness, our deep-rooted, self-preoccupied habits don’t suddenly disappear. We need to develop less self-centered and more compassionate ways of living in the world, but how do we do that? By devoting ourselves to the well-being of others, including the health of the earth’s ecosystems. Such concerns are not distractions from our personal practice but deeper manifestations of it.
Bodhisattvas are able to act in the world with equanimity because they are unattached to the fruits of their actions, which is not the same as detachment from the state of the world. Nonattachment is essential in the face of the inevitable setbacks and frustrations that activism involves, but it does not mean that one is unconcerned about the results of one’s efforts. Given the urgency of the challenges, we work as hard as we can. When our efforts do not bear fruit in the ways that we hoped, we naturally feel some disappointment, but we do not remain stuck there. Nonattachment lets us move forward in the face of despair.
Will our efforts be in vain? Have we already passed ecological tipping-points? We don’t know, yet rather than being overwhelmed by the unknown, bodhisattvas embrace “don’t know mind,” because the task of the bodhisattva is to do the best one can without knowing what the consequences will be.”
Excerpt from: Buddhists Must Awaken to the Ecological Crisis – Lion’s Roar
More on this subject, also by David Loy: Enter… the Bodhisattva – Lion’s Roar