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Lions Roar : March 2007
back to those who have generated the environmental damage and are in a position to change their course of action. The real world of Indra’s Net is not made up of equal players. Some agents definitely carry more weight than others, as is painfully obvious with the current U.S. administration. Identifying key actors and policy decisions is vital to choosing strategies that can re-orient the system to healthy goals. Liberty Hyde Bailey, an American naturalist at the turn of the century, said, “The happiest life has the greatest number of points of contact with the world, and it has the deepest feeling and sympathy with everything that is.” He was describing the ex- perience of a soulful systems-thinker, one who brings awareness to everyday relations with all beings. A Buddhist might sense this as a deep understanding of the law of interdependence. My point is that such awareness is available to all and is foundational to doing effective environmental work. If you learn the shape of lo- cal rivers and mountains, if you meet the people who grow your food, if you help the world become a more livable place, you can begin to see yourself not only as one who is shaped by but also as one who shapes Indra’s Net. Taking the Path of Non-Harming Non-harming, or ahimsa, is a central principle in Buddhist ethics. This first precept informs all other ethical commitments. Under- standing how deeply life is conditioned by suffering, the Bud- dhist aims not to create further suffering and to reduce suffering wherever possible—in other words, to cause minimal harm. In its deepest sense, ahimsa means the absence of even the urge to kill or harm. Such a compassionate response is said to arise natu- rally out of a broadly felt connection to other beings. This guideline is not meant to be an impossible ideal but rather a barometer for making choices about how to act. I believe it applies well as a principle for environmental decisions. The U.S. National Environmental Protection Act was written with this intention; en- vironmental-impact statements were mandated to measure how much suffering would be caused by a federal project and to sug- gest mitigation measures to reduce the impact. Reducing suffering might mean changing harvest methods, for example, or it could mean providing protection for species close to extinction. The practice of non-harming is idealized in the Mahayana archetype of the bodhisattva, the enlightened being who returns lifetime after lifetime to help all who are suffering. The bodhisattva’s Above: New Car Lot, Tacoma, 2004. Below: Crushed Cars, Tacoma, 2004.