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Lions Roar : September 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 24 creating positive outward change. Gandhi stressed the radical requirements of non- violence, which depends on the satyagrahi being all he or she ought to be. He taught that when another person’s welfare means more to you than your own, when his or her life means more to you than even your own, then you are pushing at the boundar- ies of consciousness. It is that inner perfectibility, that practi- cal exploration of new forms of conscious- ness itself, that creates the conditions for radical social (and environmental) change. Gandhi famously said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” That certainly means we must practice what we preach, but more deeply it suggests the possibility that if we can transform our- selves—our own consciousness and our personal relations with the environment and with each other—then we can tap the power of truth needed to overcome the obstacles to a sustainable future. These ideas were recently the focus of an international conference and a major forum on the principles of satyagraha held in New York. The Garrison Institute, a non-profit whose Initiative on Transformational Ecol- ogy reconnects contemplative wisdom to environmental work, organized a weekend of events connecting Gandhi and the climate movement. It coincided with the opening of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Philip Glass’s opera “Satyagraha,” with its libretto drawn from the Bhagavad Gita. Participants took in the opening, attended a two-day contemplative retreat, and then spoke at a public forum at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine attended by more than a thousand people. Leaders of contemporary Gandhian movements, such as Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, founder of Sri Lanka’s Sarvodaya movement, and Sulak Sivaraksa, of the Thailand Spirit in Education Movement and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, traveled to New York to take part (carbon offsets were purchased to balance the travel footprint). As Sivaraksa said, the invocation of Gandhi suggested the American climate movement was “on the right track.” He and Dr. Ariyaratne led meditations and re- counted their own peace and social justice work, demonstrating that the same Gan- dhian methods they use also apply to heal- ing environmental violence: personally face the truth, open our awareness, change our consciousness, and act accordingly in the world. Rajmohan Gandhi, Gandhi’s biographer and grandson, said that as his grandfather used nonviolence and truth force to combat and transform the insen- sitive occupation of India by the British, so we must combat and transform our own insensitive occupation of planet Earth. John Francis recounted the story of his personal liberation from environmental violence, renouncing motorized transport for twenty-two years after witnessing an oil spill and maintaining a vow of silence for seventeen years. During that time he not only walked across much of the planet and touched millions of lives, but some- how earned a Ph.D. and became a leading expert on oil spills in time to be tapped as a policy advisor to the U.S. government in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster (he rode his bike to Washington). Francis is a very funny man, the embodiment of Gan- dhi’s playful three-word summary of his philosophy: “Renounce and enjoy.” Mary Evelyn Tucker, cofounder of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, and youth leader Billy Parish, founder of the Climate Campaign and cofounder of the Energy Action Coalition, spoke of seizing our own “moments of obligation.” This moment in history, they said, calls all of us back to our highest ideals of moral courage and personal responsibility. One current running through this dis- cussion was swaraj, the Gandhian term for independence, ostensibly from foreign rule. It also has connotations of freedom from state control and individual and com- munity self-sufficiency, but more deeply it means self-rule or self-liberation, which is the true object of the struggle for social change. Change one’s own consciousness, face one’s own fear of violence and over- come complicity in it, master oneself, and outward repression falls away. Or perhaps it doesn’t. At the end of Gan- dhi’s life, the retreatants were told by the distinguished writer Ved Mehta, he thought he had failed in his mission. Although the $22.95 hardcover Visit www.shambhala.com to receive a 20% discount on this and over 600 other great books! SEPT 18-39.indd 24 SEPT 18-39.indd 24 7/3/08 1:30:01 PM 7/3/08 1:30:01 PM