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Lions Roar : July 2015
hurricanes and earthquakes, no one will have a safe place to hide. And there will be no one who is not a victim, whether or not it is a consequence of their own actions. The old question about whether there is such a thing as collective karma takes on a new urgency. Traditional Buddhist teachings help us to wake up individually and experi- ence our personal nonduality with the world. The Japanese Zen master Dogen described his great enlightenment with reference to the natural world: “I came to realize clearly that mind is nothing other than rivers and mountains and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.” Such recognition implies empathy and compassion. As Nisargadatta put it, “When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that’s wisdom. When I look out- side and see that I am everything, that’s love. Between these two my life turns.” When we realize that others are not sepa- rate from us, that we are all components of something much greater, concern for the welfare of all arises naturally. Today we must ask whether Buddhist teachings about the delusion of a discrete individual self also apply to group delu- sions of a collective self. Collective in this case refers to the largest group self of all: the illusory sense of separation between us as a species, Homo sapiens sapiens, and the rest of the biosphere. Is this the same delusion? Isn’t our ecological predica- ment a larger version of our perennial individual predicament: the delusion that we humans “inside” are separate from the natural world “outside”? If we answer yes to this question, the practical issue becomes whether we can use our contemplative practices to investigate the root causes of our collective situation. On one level we have a civiliza- tion that has institutional- ized greed and exploitation, deferring the environmental costs of fossil fuels and the unrestrained growth of population and consumption to the future—a future that is starting to be now. On another level, our human heart- minds often have difficulty restraining the drive for immediate gratification and pleasure without some type of focused training, such as meditation. Once we understand these causes con- ceptually, we need to observe how they operate both in our own minds and in the collective consciousness of groups and organizations. We need to recognize the separations that are created and main- tained in our own minds, moment by moment, and how they extend into society. Both levels produce and reinforce the sense of being a self that is separate from the world it is “in,” a world that is further divided into human (or human-made) and nature. Both individually and col- lectively, there is the belief that one can pursue one’s own well-being without concern for the well-being of all. Society is organized to provide some protection from the predation of other people, but today the natural world has become largely reduced to a collection of resources to be exploited, with token concern for the survival of a few other favored species and places. Since the natural world is unable to protect itself from our formidable tech- nologies, the ultimate question is if and when we will realize our nonduality with it, to love it and be loved by it, and in that way come to embrace responsibility for the well-being of the whole biosphere, which is our only assured path of survival. The Buddha didn’t have to answer these questions, but we do. ♦ TODAY, MOST OF US meditate in buildings, separated from the joys and irritations of the natu- ral world by solid floors and right-angled walls. This is certainly more convenient and comfortable, but has something been lost? How well can we experi- ence nonseparation from our own true nature if we never experience nature on its own terms? Nature or wilderness meditation retreats can illuminate and even transcend the conditions that support the illusions of separateness. Putting our- selves into a natural setting, in silence, with little stuff and sometimes without other people, sets up the conditions for realizing our absolute submis- sion to and dependence upon what we call nature. With time and mindful observation, we realize that in order to live in non-separation we must give up the illusion of being above or beyond nature—the illusion of control that technology and society so deeply ingrain in us. Being in the elements, exposed and present, alone and quiet, can be intense, scary, uncomfort- able, and disorienting, before it is liberating. It is one thing to wax poetic about the beauty of nature, another to be deeply observing moment by moment the effects on mind and body of cold, heat, wind, water, sun, and the fears these can engender. Yet if we turn toward this stress, it can reveal our true home: opening us up to the abso- lute impersonality of natural beauty and power, and helping us to realize how connected we truly are. —David Loy and Johann Robbins TAKE A HIKE The natural world has been largely reduced to a collection of resources to be exploited. RANDYP.MARTIN SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 14