Paris, Climate Change, Snow and Snow Leopards

Due to concerns about terrorism following the attacks in Paris, French police have revoked permission for a Paris rally to demand strong action on climate change. The demonstration was to be held November 29. The U.N.’s 21st annual conference on climate change, COP21, is scheduled to begin on the next day, with world leaders, business executives, and official delegates from 195 countries attending.  They will have until Dec. 12 to agree about a possible new global agreement aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.  And more than 3,000 journalists and thousands of environmental activists will be watching, along with many others around the world.

This past September, the Global Buddhist Climate Change Collective was formed to “facilitate a Buddhist contribution” to the COP21. They put out a letter calling on world leaders to act on climate change. It was signed by the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and 13 other well-known Buddhist teachers.

Tibet_Himalayas2One of the signatories, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, claimant to the 17th Karmapa, an important position in Tibetan Buddhism, said in a recent interview “Given that the rate of warming in the Tibetan plateau is at least two times greater than the global average, we know flooding and droughts are bound to worsen.”

Earlier this year, a group of Tibet’s exiled leaders, including the Dalai Lama, warned that two-thirds of the glaciers in the Tibetan plateau may disappear by 2050 because of climate change.

The Tibetan Plateau is the highest plateau in the world, with an average elevation of over 16,000 feet, and contains the largest tropical glaciological area in the world. It is home to 37,000 glaciers that feed Asia’s largest rivers, including the Ganges, the Mekong and the Yangtze. More than two billion people in over a dozen countries depend on the water provided by the snow and ice of the Tibetan Plateau. And, it has experienced rising temperatures of 1.3 Celsius over the past five decades, which is actually three times the global average.

And then there’s the snow leopard. I don’t know how many of these beautiful animals once roamed that area, but it is estimated there are only 4000 left. October 23 was the first International Snow Leopard day and the World Wildlife Fund released a new report that said, “Urgent action is needed to curb climate change and prevent further degradation of snow leopard habitat, otherwise the ‘ghost of the mountains’ could vanish, along with critical water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.”

I understand there are 81 Buddhist monasteries in Tibet that send out patrols of their local areas to protect the leopards from poachers and they also educate the local communities about environmental protection. These Buddhists understand that dharma means not only finding inner peace but also taking external action.

Whether or not the leaders at the UN climate conference will take action as well is the crucial question. The Buddhist approach to climate change is based on the doctrine of interdependency (pratitya-samutpada), the interconnection of all things in the universe. Coming in the wake of the recent jihadist activity, the Paris conference could be a unique opportunity to explore the links between climate change and terrorism.

Jason Box and Naomi Klein write in the New Yorker: “The connection between warming temperatures and the cycle of Syrian violence is, by now, uncontroversial.” The authors quote a recent comment by Secretary of State John Kerry: “It’s not a coincidence that, immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country experienced its worst drought on record. As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms to its cities, intensifying the political unrest that was just beginning to roil and boil in the region.”

Box and Klein express hope for the conference in Paris to succeed. They pose the question, “What if, instead of being pushed aside in the name of war, climate action took center stage as the planet’s best hope for peace?”

I find myself cynical about such things nowadays. I expect the usual dog-and-pony show. But Andrew Steer, president of the US-based World Resources Institute, believes the recent terror attacks will stiffen “the spine in terms of determination to really solve what is the greatest collective action problem in history.”

Finally, I recently read about a woman, Marie Byles (1900–1979) who was a key figure in the development of Buddhism in Australia. From the 1940s she developed an eco-Buddhist worldview and Buddhist environmental ethic. In a work titled “Adapting Buddha’s Teaching to Modern Conditions”, she wrote,

“The Buddha spoke of avoiding ‘onslaught in creatures’ and had he been alive today with the rapid destruction of earth itself, he would certainly have included the earth along with creatures as not to be slaughtered.”

Human beings suffer the disease of separation – separation from the environment and each other. We must continue to change our concept of the environment. Far too many people still see humans as rulers of the planet. Instead, we should be the harmonizers.

– – – – – – – – – –

Painting by Nicholas Roerich 1933

Throwback Thursday: Don’t Lose Sight of Your Light

Today, an edited repost of a piece from 2014:

The concept of Buddha-nature is fundamental dharma and there are a number of sutras discuss its universality, yet none of them actually use the term, “Buddha-nature.”

00bThe Surangama Sutra, for instance, expounds the principle of Buddha-nature in terms of “pure” or “luminous” mind.

The Buddha said, Ananda and all of you should understand . . . that human beings, since time without beginning, have been subject to continuous sufferings because they do not know the basically bright and pure mind.”

The Buddha explains that living beings have lost sight of their light, their original brightness, even though it shines within them all day long, and because they cannot see it, they make the mistake of “entering the various destinies,” which means to transmigrate through illusory realms of existence.

The point is how to make people recognize their Buddha-nature. How much can you ‘see’ of the Buddha-nature inside of you?

The sutra is a teaching for the Buddha’s cousin, Ananda; it is his sutra. The title, Surangama, means “indestructible.” Because the light is always shining within whether we see it or not, we can say that in one sense the light is indestructible or unyielding. When we awaken to our Buddha-nature, and do not lose sight of it, others can see the brightness shining through, and then this teaching becomes our own indestructible sutra.

When the Buddha gave to his disciples the famous admonition to “be a lamp unto yourself,” he was telling them not to seek the light outside of their own lives, to always look within.

In This Light in Oneself, Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote,

One has to be a light to oneself; this light is the law. There is no other law. All the other laws are made by thought and so are fragmentary and contradictory. To be a light to oneself is not to follow the light of another, however reasonable, logical, historical, and however convincing.

You cannot be a light to yourself if you are in the dark shadows of authority, of dogma, of conclusion. Morality is not put together by thought; it is not the outcome of environmental pressure, it is not of yesterday, of tradition.

Freedom is to be a light to oneself; then it not an abstraction, a thing conjured up by thought.”

So, no matter what, don’t lose sight of your light.


Everything will be changed

Those of us who watched the news this weekend were bombarded with images from Paris, where Friday terrorists launched an extremely deadly attack. One image, or video, that affected me deeply was the one below of a man playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” on a piano just a few meters away from the Bataclan theater, one of the scenes of the attack.

The song’s message of non-duality and universal compassion is, I believe, the right message, the right response, in the wake of this horrific incident. It matches the spirit of non-violence that permeates Buddhism. The spirit of ahimsa (“do no harm”) is summarized in the famous admonition attributed to the Buddha, that with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.”

Victor Hugo, the French Romantic author known for his poetry and his novels, including Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), lived much of his life in the city of Paris. In 1882, he made a speech to the “Workingmen’s Congress.”  You may say Hugo was a dreamer, but he, too, was not the only one . . .

Have faith, then; and let us realize our equality as citizens, our fraternity as men, our liberty in intellectual power. Let us love not only those who love us, but those who love us not. Let us learn to wish to benefit all men. Then everything will be changed; truth will reveal itself, the beautiful will arise, the supreme law will be fulfilled, and the world shall enter upon a perpetual fete day. I say, therefore, have faith.”

I don’t feel that the faith Hugo speaks of is a religious faith, but a faith in humanity, a belief that the goodness in human beings will win out over the evil, faith in the power of compassion and reason.

As requested by the Mayor of Paris, the Eiffel Tower will be lit in the colors of the French flag (red white blue) and the motto of the City “Fluctuat nec Mergitur” will be projected onto the deck of the 1st floor (Trocadero side) from night fall Monday November 16 to 1:00 am and for three days (until Wednesday, November 18 included).

Protection against Ghosts and Demons

I meant to post this around Halloween . . .

The quote is from Dr. Terry Clifford’s Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry, a book that many think is one of the best on the subject of Tibetan Medicine:

Compassion is also understood to be a supreme medicine and protection against ghosts and demons. For according to Dharma psychology, when we try to reject something, we actually become more vulnerable to it. We come to realize this through the practice of meditation and watching the mind. We let unconscious material surface without rejecting or identifying with it. And thus it begins to lose its power over us.”

gb-1Clifford says that to the Tibetans, demons are symbolic.  They can represent negative emotions, mental afflictions.

I’ve wrestled with a few demons. Haven’t you? Ghosts, though, not so much.

When Clifford writes about trying to reject something, this can be the reverse side to attachment. In Buddhism, we normally use the word aversion in the context of anger and hatred, but aversion can also mean “rejection,” a strong dislike, a prejudice against someone or something – as detrimental to our well-being as seizing and clinging.

How does this attitude link to compassion? The Diamond Sutra tells us to cultivate a “non-discriminating mind.” The Buddha says that compassion requires one to free the mind of concepts, give to others with no thought of self or gain, cease making distinctions between beings who are worthy or unworthy, and ultimately, to consider that “when vast and immeasurable numbers of beings have been liberated, actually there is not any being liberated.”

Why is this? The Buddha in the Diamond Sutra tell us it is because “no compassionate person who is truly compassionate holds to the idea of a self, a being, or a separate individual.”

That explanation is teaching compassion from the ultimate truth. From the relative view, because there are others, there can be compassion. And compassion is good medicine, an antidote to self-cherishing, negative emotions and mental afflictions.

Keep in mind this from Lama Zopa Rinpoche, found in Ultimate Healing:

A loving, compassionate person heals others simply by existing. Wherever they are, compassionate people are healing, because they do everything they can to help others with their body, speech and mind. Merely being near a compassionate person heals us because it brings us peace and happiness.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Photo from The Ghost Breakers (1940): Bob Hope & Paulette Goddard

Where the Buffalo Roam

When I was a boy growing up in Kansas and my family went on a vacation, it was always by car. To my kid’s mind, there was nothing more monotonous than driving though Kansas. Sweeping along a hunk of pavement in the middle of a prairie, with seemingly endless stretches of wheat fields and ranch land on either side of you. Riding in the back seat hour after hour, there was little for my brother and I to do except annoy one another, and Mom and Dad.

I would enjoy driving in Kansas now. I’d especially like to go back to the one place in that expanse of brown and yellow I really enjoyed and it seemed like we passed by the spot every year. It was a pasture where about a half of mile from the highway a small herd of buffalo grazed. Maybe 50 head or so. My dad said that once 50 million buffalo roamed the plains but these were the last of the great bison . . . it was the last buffalo herd in the world.

Thinking back on it, I’m sure he said the last buffalo in Kansas, because there were buffalo on Catalina Island and at Yellowstone Park. However, it is a fact that by the early 1900s there were less than 500 . . . anywhere.

It has been said that after 1870 it was the official policy of the United States government to wipe out the buffalo, part of the greater U.S. policy to exterminate Native Americans.

The memory of driving by the buffalo each vacation is one reason why I have always liked this poem by Vachel Lindsay, who was born on this day in 1879:

The Flower-Fed Buffaloes

buffalo1bThe flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prairie flowers lie low:—
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by the wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us, long ago.
They gore no more, they bellow no more,
They trundle around the hills no more:—
With the Blackfeet, lying low,
With the Pawnees, lying low,
Lying low.

Vachel Lindsay