We are the Earth

Earth Day.  I remember the first Earth Day in 1970.  I was a senior in high school.  We had an assembly out on the football field and listened to a couple of speakers.  Not a big deal.

Forty-seven years later, it is a very big deal.  This year, there are plenty of interesting events to participate in, including a March for Science to take place today in more than 500 cities around the world.  According to the organizers, 13,500 people have signed up to attend the San Francisco march and science fair alone, while an additional 17,000 have expressed interest in the events via social media channels.

The President of the United States says that climate change is a Chinese hoax, a truly irresponsible stance driven in all probability by a dislike of regulations rather than any philosophical outlook, for I suspect this man has few core beliefs outside of those about his own greatness.

In the U.S., climate change denial is wrapped up with religion.  The SF Chronicle reports, “Many evangelical Christians believe that stewardship of the Earth and taking care of the poor and sick are core to their faith.”  8 in 10 evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, and what I find interesting is that many of these Christians believe that God gave humans dominion over the earth, yet few of them believe that human action has much of an effect on the environment.

Buddhism and Taoism are more sympathetic to the idea of climate change, because these religious philosophies, as they have been practiced in China and Japan, view nature as a partner in the quest for spiritual development, as opposed to a thing to exert dominion over.

Lao Tsu, in the Tao Te Ching, says

Humanity follows Earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
Tao follows what is natural.

“Heaven” signifies a natural order or organizing principle of the Universe, the “way of heaven.”  The way of Tao is to be in harmony with the way of nature.  The ancient Taoists saw this as not only our nature but also, our duty.

Buddhism teaches the oneness of self and the environment (esho funi).  If there is something wrong with the environment, then it is only a reflection of a “wrongness” within ourselves.  Human beings suffer the disease of separation – separation from the environment and each other.  We are not in harmony with nature.  We must continue to change our concept of the environment, appreciating the interconnectedness of nature and all things.

Several years ago, Thich Nhat Hanh published a book titled Love Letter to the Earth.  In Chapter 1 “We are the earth,” he writes

“At this very moment, the Earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you.  The Earth is everywhere.  You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet.  But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth.  Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth…

The Earth is not just the environment we live in.  We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.”

We are the Earth.

We are nature.

We are the environment.

The key to the problem of climate change is to change people’s minds.  The survival of the planet is too important to allow people to be in denial about climate change or to ascribe the coming catastrophe to a ludicrous conspiracy theory.

“Thus when we say that all sentient beings have within them the Buddha-essence or the Buddha-nature we mean that all sentient beings have minds which can change and become Buddha’s minds.”

– Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations

In this case, having a Buddha mind means being a bodhisattva of the earth, that is, a steward of the earth, taking on the planet’s sufferings, vowing to liberate all things in nature.

I know that I am not doing enough.  If I want to change the environmental crisis, I must first change my mind.  If I want to see pure air and water, I must first purify my mind.  I must go to that place within where I know without doubt, without denial, that I am the Earth.

Share

The Buddhist Poetry of Joanne Kyger

It’s April and that means it’s also National Poetry Month.   An opportunity to remember the Buddhist inspired poetry of Joanne Kyger, who passed away March 22 at age 82.

Kyger became interested in Buddhism when she was living in San Francisco during the late 50s and involved in the Beat Generation poetry scene there.   Her obituary in the NY Times quotes her as saying,

“My own interest in Zen came about because I had been studying Wittgenstein and Heidegger in Santa Barbara. Their philosophy just comes to an end saying you just have to practice the study of nothing.”

She met fellow poet/Buddhist Gary Snyder in 1958, and in 1960 they went to Japan and got married.  They also went to India with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky and met with the Dalai Lama.

Upon her return to the U.S., she published her first book, The Tapestry and the Web.  Kyger went on to publish more than twenty books of poetry and prose during her life.

Her work was a mix of dharma and the Beat Generation scene that became a part of the whole counter culture scene during the 1960s, including experimentation with psychedelic drugs.

Robert Creely said of Kyger, “There is no poet with more whimsically tough a mind… She’s the best of the west.”  And David Meltzer:  “No other poet of my gen­eration has been able to make the pleasures and particu­lars of the ‘everyday’ as luminous and essential and central.”

Basho Says Plants Stones Utensils
     have individual feelings
     similar to those of humans   
 
A zillion little butterfly thoughts
      simultaneously flap.

You are the sum
      of all you ‘know’
        and the more you forget
          the more ordinary
             you are really nothing
                 special   so why
                    all the anxious push-push
                      just hang

the clothes on the line
   Put the black ones
       in the washer
         Feel the myriad little bits
             of sensation
               that make up emotion

                            As the Sun
                           rises high
                         in the sky
                     so does the arrogance
         I’m still  waiting
           for the ‘Buddhist’
              poem to arrive

                 Darn it takes so long
                      for the Dharma
                      Up in arms
                  on the moral high road
              wanting to sum it up
          and END it

April 2002

Share

World Happiness Report

The annual World Happiness Report is out.  This year Norway ranks as the happiest place on earth.  That’s strange because I always thought it was supposed to be Disneyland.

At any rate, each year the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a United Nations initiative, measures world happiness country by country based on such factors as “income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government.”  The United Sates is now number 14.

According to SDSN, social well-being is the best gauge of a country’s progress.  John Helliwell, an economist at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the report, told the Associated Press:  “It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationship between people, is it worth it?  The material can stand in the way of the human.”

To read the World Happiness Report, go to their website.

It seems to me, though, that happiness is a difficult thing to measure.  At least on a personal level.  While happiness means generally the same thing to most folks, each of us can have a slightly different definition.  And, of course, since time immemorial, philosophers and other folk have been weighing in with their take on the meaning of happiness…

Marcus Aurelius said, “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

And Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Both of these “definitions” correspond with the Buddhist/Taoist notion of happiness, which is not the absence of suffering, but rather the ability to find joy and tranquility in the midst of suffering.

Chuang Tzu, the Chinese philosopher from around the 4th century BCE, believed that happiness or the ultimate satisfaction in life came from doing nothing, that is, the practice of wu-wei (not-doing, non-action):

“I consider doing nothing to obtain happiness to be true happiness, but ordinary people do not understand this.  It’s said that true happiness is to be without happiness, the highest praise is to be without praise.  The world can’t make up its mind what is right and what is wrong.  And yet doing nothing can determine it.  Since supreme happiness is found in keeping the body alive, only by doing nothing can you accomplish it!

Let me try putting it this way.  Space does nothing, and thence comes its serenity; Earth does nothing, and thence comes its peace.  Through the union of these two inactions all things are transformed and brought to life.  Wonderful, mysterious, they seem to come from nowhere!  Wonderful, mysterious, they have no visible sign!  Each thing minds its business and grows from this inaction.  So I say, space and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done.  But who among us can attain this inaction?”

In the United States, the pursuit of happiness is one of humankind’s basic rights.  It’s guaranteed by the Constitution.  But this is not the greatest goal in life.   When we calm our mind and when what we do is in harmony, we do not need to seek happiness, for we realize that it is already all around us.

Share

Alan Watts’ Psychotherapy East and West

As I mentioned in a recent post, a new edition of Alan Watts’ Psychotherapy East and West has been published by New World Library and I received a free copy for review.

According to the publisher’s description on the back, “When psychotherapy merely helps us adjust to social norms, Watts argued, it falls short of true liberation, while Eastern philosophy seeks our natural relation to the cosmos.”

In Watt’s view, both Eastern philosophy and psychotherapy have the same goal: death of the ego, the sublimation of the fictional self.  And both could benefit in learning from the other.

It is important to keep in mind this book was first published 56 years ago.  That most of it remains relevant today is remarkable, but there are some places where Watts’ assumptions no longer hold water.  The book was a reaction to the state of psychotherapy in the late 1950’s.  For instance, Watts criticizes American psychology for being “over-Puritan.”  I doubt if that is the case today.

As far as any blending of East and West is concerned, some folks may gloss over this huge caveat:

“Nevertheless, the parallel between psychotherapy and, as I have called them, the Eastern ‘ways of liberation’ is not exact, and one of the most important differences is suggested by the prefix psycho-.  Historically, Western psychology has directed itself to the study of the psyche or mind as a clinical entity, whereas Eastern cultures have not categorized mind and matter, soul and body, in the same way as the Western.”

What we have here is basically “East is East and West is West,” that is, two radically different approaches to the problem of human suffering, one based on intuitive reasoning, the other based on a deductive mode of reason.  I am not sure the twain can ever truly meet, which is part of my concern about how the modern Mindfulness movement seems overly dependent on Western psychology.

That, and the question of outdated assumptions aside, Psychotherapy East and West is replete with the timeless wisdom that Alan Watts seemed to posses naturally, and which made him such an influential figure.  He is, as usual, erudite and thought-provoking.  He makes several points very clear, such as Eastern ways of liberation are not religion, and they have nothing to do with the supernatural:

“All my experience of those who are proficient in the ways of liberation indicates that feat of magic or neurotechnology are quite beside the point… I have found no evidence whatsoever for any sensational achievement of this kind.  If they have achieved anything at all it is of a far humbler nature and in quite a different direction, and something which strikes me as actually more impressive.”

Which strikes me as a very nice description of the process of awakening or enlightenment.  The passage appears in a section in which Watts makes his chief assertion:

“Yet very few modern authorities on Buddhism or Vedanta seem to realize that social institutions constitute the maya, the illusion, from which they offer release.”

Because I tend to look at this through the lens of Buddha-dharma, it occurs to me that there is some evidence to suggest that in developing the sangha, the Buddha was attempting to create a new society, but, in the end, does the Buddhist sangha, all the temples and centers, actually perpetuate the illusion we are seeking to dispel?  Watts says that we should “see that social institutions are simply rules of communication which have no more universal validity than, say, the rules of a particular grammar.”  Easier said than done.  I wonder how freedom from the maya of social institutions relates to the sense of personal liberation that is one of the major characteristics of Buddhism?

I think those who have an interest in psychology will get more out of this book than others will.  Personally, I don’t care too much whether or not “Freud and Jung seem in some ways to be wiser than the Existentialists.”  I don’t practice Buddhist Psychology, and I don’t see the historical Buddha as an ancient psychotherapist as some others do, but for those attracted to that approach, I will remind again, in Watts’ words:

“[It] strikes the uninformed Westerner that Buddhism could be an alternative to Christianity…”

Likewise, the same person may think that Western psychology + meditation could be an alternative to Buddhism.  As Watts noted above, those who are proficient in the Eastern ways of liberation are headed in a “different direction.”  And while we may agree that these Eastern “ways” compare to nothing in the West except for psychotherapy, we must be careful not to think that they are psychotherapy, for that would be illusion.

Share

The Womb Realm

Esoteric Buddhism (Vajrayana) imagines two realms or worlds (dhatu), the Diamond Realm (Vajradhatu) and the Womb Realm (Garbhadhatu), mystical spaces that represent certain principles, different bodies of the Buddha, and various celestial Buddhas and bodhisattvas.  They could be called “buddhaverses.” The two realms correspond to the concept of the Two Truths as presented by Nagarjuna.

And they are presented graphically as mandala, which are diagrams, geometric patterns and art depicting or mapping out a buddhaverse and are used primarily as an aid to meditation.  In Japanese Buddhism, mandala is frequently used in the Shingon and Tendai schools.

The two realms are not separate (just as the Two Truths are not really two) but rather manifest one reality, and this oneness is represented in the Mandala of the Two Realms.  The individual mandala are the Diamond Realm and the Womb (or Matrix) Realm Mandala.   The Womb Realm (Taizokai) symbolizes the world of embryonic truth, and the Diamond Realm (Kongokai), the world of ultimate truth.

As you can see from the above image of the Womb Realm Mandala, various Buddhas and celestial beings are grouped together in halls or courts surrounding the central 8-Petal Hall and the central figure, the cosmic Buddha Dainichi (Mahavairocana), representing the Dharma Body of the historical Buddha.

Recently I put together a piece of ambient music that to me sounds like the Womb Realm.  Ambient is defined as “a genre of instrumental music that focuses on sound patterns more than melodic form and is used to create a certain atmosphere or state of mind.”

You can also listen to the piece on my YouTube channel.

Share