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Ecology and Ecstasy

by Ratnadevi

Ecology and Ecstasy

by Ratnadevi

Introduction

This piece of writing is based on a talk I gave at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre on
February 21, 2002, to launch an eco-group. As well as generally exploring ecological
issues, the aim of this group would also be to suggest contributions for communal rituals
within the overall seasonal programme, that emphasise change in attitude towards the
environment.

Ecology and ritual (within a Buddhist context) present the theme of a doctoral research I
am currently undertaking at Dartington College, Devon, UK. As part of my research I am
interested to see how rituals can be used in the field of Buddhist environmentalism. I am
interested to find out, essentially, how rituals can become part of a discovery process
that ‘reveals our nature as nature’ as Wes Nisker says. When we engage in ritual, we
might be using chanting, poetry, instruments, movement, dress, objects, sculpture, textiles
- in short, we are using various art forms to create a special atmosphere, just like our
ancestors have done for millennia. It is an atmosphere that opens our often tightly
protected bodymind to feel included in a larger reality. This ritual experience, in
combination with meditation could be an important vehicle for a transformation of
consciousness that will shift our attitude towards our planet.
‘And you might awake one morning and find that nature is part of you, literally internal to
your being. You would then treat nature as you would your lungs or kidneys. A
spontaneous environmental ethics surges forth from your heart, and you will never again
look at a river, a leaf, a deer, a robin, in the same way’ Ken Wilber

Context: FWBO developments

Within the FWBO (Friends of the Western Buddhist Order), the topic of Buddhist
attitudes towards the environment has recently been brought to the fore, largely due the
initiative of Lokabandhu, an order member who is involved with Buddhafield (a branch of
the movement specialising on out-door events, camping retreats and festivals. ). But as
early as 1975, during the 2nd order convention, Sangharakshita, the founder of the order
said, that ‘there is no doubt that we should be more conservation-minded’. He pointed
out that awareness of nature and natural resources is part of basic Buddhist teaching.
During the last year an informal group was founded called ‘PS network’. PS stands for
Pratitya Samutpada, conditioned co-production, or dependent co-arising. PS represents
the Buddha’s insight into the true nature of existence, the truth of interconnectedness.
This PS network has representatives in most UK Buddhist centres (I am the Glasgow
rep) and operates a website: www.ecopractice.fwbo.org. . The aim of the group is to
further ecological awareness and action within the FWBO. (Last summer, Lokabandhu
introduced the chairmen’s meeting to a 5 point eco-action plan, which was met with
general support. The 5 points are: 1. consuming less, 2. consuming more wisely, 3. going
carbon-neutral, 4. creating and safeguarding havens for wild-life, 5. raising awareness.)


Difficulties communicating about the subject

My previous experience of discussing environmental topics with friends has sometimes
been difficult. On reflection, this is probably partly due to bad timing: yes it is true that
carbon dioxide emission caused by air travel is 30 times higher than that of trains, but you
don’t want to be told that just when you are in the process of booking a cheap flight to
London. And you probably don’t want to hear that the chocolate you are just about to
pop into your mouth is produced through exploitation of cheap labour and degradation of
the land. It’s a bit like being caught in the act, and one is likely to resent being told off for
being selfish and uncaring, or feel that one is not allowed to enjoy oneself. In other words,
feelings of guilt kick in only to easily and one might be quick to think, rightly or wrongly,
that the person who is educating us about these matters is sitting on a rather high horse.

Avoiding reactivity

So my aim here is to present the subject in a way that doesn’t invite this kind of
reactivity, that doesn’t evoke feelings of guilt or resentment. Nor do I want us all to get
depressed or despairing, which is another likely response to hearing about impending
catastrophes like global warming. I would like to help create an atmosphere where we feel
encouraged to apply the best in us to contemplate the frightening developments of the
last decades. Where we get in touch with the courage to face the truth, with loving
kindness for all beings on the earth, including those of the future, with a healthy sense of
ethics, responsibility, intelligence and creativity. I’d like us to find inspiration and
confidence that there are ways in which we can make changes to the way human beings
live on this planet. Maybe we can even be ecstatic about ecology! Sangharakshita has
made it very clear that there is an imperative for us to face the world situation, and he is
of course not the only Buddhist leader who thinks that way. In his lecture ‘Current world
problems’ he said: ‘Our initial reaction may be a very strong one…but only too often,
when the initial feeling of indignation, or concern, or outrage, or worry had died away,
has exhausted itself, the feeling that we experience is simply one of helplessness…..We
close our newspaper, or we switch off the television set, and we get on, perhaps, as best
we can, with our personal lives; and we try to forget the current word problems….In my
opinion, thinking all this over, this sort of attitude, of just retreating from the problems,
retreating into the personal in a rather narrow sense, is really not worthy of a human
being, one who's trying to be a human being in the full sense of the world.’

The information has been available for a long time, we have all known about climate
change, loss of bio-diversity, environmental pollution, world wide decline of quality of
life, etc for at least 30 years. When I first became aware of these issues as a teenager, I
was passively caught between 2 attitudes: on the one hand I had an inkling that this
wasn’t just information to be treated lightly, that is was not just another unessential item
on the curriculum, but that these were matters of urgent importance. On the other hand, I
believed that adult human beings in positions of responsibility would surely not let this
happen, that this decline would be stopped by others who were more capable than me.
Three decades further down the line, I recognise that in some areas progress has been
made, for example the cold war has come to an end and the danger of nuclear war is
perhaps not quite so imminent as it was then. Many of us in the developed countries
have changed some of our habits, maybe we recycle some of our waste, use low energy
light bulbs, cycle to work. But there is no doubt that there is need for more, and perhaps
more drastic changes, not just on a personal level. Because if we look at the world wide
situation, it does seem that we are rushing like lemmings to the edge of the cliff to commit
collective suicide. Before having a look at some of the facts, lets prime ourselves with a
poem by Wendell Berry, am American farmer and poet.

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
or grief. I come into the presence of still water:
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world , and I am free.
(in: Openings)

Some facts

(mainly from: the Little Earth Book)

Perhaps we can retain the flavour of poetry in our hearts, as we turn to face some facts
about our world.

Global warming: The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change has recently
revised its prediction form the Rio summit in 1992, because within this decade global
temperatures have been rising faster than predicted in their ‘worst case’ scenario. The
panel now says global temperatures will rise 6 degrees Celsius over the coming century.
Others say at least 10 degrees. There is no doubt that this is caused by the green house
effect, due to human induced increased carbon dioxide emissions. There is uncertainty
about the consequences of this climate change, the last time it happened was half a million
years ago; we don’t know whether the West Antarctic ice sheet will collapse and raise
ocean levels by 6 meters. But we know what happened 1998, the hottest year on record.
Flooding of the Yangtze river displaced 56 million people. 26 million were made homeless
in ...

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