Buddhism teaching

A Dharma Response to Climate Change

The following article was adapted from the speech by scholar and environmentalist Joanna Macy at the “No Time To Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change” event hosted by Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California on September 15, 2019. A recording of all speeches of the conference is available on the Spirit Rock website.

Perhaps the truest form of touching the reality of this moment is this: experiencing our ability to praise and love our world, as it is. Even when it’s on fire.

The Arctic is on fire. The Amazon rainforest is on fire. The Bolivian rainforest is on fire. Large swaths of Indonesia and central Africa are on fire.

Can we still rent our world? Yes.

Last November, I was at a retreat at Spirit Rock. Meditative walking outside on the road, concentrating, placing the foot, lifting the heel. But that mindfulness was shattered by a stupid memory – it stuck like a strawberry. I didn’t need it. It was about a little embarrassment for me years ago.

And I thought, “I should know better how to handle this. Noting, noting, noting. And then I despaired, asking, “Oh, what am I doing?” Then, just to the right of my left side, came a booming voice that said, “Just fall in love with what is.”

As soon as I heard this voice, I saw, just in front of me, two curtains closing. On the left was the Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). “We have twelve years left to halve our emissions” – and even if we knew that — emission levels have steadily increased. It had been the most searing, alarming and candid report to date. On the other side of the curtain: Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in the Brazilian presidential election and his election promise to profit from the Amazon rainforest and hand it over to big business and “let it make money”.

I was rooted there. My whole body seemed to turn to stone, as I stood facing an impossible future.

We cannot prevent climate change from returning to what we were. We are collapsing now, but it doesn’t have to be a total collapse.

My life hasn’t been the same since this “falling in love with what is” sounded like an order in me. It was a message of acceptance: “Stop your self-centeredness for a minute, Joanna, and accept what’s happening to the world.”

What we are facing is so huge, I realized, such a total change, that it is as if we are entering a bard [the liminal state between death and life in Tibetan Buddhism.]

The bardo doesn’t just happen when you die; it can also be a huge change in the conditions of your existence. [Tibetan Buddhist teacher] Mingyur Rinpoche talks about something like this in his book fall in love with the worlddescribing so powerfully how utterly disoriented he was after leaving his monastery and stepping out into the world completely alone.

But we enter this bardo together.

To the east is Akshobhya Buddha, the Mirror Wisdom Buddha, who holds up a mirror to us and our world. To survive, to cross, one must not turn away from the mirror. Look at it and you will see many beautiful things: students walking, wise teachers, and some of the great traditions of wisdom moving forward. At the center, however, we see a political economy doomed by its own rapacity. We see a global corporate capitalism, or what you might call an “industrial growth society”. It’s devouring the world, and it’s on auto mode – it’s gotten to a point where it can’t stop.

The Earth is attacked, extracted, poisoned, contaminated. It is us who come back to our true nature and our true identity. We cannot prevent climate change from returning to what we were. We are collapsing now, but it doesn’t have to be a total collapse. This is where my heart-mind-body is in balance now.

There is inspiration out there to help us create a life that supports society through this. Five centuries of hyper-individualism have bothered us, but we can’t wait to shed our competitive armor. We want to fall into the arms of the Earth and into the arms of each other. We need to find our way back to each other and relearn how to take care of each other.

It will be complicated, but it is our job at the moment: see the Big turning point [from an ever-growing industrial society to a life-sustaining civilization]even as things fall apart.

Copyright 2019, Spirit Rock Meditation Center

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