I highly recommend this excellent piece by David Loy, who recently conducted an online retreat on Tricycle which was also excellent called ‘Transforming Self, Transforming Earth: A Buddhist Ecology’. I hope this is the direction modern American Buddhism is trending.
The fundamental problem we moderns in the West face is a crisis of who or what we are in the world. We don’t have recourse to a God to fix our problems anymore, to punish us when we are bad and reward us when we are good. For most of our history we had that, but the modern world is confronted with a nihilism the likes of which is unique in human history.
The metaphor for God has long been that of a father with we humans playing the role of his children. I like this metaphor, and I think it is apt. But what it means is that now that we no longer have God, we need to grow up.
Children are incapable of long-term planning. They are selfish and greedy. A good parent will steer them along life’s path and ingrain in them good values: hard work, love, will power, and the like because once they are older they will have to rely on these values without being forced to.
We have reached that point as a species. The time has come to grow up, to stop looking out for our own individual selfish interests and learn how to be adults. How to plan for the future and how to share with others. So far we’re not doing great at it, but we’re still new to it. We just turned 21 and spent a year hitting the bars. But now it’s time to sober up and act like responsible adults. It’s not as fun, but “fun” is overrated.
Climate change presents us with this problem square in the face. If we do not address it you and I probably won’t suffer too much. Future generations will suffer, though. It is very hard to tell someone to stop doing something they enjoy now because it will benefit them in the future. However this is one of the primary lessons that adults need to learn to truly become mature. If we are to grow up as a species, we must do the same.
The last line of Candide by Voltaire provides us with a starting point: Il faut cultiver notre jardin. We must cultivate our own garden.
I don’t know if this is enough, but it must be the place we start. If we do not find inner peace and live our lives with love for those closest to us, how can we ever hope to save the world at large? In this way, the spiritual life, though it may appear selfish and narcissistic at first, is actually the opposite.
By spending time in reflection, you will invariably find that “you” are not as independent of the world as you’ve been conditioned to think. In fact, your happiness and well being is inextricably linked with that of every other person, creature, and thing on this planet. You will learn to live selflessly, which is our highest aspiration.