A reflection on Climate Change. Gendo
To be aware in New England in October is to be aware of change: leaves changing in a flash of color before falling; cold nights and dying gardens; a reminder to harvest, store food, and find the snow tires. But these are quaint melancholies beside a greater transformation. Climate itself is changing: late frost, new storm patterns, different caterpillars and more ticks. People who study such things warn us: pay attention! The world that is home to all people is becoming inhospitable. We are up against a problem and it is us.
Of course, Buddhism long ago identified the issue; not climate, specifically, but us. The irony that what we desire would lead us instead to what we seek to avoid has an old name: conditioned co-arising. It is a situation that since ancient times is illustrated by breath: in- breath and out-breath, two opposite activities nonetheless dependent on each other. You can’t have one without the other To indulge life excluding death, to attempt all of one without the other is the Buddhist recipe for suffering.
The confusion is inherent in consciousness itself. We fixate objects as reality. But appearance is a matter of discrimination, one thing relative to another. We know day in distinction to night. We fixate one or the other, but the whole picture is that both inform experience. The whole picture is that no object is singular and permanent. All are interdependent and impermanent.
It is that fixation, without reckoning the whole picture, that Buddhism identifies as the cause of suffering. Wanting all the energy – oil, gas, and technology - to pursue our desires without reckoning the consequences is a set up for misfortune. We are seeing the great lengths we human beings will go to avoid that reality.
The Buddhist resolution of suffering is to let go of fixation: no clinging, also depicted as ‘emptiness.’ In Zen (under the influence of Taoism) we speak of plus and minus: two dimensions of opposing activity regarded as plus on one hand, minus on the other. The whole picture - day/night, in-breath/out-breath, life/death - is plus and minus together; in other words, zero. That zero, that emptiness, embraces all the contradictory aspects of our discriminating awareness. It is empty, yet full of everything; “Empty,” as the Dalai Lama explains, “of separate identity.”
To embrace emptiness is to take responsibility. It is ‘fullness of mind,’ (mindfulness if you like). It is the courage to embrace all of heart and mind; to set aside self-centered preference for this or that. It is the courage to act on the basis of wisdom and compassion.