Buddhism, Science and Climate Change
“At the heart of good science training is cultivating a disciplined mind with astute capacities for observing the world outside the self. At the heart of Buddhist training is cultivating an attentive mind with astute capacities for self-observation.” Stephanie Kaza, Green Buddhism.
Recently the Dalai Lama said that if science shows something to be scientifically true then Buddhism will find a way to integrate it. More and more there is a co-joining of the facts of scientific findings and the early teachings of the Buddha. It is both useful and important to see how they cross over and can support one another and the ways they may be similar and different.
As we walk into 2022 it becomes more essential to see with an honest and clear mind the many co-relationships that are literally breaking, burning, flooding down the door, displacing us from our homes and causing unnecessary stress, hardship, and suffering until we find a new dwelling place. The destruction is in billions of dollars. The latest devastation being the tornado that whipped through six states and demolished valuable resources, flora and fauna. Do we really have to wait till all the government fact checkers analyze the cause of this “act of God” before we accept and affirm it is another manifestation of a rapidly changing earth climate?
Mindfulness is about raising one’s awareness to see clearly all the causative factors involved in these actions. Both science and mindfulness train us on how to pay attention, observe and recognize change. Impermanence is another aspect of Buddhist teachings which demonstrates how all experiences are in flux from the five aggregates: form, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness. The nature of changes moment by moment in our bodies ( such as sensations, feelings, emotions, moods and thoughts) maintain a connection to our experiential reality. These phenomena are simultaneously going on with our earth, atmosphere, and the myriad life forms that surround us. We are linked by the nature of impermanence.
There are other significant Buddhist teachings that are worth mentioning here for the sake of maintaining the possibility of an earth climate that can be made stable. In the teachings of Buddhist awakening, there are two important qualities that the Buddha highlighted. One is a sense of urgency, called samvega, in Pali. We come to understand that time and opportunity is short and limited. And the other is faith, not blind faith, but faith in the potential of the human mind and heart to transform various forms of suffering, both individual and collective, into wisdom and compassion. There are also rightful acts that can change ourselves and the world around us for the better. We feel this sense of urgency because we are faced with a great threat to the sustainability and survival of life on Earth, for humans and for all species.
The Buddha compared this sense of urgency to a horse’s response to its master’s whip:
Example 1: a thoroughbred horse feels this urgency as soon as it sees the shadow of the whip, thinking what task will my trainer set for me today? What can I do to satisfy him? Similarly when a person hears in a village that some person has fallen ill, he acquires a sense of urgency and strives carefully to help.
Example 2: other horses less keen on training gain their sense of samvega only when they feel the whip strike their body. This is analogous to those people who feel samvega only when they actually see a person ill, dead or a relative in severe pain. Do we have to wait this long?
Please take some time to go outside and use all your senses to receive all the myriad animate and inanimate forms of our natural world. Go slowly, pause many times to be touched by seasonal changes that bring integration, connection, inter being, and appreciation to mother earth. Make an intention from your heart for healing in 2022 for the planet and your life on it.