Thursday, April 4, 2013
I saw an article about the recent spill in Arkansas this morning with photos of oil covered birds in it. Every time I see oil covered birds, I think of the Exxon Valdez. Pictures of oil soaked, choking birds from that spill turned me into an environmentalist. At age 13. And I never turned back.
Last year, there were 364 oil pipeline spills in the US alone. One a day, and that's only the reported ones. It's been normalized, the destruction of the planet in the name of profit and human fuel "needs." Most of us don't even blink anymore at photos like the one above. Oh, the poor birds. A twinge of pain before you get into your car to drive somewhere, anywhere away from thinking too hard about what photos like this really mean.
People who have lived through the devastating effects of oils spills tend to be more awake. Perhaps I should just hope for a doubling, tripling of spills. Maybe then there will be a mass ready to break the cycles of addiction and greed that have driven us to this place we call modern, American life. This blip in the historical record that has done more damage than anything else humans have done since our beginning.
I don't find a hell of a lot of solace amongst Buddhist circles either. The teachings may help me relax my outrage and concern a bit, but beyond that, it's just something I get to struggle with. We get to struggle with. Because this is our collective grief. Seeing bees and monarchs disappear so rapidly it's hard to even imagine. Recognizing that the water is poisoned to undrinkability in places all over the world, even large numbers of communities in a supposed "First World" nation like the U.S. Watching the learned helplessness of the majority of people who have been indoctrinated that this way of living is the "most evolved, never mind it's flaws," and who can't imagine an alternative worth making the effort to build. Recognizing that Buddhism can be just as much of an "opiate" or escape as any other religion or spiritual program. That humans are as much an invasive species gobbling up everything in our wake as we are interdependent, loving and compassionate. That some of us place 100 fold the amount of time and energy on fighting for the rights of unborn babies as we do on taking care of the planet. Which is ourselves.
I do believe that Buddha's wisdom eventually points to a certain letting go of all worries and attachments to the planet. While at the same time loving it completely, moment after moment. That seems to be the paradox that he taught, from what I can tell.
And yet, I think that most of us on the path short circuit the whole works. I've been lectured in the comments section a fair number of times by folks who claim some sort of calm detachment around social and environmental issues. That such concerns are simply trouble, and not particularly helpful in "waking up." To these folks, I'll say this:
You haven't loved the world enough to let it go. I see your words online. I hear your words in person. The many of you, those I've met and those I haven't. And frankly, you sound like disembodied liars. Perhaps you've realized something I'm still figuring out, but I seriously doubt you've touched the suffering of an oil soaked pelican. Have had your hands in the soil year after year after year, learning it's rhythms and recognizing both it's amazing resilience and also it's amazing fragility. I doubt your zazen has opened to the pit of nuclear energy and the countless grief producing realities that it represents. I doubt you've swallowed whole the life and death of the wolves being killed by sport hunters all over the Midwest. I doubt that you truly know from what and where you came from. Your original face if you will.
You are a small minority though. For the most part, what I see amongst my fellow practitioners is more benign looking. A lack of applying the teachings to how we live on the planet (beyond things like recycling that is.) Or an overall attitude that Buddhism is an individual path, and that what it's mostly about is how we deal with our individual emotions and thoughts. That it's something which happens mostly on our cushions, in pristine looking buildings far away from the mud of an early spring rain, or the toxic sledge from an overturned oil tanker. In a certain way, this it true. Our path is each of us alone. And yet it's not complete. This way of thinking that pervades the minds of privileged practitioners. Those who haven't had their lives totally altered or destroyed by environmental racism, for example, or simply by taking in the suffering of our planet deep to their core, to the point where there's no distinction - the suffering within and suffering outside of self.
To you all, my dharma brothers and sisters, I say: expand your view. Stop turning away. Be the grief that lingers within you. Let the outrage burn through you until it transforms into beneficial action.
I am not immune. I speak fiercely now, but sometimes it's all too much. I, too, am as cloudy about what to do next as I am full of ideas. There are times when I give in to convenience at times when doing so is really unnecessary. I feel like I have more work to do when it comes to intimacy with this miraculous place we call home.
I know in my heart that I have not loved this world enough to let it go in a truly liberated fashion. I would like to believe that Buddhas do not let go of their fierce compassion for all things living just because they've let go of being attached to all things living, including themselves. That the historical Buddha's numerous caring actions towards others post-enlightenment weren't just symbolic gestures on his way out of here forever. That the countless Buddhist poets and artists who have taken the natural world as their central source of inspiration and wisdom throughout the centuries weren't just using it all to get enlightened and get out. That this path is as vitally pagan as any indigenous spirituality if you look hard enough, and stop trying strip away everything that you can't explain as superstition or "cultural baggage."
When a bird is covered in oil, it's life is drasticallyaltered, sometimes forever. We are living in times where any of us can become that bird. Where the ways of living we accept as normal, even enlightened, are forms of oil themselves. Coating our wings. Destroying our hearts.
But we don't have to keep drowning. Either the birds or ourselves. It's time to learn how to love the world enough to truly let it go. This is my path. Come join me.