The Optimistic Environmentalist

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Dear Still Water Friends,

Over the next five months, on the third Thursdays (at Crossings) and the following Sundays (at Columbia), we’ll discuss short excerpts from chapters in Thich Nhat Hanh’s The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology.

In the first two chapters, Thay discusses the dire environmental situation we face and reminds us that all civilizations ultimately end. Instead of taking this as a message of doom and gloom, Thay calls us to wake up from our slumber so that we can be mindful of our situation and do the only rational thing:  act to change it. How? Thay’s prescription is familiar: be mindful and abide by the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are important to me because I need guideposts in my life. Times when I’ve lived without guideposts have led to excess and harming others and myself. These trainings are the most sympathetic to what I’ve learned from my life experiences. The past year, I’ve been pushing the boundaries of some of the mindfulness trainings to ask myself “Are you sure.” The answer has come back, sometimes painfully, “Yes, my beloved, stubborn one, I’m quite sure.”

I think Thay is suggesting that our society is undergoing a similar experience. We’ve lived by a set of principles or the lack of principles that has led to dire consequences. Now that we’re seeing the ramifications of our actions, we need to distill the lessons to come up with some communal guideposts.

I hope you can join us to discuss whether the mindfulness trainings can be what Thay calls “a global ethic.” How is it that by coming to understand for ourselves the teachings embodied by the Five Mindfulness Trainings and constraining our actions in accordance with them we find freedom? Is it possible that the same can be true for our society?

Scott Schang

Copies of The World We Have are available for purchase Thursday nights in Silver Spring and Sunday nights in Columbia.

This Thursday, you are also invited to join other Still Water friends before our sitting, at our “Third Thursday Supper.” It takes place around the corner from Crossings, at Moby Dick Restaurant, (909 Ellsworth Drive), beginning at 5:30 p.m. All are welcome. if you have questions please contact Maria Sgambati at 202 486-6491. Otherwise just show up.

From The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology

When you contemplate an orange, you see that everything in the orange participates in making up the orange. Not only the sections of the orange belong to the orange; the skin and the seeds are also parts of the orange. This is what we call the universal aspect of the orange. Everything in the orange is the orange, but the skin remains the skin, the seed remains the seed, the section of the orange remains the section of the orange. The same is true with our globe. Although we’ve become a world community, the French continue to be French, the Japanese remain Japanese, the Buddhists remain Buddhists, and the Christians remain Christians. The skin of the orange continues to be the skin, and the sections of the orange continue to be the sections; the sections don’t have to be transformed into the skin in order for there to be harmony.

Harmony, however, is impossible if we don’t have a global ethic, and the global ethic that the Buddha devised is the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the path we should follow in this era of global crisis because they are the practice of sisterhood and brotherhood, understanding and love, and the practice of protecting ourselves and protecting the planet. The mindfulness trainings are concrete realizations of mindfulness.