Meditation and mindfulness literally change the human brain. Therefore, virtually anyone who practices consistently becomes less reactive, less stressed out, and less fearfully and defensively self-centered. What’s more, meditation practitioners progressively begin to see the interdependent nature of life more clearly. This is because a meditator’s heart begins to accept natural limits. She becomes simpler, less biased, more open hearted over time. Consequently, unfrozen from biases and fearful hesitation, she can act rightly when action is needed.
Doesn’t our world need this from us right now? People with uncluttered, unbiased hearts? Populations not driven by the habitual violence, the political divisions, and what seems like the endless stream of waste generated by the social setup we inherited at birth? We need growing numbers of people who can take skillful, compassionate action in the face of the environmental and social crises we face, right?
Limits: A Simpler, Less Biased, More Open Heart
If our meditation, mindfulness, and religious practices only bring us ease, if they can’t help us take action on a personal or political level, I’d say our practices are not worth so very much at all.
One of the things my mindfulness practice has helped me understand is how to live within my own particular limits. Since becoming a meditator, I’ve become much healthier, simpler, and happier. I’ve become much more content. I think I’ve become a more effective person. In other words, mindfulness and meditation have helped me realistically discover my limits. Consequently, I’m a better friend to myself and to others. I care and connect much more deeply to the people around me.
Limits and World Religions
Isn’t it interesting that the world’s great religions are deeply interested in describing or discovering the limits of wholesome human action? Some religions say the limits to human action are found in God’s moral laws. They call violating God’s laws “sin.”
Alternatively, some religions say the limits to human action are found in correct ritual performance. For example, the Brahmans taught that the Vedic rituals kept the universe turning. To violate the Vedic rituals would bring ruin and chaos to the cosmos.
In modern times, many religions call on us to end human and animal suffering and to sustain and repair the earth. For these religions, when humans intentionally or mindlessly cause suffering we violate the limits of tolerable action. Along with many other religions, Zen Buddhism stakes out this ground to help us understand wholesome or skillful action and its limits.
“Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists… penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”.
The scientists’ historic “Warning to Humanity” urged governments and individuals to curtail environmental destruction. They said “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”
Notably, the scientists talked about how humanity is “fast approaching many of the limits of what the biosphere can tolerate without substantial and irreversible harm.” They emphasized the need for humankind to live within natural, sustainable limits.
This is what environmental science does. It mindfully investigates and discovers natural limits. This is why unregulated capitalism and the war machine that goes hand-in-hand with it are the enemies of environmental science. Their logic is limitless growth and profit. But environmental science, true spirituality, and Zen Buddhism meet on the ground of wholesome, sustainable limits. Discovering and protecting the natural limits within which we and all beings can live in peace and contentment is at the core of Zen and Buddhism in general.
Fast approaching the limits…
This year, 2018, is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the scientists’ first warning. This year the same group issued World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. Here is a link to an article announcing its publication: academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229
The “Second Notice” states that humanity has taken partially effective steps in response to a number of crises we faced in 1992. For example, we have rapidly reduced the use of ozone depleting substances. Moreover, the world has made some advances in reducing extreme poverty and deforestation in some regions has slowed. Additional good news is that the renewable-energy sector has grown rapidly since 1992.
Changes for the good we can celebrate
These are all changes for the good we can celebrate. And these successes should inspire us to redouble our efforts. They show we can make a difference. But, still the scientists note that, “the advancement of urgently needed changes in environmental policy, human behavior, and global inequities is still far from sufficient.”
We need more action motivated by a sense of reverential solidarity with each other and with the earth.
My mindfulness and meditation practice and the Buddha’s teachings tell me that I am not different from or higher than the earth. My increasingly uncluttered, unbiased, and more open heart sees this truth not as a theory, but compellingly, just as it is.
Our lives are interdependent with all life. We simply are earth, air, water, and space. Without healthy earth, air, and water we as a species are doomed.
When one sees this truth with mindfulness, a kind of unbiased friendliness arises in the heart. Then we can see that a new kind of near equivalent to the best in what’s called patriotism or in the spirit of religious reverence might be possible. This would be a felt sense of patriotic oneness with the endangered things of the earth. We need a new reverential solidarity with the precious living beings of the earth. Only this kind of reverential solidarity will motivate us to embrace and live within the limits of nature’s order. But obviously, I’m not the first to think and write in these terms.
Solidarity With All Beings
In fact, I’m inspired by one of the founders of environmental ethics, Aldo Leopold. In 1948 he wrote,
“This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. [And] not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. [And] not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species… In short, [living within the limits of] a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.” ~A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
It’s been my experience that when one becomes truly mindful one sees ones self, not as a conqueror, but as an open hearted, deeply curious yet plain member of this earthly community, a fellow citizen who considers and acts for the benefit of beings large and small. In 2018, May we act mindfully within the Earth’s natural limits for the benefit of our sister and brother members of the land-community, all creatures large and small.
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