Saturday, December 31, 2011


We are here. It is 2012, the Final Year, according to the Mayan calendar, of this Magnum Annum; the end of history. Or not. I don't generally put much stock in such New-Age prophecies or astrological cycles, even though many of my friends do. It seems likely that all the prophetic speculation--all the astrological and apocalyptic fears and hopes--about 2012 will end up as empty and silly as the various "End of the World" or "Second Coming" or "Harmonic Convergence" or even "Y2K" hysterias of the past, and we will muddle our collective way on into 2013 right on schedule...some eminent people dying along the way, as always.

But then again, whether connected with astrological cycles or not, there does seem to be a quickening these days, a sense of things swirling toward a chaotic and increasingly unpredictable state throughout the world. The Glomart Economy is in a tailspin, and an inchoate, mass popular revolt is brewing worldwide--the "Occupy" movement--connected and reinforced by the Internet, against a political, military, and economic status quo that has clearly become dysfunctional, morally bankrupt, and depraved; the words of Bob Dylan spring to mind again and again:

"Come writers and critics who prophesize with you pen
Keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again,
And don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin
And there's no telling who that it's namin'...
For the losers now will be later to win,
For the times, they are a-changin'!"

Somehow, the keyword that keeps tugging on my consciousness these days is "regeneration." Not "revolution" (a word tainted with too much violent and repressive connotative baggage left over from the days of Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao), nor even "redemption" (since I do not think our once-great nation can be redeemed) but "regeneration" in the sense of a phoenix rising from the ashes. And as Octavia Butler mordantly suggests in her "Earthseed" verses from her powerful dystopic novel Parable of the Sower:

"“In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn.”

In short, we can no longer go back to what we once were as a nation. We are already too corrupt for that--the United States of America lost its soul--died--on that horrible day--December 12, 2000--when a corrupt and shamelessly partisan Supreme Court authorized the theft of an election by the criminal fascist Bush regime, and Congress was too cowardly to object. Since that day, we have become nothing but a zombie nation, murderously stalking the world while muttering empty platitudes about "freedom" and "democracy" that nobody else believes anymore...

And since the Great Hoax of 9/11, we have all been living out a nightmare of endless war and paranoia about "terrorists" based on a massive, consensual lie--an unchallenged, self-contradictory narrative that completely violates the known laws of physics, but that has nonetheless become the cornerstone--the enabling myth--of the so-called "Global War on Terror." So the America envisioned by Thomas Paine, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and Roosevelt is dead and buried, while its zombie double, Glomart Fascist Amerika, the land of greed, ignorance, denial, despair, and lies, is doomed...and right now, they are rattling sabers at Iran (and vice versa) in the Strait of Hormuz, threatening thereby a nuclear holocaust that could engulf the whole planet.

Or not. Perhaps all the fist-shaking will pass, Obama's cool hand will prevail, and the leaders will find ways to save face and come to their senses, and we'll all muddle through, yet again. Let's hope. But one way or the other, "the Old Road is Rapidly Aging..." and so we all need to "get out of the new one if we can't lend a hand/for the times, they are a-changin'!"

For me, then, "Regeneration" is not of "the United States of America" per se, but of Thomas Paine's original vision--"the world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." If we must burn, literally or figuratively, in order to rise from the ashes, so be it. May I therefore become, in this new and epochal year of 2012, an agent of Regeneration--a seed of Gaian renewal among the ashes of the corrupt and degenerate old Glomart order. America is dead. And though Gaia herself is dying, may we Gaians of all nations arise! May the 99% awaken to our true nature as Gaians--as fellow citizens of the only living planet we will ever know!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

RIP USA 1776-2000

Lately I have been reading a searing, vivid, powerful memoir entitled Every Man in this Village is a Liar by Megan K. Stack, a young journalist who is featured as one of the speakers at an upcoming Literary Festival at Old Dominion University, a few miles away from where I work in Norfolk. I had picked up a copy of her book at Kramer Books in Washington, DC, and was immediately captivated by her precise images and her moral passion, so I bought it, and have scarcely been able to put it down since.

The book is mesmerising in its vividness and eloquence, but her subject matter--the war zones of the Middle East where she was sent as a correspondent by the Los Angeles Times--is utterly appalling. She records what she sees and experiences, first in Afghanistan, then on the Israel/Palestine border, then Iraq (and later elsewhere) with such clarity, precision, candor and pathos that you feel it in your bones.

However, reading this account of the sheer cruelty and horror of war on all whom it touches has also left me in even greater despair for my country than ever, particularly because she is eyewitness to innumerable atrocities wrought not only by the so-called "terrorists" (whatever the hell THAT means) but by the US military as well. For indeed, we are guilty as hell in all of this--except, of course, that "we"--the majority of American voters--never actually had any say in this ongoing crime against humanity, since the Bush Regime hijacked the country in 2000 and 2004, and Obama, who was legitimately elected (for a change) on a promise of ending the war and putting an end to the perversion of justice in horrific places like Guantanamo, has only continued these heinous occupations in the Middle East and the ongoing atrocities in which "our boys" are complicit every day.

And so indeed, my original fear has been validated--that the United States of America, as a concept with any real basis in the enlightened ideals of Thomas Paine, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights, ceased to exist on December 12,2000--the day a shamelessly partisan Supreme Court overrode the rule of law and validated the theft of an election. The great hoax of 9/11/01 thereafter only confirmed the hijacking of our nation by this pernicious criminal syndicate of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. And since then, the former "United States of America" has become a neofascist, corporate sponsored, pseudo-democratic zombie nation, living a lie, murderously stalking the world while muttering empty platitudes about "freedom," "democracy" and the "global war on terror."

I wish I could renounce my citizenship and move elsewhere--I can't. But then, it does not matter whether I am a "citizen" or not, since the nation of which I was once a proud citizen no longer exists. So instead, I have no alternative but to proclaim myself a citizen of Gaia, like my role-model Thomas Paine, who said "the world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." And a citizen of Gaia can live anywhere on the planet and still be at home. In fact, all nation states are just mental formations--arbitrary lines drawn on maps. We are bound by their laws, but the only laws that matter, ever, are those that are compatible with the Laws of God (i.e. love your neighbor as yourself) and the Laws of Gaia (This is because that is). If any given laws enacted by any human government are compatible with these, we obey them; if not, we engage in Satyagraha.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My daily practice

"Wherefore by their fruits shall ye know them." --Jesus.

With this luminous quote, the Palestinian Jewish Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, gave us the only reliable litmus test for evaluating another person's belief system or practice--its "fruits"--that is, the Karmic consequences of that belief and/or practice on everyone else.

So I share my own evolving practice not in any prescriptive sense--not "this is what you should do"--but rather simply for the curiosity of anyone who encounters these words, now or in the future: this is what I do, at this time. I would encourage everyone else to likewise share his or her practice routine, for in this way, we can all learn from each other and develop a personal practice suited to our own particular path. So here is the protocol for the practice I have evolved, in its latest incarnation:

First I read some Dharma. Right now, I am reading Pema Chodron's exegesis of Shantideva, entitled "No Time to Lose." I try to read a little bit of this each morning, in order to focus my mind on practice and diffuse whatever shenpa--whatever obsessive thoughts--have been provoked by my reading of the editorial page over breakfast. Then, but only when I sense that I am mentally and emotionally ready, I enter into a ceremonial space by taking off my sandals before I walk upstairs to my sanctuary in the attic. I have found that the tradition of taking off one's shoes before meditation makes good sense, because immediately we become more mindful of each step we take, and this, likewise, prepares us for formal meditation.

Then, after bowing to my Indonesian wood-sculpture of the Buddha, I practice the Qigong longevity sequence that I learned from the eminent Tai Chi master Gabriel Chin, with whom I had the joy and privilege of learning and practicing while we lived in Michigan in the early 90's. He was one of my first and finest teachers.

The longevity sequence consists of a set of simple exercises to generate chi or vital energy, and enhance its balanced circulation. The first exercise is to simply jiggle up and down like a puppet on a string, about 100 times or so. Next is to do 10 arm rolls (like a crawl-stroke and back-stroke while swimming) forwards, then backwards. Then I do 10 "scooping of hands" (or Hands-in-Clouds) moves, right and left, while keeping my eyes on the center of each palm as it comes up. Then I do another swimming move, this one like a butterfly stroke, forward and backward 3 times. Then I swing my arms around, hands down, on a level plane, 5 times each: left-counterclockwise, right clockwise, then left clockwise, right counterclockwise. Next I do the "snake"--joining palms over my head, I make an "S" motion down along the axis of my body, then back up again--3 times alternately in both directions. Next I do an exercise called "crane stretches its wings:" Hands straight forward, palms up, inhale--then exhale, drawing hands smoothly to the chest (3 times); then hands out sideways, palms up (inhale)--then exhale, drawing hands smoothly to the shoulders and relaxing them. (3 times). Finally--and this is the most difficult--I go up on my toes as I push my open palms straight back behind me, then purse my fingers as I draw them under my armpit and up to my shoulders--all on the inhale--then blow it out (thrusting my fingers forward forcefully with the sudden exhalation, while keeping each thumb over the middle of the palm). (3 times) This, according to the tradition, expels "stagnant chi" from our bodies. The original sequence goes on much longer, but at this point I foreshorten it by going into a Shou Gong (closing) exercise--on three full breaths. On the first inhale, lift open hands up to the sky, gathering the ambient Chi, then bring them down toward your scalp, in effect "pushing" the Chi right down your spinal column. Then, on the first exhale, elbows out, bring open palms straight down your center line, past your ears and straight down your center axis to your dantian (the fulcrum of your body, 4 inches below your navel) where--on the last inhale, you turn your palms out, so your fingertips, still parallel to the ground, are just touching--then, on the last exhale, rotate your palms outward in opposite directions, and bring them in toward your dantian, one over the other (for males, right over left; for females, left over right). If done correctly and mindfully, you can actually feel the subtle "buzz" of chi (which is the electrical force-field around your body) radiating through your palms from the core of your body.

After my Qigong sequence, I then do 3 prostrations, incorporating the Vinyasa sequence from hatha yoga. Getting down on hands and knees, I look up toward the Buddha, and leading with my rump, I crouch into a "pose of a child" asana, joining my palms above my head; then, leading with my shoulders I curl my spine up, roll it out, and repeat--3 times. On each prostration, I take refuge in, and contemplate the meanings of, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha--the "Three Jewels" of Buddhist tradition.

It took me a while to get into doing prostrations; with my western ego, I initially considered them as a vestige of eastern superstition and obsequious bowing before princes--something that, with my all-American commitment to universal equality, I wanted nothing to do with.

But then I have gradually realized, more and more, the inner logic behind these ancient practices. By prostrating, we not only exercise our spines, but also we humble ourselves--we sacrifice our egos, in effect, before the altar of something greater than us--in this case the long tradition of transcendent wisdom, passed from one generation to the next--to all of our teachers. So in bowing to the Buddha, I am also bowing to Lao Tzu, to Jesus, to Guru Nanak, to St. Francis, to Gandhi, to Martin Luther King, to Nelson Mandela, to Wangari Maathai, to Thich Nhat Hanh, to the Dalai Lama, and to Pema Chodron--to all Bodhisattvas whose teachings have lit my own path toward greater understanding and compassion.

After the Three Prostrations, I am then ready for formal meditation--in my own case, because of congenitally tight hips, I prefer to kneel on my 3-legged stool, rather than sitting cross-legged on a cushion.

Once seated and poised, I generally start by picking up my copy of Earth Prayers, a beautiful anthology of 365 poems, invocations, and prayers from diverse cultures all over the planet, that honor the Sacred in all life. Selecting one, usually at random, I read it, either silently or aloud, and then pick up my sandalwood mala with its 108 beads, that serves as a timekeeper, and also reduces the likelihood of spacing out or getting distracted by my thoughts.

Then I ring my beautiful, bronze bowl-like bell, sitting on its cushion in front of me--or as Thich Nhat Hanh likes to put it, I "invite the bell." As the pure, resonant peal of the bell fades into its overtones, I begin my formal practice with my standard, home-brewed ten-breath guided meditation, advancing a bead on each breath: Breathe, Observe, Let Go; Be well, Do good work, Keep in touch; Learn, Teach, Heal, and Create.

From there, I spend the rest of the bead time (usually 30-40 minutes), either on each in and out breath (if I have limited time) or one full in-and-out breath per bead (if I have lots of time), following my breath and experimenting with a few of the techniques I have learned. These include the following:
  • Tonglen (breathing in Samsaric pain, breathing out Dharmic blessings, in radiating circles, first for myself, then for those I love, then those I know, then those I don't know, then those I don't like, and then those I am inclined to despise, and finally, every living being in the universe.) This is the most powerful, yet also most demanding form of practice I know.
  • Various guided meditations on the in and out breath, (such as Thich Nhat Hanh's "Flower-fresh, Mountain-solid, Lake-clear, and Space-free).
  • Metta meditation, based on the Four Brahmaviharas (or "limitless qualities"): loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
  • Chakra meditation (focusing in turn on each of the Seven Chakras, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head).
  • Mantra practice (e.g. "Om Mani Padme Hum" or my own tenfold mantra)
and so on...whatever useful practices I come across. But I also like, periodically, just to sit--to calmly abide in Alaya, or undifferentiated Being, devoid of all thought.

Quite naturally, distractions come up all the time--whether planning my classes, worry about stuff going on, fantasies, fears, resentments, or political apoplexy. Whenever I catch myself in such mental distractions, I try to name them, and then go back to breathing, observing, and letting go. I find that I am less likely to get distracted, however, if I read some Dharma before meditation, and thereby focus my mental chatter on the Dharma, rather than on all the usual egoic stuff.

When I reach the end of my Mala, I generally bow three times again to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and then sound the bell, letting the bell fill my consciousness again.

Then I get on my exercycle, and start pedaling. To avert boredom while bicycling, I have recently taken up mentally reviewing each injunction of the Eightfold Path, sometimes out loud, while pedaling: Right Understanding, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Contemplation. If done with any depth or commitment, this will take up 4-5 minutes quite easily.

Finally, I close with a Native American-inspired observance (with parallels in indigenous cultures throughout the world), which consists of picking up a hand drum and bowing in turn to the Six Directions and all their connotations: East (Sunrise, Spring, Starting Anew); South (Mid-day, Summer, Growth and nurturing); West (Evening, Fall, Fruition and harvest); North (Night, Winter, Death, Impermanence, and quiescence) And then I conclude with the two poles: Heaven (looking up--the Divine Mystery) and Earth (looking down--Gaia, the Manifestations). Often with the last two, I will repeat the line from the Prayer of Jesus: "Thy will be done in Heaven...and on Earth."

Then I am ready for my day, my mind and soul clear and refreshed...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Darth Cheney and me.

"When the world is full of evil, transform all mishaps into the path of Bodhi"
--The Lojong slogans.

"Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that despitefully use you." --Jesus.

"When Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, he didn't say we had to like them." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Hatred is a form of subjective involvement with the hated object." --Commentary on the I Ching.

This evening, I got caught up in a familiar obsession: seeking out snarky reviews of Dick Cheney's recently published memoirs, and working myself into a lather of sympathetic outrage as I read through the innumerable scathing comments of readers. "Darth" Cheney is truly a loathsome excuse for a human being--perhaps the most evil, vicious, hateful, truthless, sociopathic monster in the world today--the zombie-like embodiment of everything that has gone horribly wrong with America in the years since the Bush Coup of December 12, 2000 and the great 9/11 hoax (masterminded, no doubt, by Cheney himself). At the very thought of his smug, malignant, sneering face, I feel the familiar tug of what the Tibetans call shenpa--the almost visceral temptation to wallow in moral outrage and sheer obsessive hatred.

In effect, Cheney has infected my mind. But the honest recognition of this fact can be, in itself, a path to awakening, if I choose to take it. For when I indulge in such obsessive, apoplectic hatred of Cheney, I in effect become just like him--a troglodytic monster dripping with malice.

Several years ago, after a dharma talk in Hampton by Geshe Lobsang Tenzin of the Drepung Loseling Tibetan Center at Emory University, there was a Q & A session, during which I asked the Geshe the following question:

"How do you deal with blockages? That is, I try to generate compassion for all living beings, but then there are some for whom I feel such profound loathing that I can't get past it--and one of these is the President of the United States (George W. Bush). Is there a way to generate honest compassion for people you despise?" (The same is true, of course, even more so for Cheney).

The Geshe first acknowledged that this is very difficult, but then he told a parable. "Imagine," he said, "that you encountered a horribly abusive person who threatened you and screamed vicious insults at you. Naturally, you would feel fear and hostility toward him, and maybe even hatred. But then imagine that another person came along and told you that this person had just escaped from a mental institution and was profoundly disturbed. Your ill-will would then change immediately to a sincere desire to get help for him, because you realized that his abusive behavior was the direct result of his own profound suffering. So it is as well," (he said with a smile) "for anyone for whom you feel hatred--even George Bush."

About six months later, I was attending a workshop with a fairly advanced teacher (I forget her name) in Norfolk, who finally enabled me to awaken compassion for Bush. She told us the story of his childhood--how at the tender age of eight, he had lost his 3-year old sister, whom he dearly loved, to leukemia--yet his parents had not told him anything about her disease. They just took her away one day and she never returned. (The senior Bushes--George and Barbara--were of the same World War II generation as my parents, a generation who had seen such immense suffering throughout the world, both during the Depression and the war, that they tended to be very stoical, and desperate to protect their own children from suffering by suppressing their own feelings.) After the death of this child, the situation was made worse by the fact that young George's mother became depressed, withdrawn, and emotionally distant from him--so that not only did he lose his beloved sister, but he felt abandoned by his mother when he needed her the most. As a result, he was inwardly traumatized and strove thereafter, unconsciously, to "get back" at a world which had cruelly taken away everyone he loved. This was manifested in his early teenage years by his habit of torturing birds and animals, and later by his drinking and his feckless, self-indulgent behavior, his embrace of fundamentalist Christianity, and his later obsession with killing people, both as Governor (when he signed far more death warrants than any governor before or since) and President (when he gleefully invaded Iraq and smirkingly took pride in extrajudicial murders.) But all this sociopathic behavior was rooted in intense, unacknowledged inner pain and suffering. So, no doubt, it has been for Cheney.

Reflecting thus, we can find it possible to cultivate compassion even for monsters like Bush and Cheney. It is not easy--it takes serious introspection. One possible path to this realization is in a passage cited by Maureen Dowd in her (typically sardonic) review of his book, in which, toward the end, after an ugly litany of spin, smarmy self-justification, and lashing out at others in his own and the later administration, he indulges the reader with a sentimental moment, as he recalls drifting into unconsciousness before his most recent heart surgery, and having a very realistic dream that he was relaxing joyfully in "the Italian countryside, somewhere north of Rome." This is the very locale, dear to my heart--Tuscany--where my wife and I have spent two idyllic months during the past two years. Yet Cheney will never be able to go there himself, without fear of being immediately arrested as a war criminal. So at that moment, ironically, in his dream-state, it is as if Cheney and I became one. And we are one, much as I am loath to admit it, not only in our capacity for hatred, but equally in our capacity for joy that is free from suffering...for the sunny, ancient hills of Tuscany.

I'll see if I can say this honestly: May Dick Cheney know happiness, and the roots of happiness. May he be free from suffering, and the roots of suffering. May he know the original joy that transcends all suffering. And may he know the great equanimity, free from passion, aggression, and prejudice. May he one day awaken to his own hidden Buddha nature, and--for the benefit of all beings--may he see the light at last...

To be honest, the above words do not feel as sincere as they should--but I'm trying. Loving your enemy is the hardest injunction of all--but also the most essential. For Bodhicitta eludes us if we leave out anyone at all--even Dick Cheney.

Wangari Maathai: A Gaian Bodhisattva

I am currently reading a book that is both painful and inspiring: Wangari Maathai's latest book, The Challenge for Africa. It is, by any standard, a tour de force of historical insight, deep cultural awareness, moral clarity, compassion, perseverance, and hope--she is a magnificent role model, not only for all Africans, but for all Gaians--that is, for all of us. Here is one sample--her normative definition of democracy, which jumped out at me with the force of a revelation:

All political systems, institutions of the state, and cultural values (as well as pathways toward, and indicators of, economic growth) are justifiable only insofar as they encourage basic freedoms, including human rights, and individual and collective well-being. In that respect, democracy doesn’t solely mean “one person, one vote.” It also means, among other things, the protection of minority rights; an effective and truly representative parliament; an independent judiciary; an informed and engaged citizenry; an independent fourth estate; the rights to assemble, practice one’s religion freely, and advocate for one’s view peacefully without fear of reprisal or arbitrary arrest; and an empowered and active civil society that can operate without intimidation. By this definition, many African countries—and indeed, many societies in both the developing and developed worlds—fall short of genuine democracy. Likewise, “development” doesn’t only entail the acquisition of material things, although everyone should have enough to live with dignity and without fear of starvation or becoming homeless. Instead, it means achieving a quality of life that is sustainable, and of allowing the expression of the full range of creativity and humanity.

Wangari Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate)

The Challenge for Africa (Random House/Anchor Books, 2009), p. 56

What more needs to be said about the asymptotic goal toward which we all should be striving?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vertical and Horizontal Healing

My last post, "Life without Hope," was full of unrelieved despair for the world, leavened only by the quiet resignation to impermanence of Anglican poet and divine George Herbert, reminding us, yet again, that "only a sweet and virtuous soul" can transcend the ravages of time and mortality--much as the Buddha, in the "five remembrances" (i.e. that we are of the nature to get sick, grow old, die, and lose everything we love) concludes that "my actions are my only true possessions."

As Gaian Buddhist philosopher and activist Joanna Macy has often suggested, despair for our planet cannot and should not be suppressed, but rather it needs to be acknowledged, embraced, and worked through, as a path to healing and empowerment. This is not easy, but I would like to share one formulation I have come up with that may help in this ongoing process.

Our culture as a whole suffers from a fragmentation that is both vertical and horizontal. By "vertical" I refer to the personal axis of body, mind, and spirit. Ever since Descartes saved the Catholic church from science and science from the church by developing a dualistic ideology that clearly distinguished res cogitans (the domain of mind, subjectivity, and spirituality) from res extensa (the objective, physical domain, subject to scientific investigation and manipulation, and beginning with our own bodies), this vertical dissociation--of our bodies from our minds, and of our minds from our spirits--has become completely embedded in our mainstream culture. We are encouraged to view our bodies as objects, like our cars, getting them tuned up by exercises, decorated by make-up or tattoos, and repaired by physicians and surgeons. In short, we go to the gym for our bodies, the school or college for our minds, and the church or synagogue for our spirits--as if these were separate, disconnected entities.

Likewise, we are dissociated, largely by design, in the Horizontal realm: our selves are dissociated from our communities, and our communities from Gaia--the larger matrix of their existence. This is "by design" because this dissociation of self, community, and nature serves the interests of Glomart (my coinage for the money-based Global Market Economy). Glomart gains--that is, sells more products and services--to the exact extent it can turn us into isolated consumers, alienated from our communities (so that, for example, we need to buy our own lawnmower, rather than borrowing our neighbor's). And likewise, it thrives when our communities of whatever sort--our schools and colleges, our corporations, our cities and states--are insulated from the adverse ecological consequences of their habits of consumption. In short, Glomart seeks, by its single mandate (the profit motive), to turn citizens into consumers, communities into markets, and our living planet into "resources" devoid of any value until they are transformed into commodities for sale. As a consequence we are dissociated both vertically and horizontally.

My friends and acquaintances, as well as the many people I read regularly, fall broadly into two broad (and often mutually exclusive) categories: those who are focused predominantly on Vertical healing (i.e. reintegration of body, mind, and spirit), through such disciplines as yoga, tai chi, and meditation, and those who are focused predominantly on Horizontal healing (through social and environmental activism). While there is some overlap, these two types of people are largely distinct: many of my Buddhist friends, massage therapists, and other "cultural creatives" are so caught up in their own and others' spiritual (vertical) healing that they give little thought to getting involved in larger social or environmental issues, as they sip their bottled water and drive their SUVs to "Hot Yoga" classes (burning who knows how much coal for the convenience of sweating profusely). Conversely, many of my social activist friends, both "lefties" and environmentalists, are so passionately involved in righting social and environmental wrongs, exposing the evil-doers, and rallying to shake their fists at the oppressors and polluters, that they ignore their inner development altogether, succumbing to chronic rage, bitterness, and burn-out.

However, we need both--Vertical and Horizontal healing--in order to bring about any possible spontaneous remission of the Cancer of the Earth. Is it possible to integrate them? It is indeed, but no one ever said it would be easy. We must strive to emulate the role models who have managed this integration of Vertical and Horizontal healing most effectively: people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Soo Kyi of Burma, and Wangari Maathai of Kenya.

This brings me back to my recurrent fantasy. Imagine setting up Dharma Gaia circles, open to people of all faith traditions, which are dedicated to just such an integration of Vertical and Horizontal healing. The core practice would be, of course, my Dharma Gaia mantra, which moves on a roughly diagonal axis from the embrace of body/self (Breathe, Observe, Let Go) to mind/community (Be well, Do Good Work, Keep in Touch) to spirit/Gaia (Learn, Teach, Heal, Create). The idea would be to create groups that begin with this meditation, then go on to do shared readings, and conclude with a discussion of outreach strategies. I plan, this fall, to start a prototype of such a meditation/reading/action group at the community college where I work. I probably won't call it "Dharma Gaia," however--I live in an overwhelmingly Christian state, and this "heathen" terminology would frighten away most, if not all, of my students. So instead, I'll simply call it something like "Interfaith Healing Meditation and Reading Group," and our first reading will not be "environmental" at all, but rather, it will be Karen Armstrong's newest (and easiest) book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, in which she finds common ground in the practice of compassion among all the religions of the world, and especially the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Call it Skillful Means...My goal, if it is to be authentic, must not be to make everyone "see like me, feel like me, and be like me"--but rather to help them, within the context of their own religious culture and background, and according to their own knowledge and skills, to become a healing agent on our planet.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Life without Hope

This morning, I was watching clips from a 1936 Russian film called "The Girlfriends" (Podrugi) with a score by Shostakovich. The film, a typical propaganda piece, features three young girls and a boy who get caught up in the chaos of World War I and the revolution. At the beginning, however, they are working at an American-owned rubber factory, when the oppressed workers call a strike. The children, desperate for any income at all, make an unsuccessful attempt to sing at a beer hall frequented by the workers and are booted out, but later, aided by a quirky old guy who befriends them, work their way back in, where they sing a beautiful and touching revolutionary anthem called "Tormented by a Lack of Freedom," when they are joined by all the men at the tavern. I looked up a translation to the lyrics to this anthem, which are filled with hope and defiance as they sing of a martyred leader:

"Like you, we may simply become
The soil for the new people,
Or a terrifying prophecy of the new,
Imminent and heroic days..."

Later, Shostakovich ironically incorporates this anthem, as a kind of dirge, in his Eighth Quartet, where it is both surrounded and interrupted by a terrifying, percussive three-chord sequence that immediately would recall, for the audience, the feared "knock on the door" during the Stalinist Terror.

Watching this clip, and thinking about these children in that dark time, and the hope and defiance they manifested for a better future, coupled with Shostakovich's later, bitterly ironic reflection on this early hope in the Eighth Quartet, I was also reminded of a comment made by one of my students at Hampton University several years ago, who remarked, about her enslaved ancestors, that "We are living our ancestors' dreams today."

And so we are--most of us in the middle classes and in the affluent North, anyway--who live in a globally interconnected world where we take computers, the Internet, cellphones, fast food, mobility, freedom, security, and general affluence for granted in ways that none of our ancestors could have dreamed.

And yet...we are also teetering on the brink of an incremental global apocalypse that will eclipse all previous catastrophes by a large margin--one where there is no escape at all--driven by three huge, interrelated terminal crises:
  • our collapsing, debt-ridden global market economy, which is only the most visible symptom of...
  • the inexorable peak and decline of the fossil-fuel based net energy upon which that global market economy is entirely dependent.
  • a simultaneous global ecological collapse, driven above all by irreversible climate change from global heating, coupled with overpopulation, pollution, collapsing fisheries worldwide, depleted groundwater, the collapse of bee populations for pollination, deforestation, desertification, etc.
Anyone who takes a hard look at these current realities has little reason to harbor any hope for the future at all. Especially since our political systems, both here and throughout the world, have been hopelessly hijacked and corrupted--bought and sold--by large multinational corporations and their front groups like the Koch Brothers-funded "Tea Party" movement in the US, who, through the strident, hate-filled demagogues they sponsor on Fox News and Clear Channel radio, have stirred the TV-addled lumpen-proletariat into a frenzy of hatred and "patriotic" paranoia, thereby electing a fanatical congress who will destroy our government altogether before they allow it to raise the taxes of the super-rich or enact legislation protecting the environment or serving the public interest. The only branch of government they will leave untouched is, of course, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Military-Industrial complex, who will go about their business as usual, committing mass murder, torturing suspects in secret prisons, and sending drones out to terrorize Afghan villages that refuse to bow to the Karzai puppet-regime they have set up.

Where is all this headed? Nowhere, fast: a corporate-dominated mass media that maintains the illusion of democracy, by creating bread-and-circus elections and creating a consensual "reality" that bears little relation to anything real; meanwhile, well below the artificially generated, corporate-sponsored radar screen of public awareness, a corporate feeding frenzy on resources worldwide will wipe out any and all environmental protection. The Arctic ocean, Atlantic and Pacific will be open to offshore drilling, while oil shale fields, commercial fishing, hydrofracking for natural gas, mountaintop removal mining, and deforestation proceed without constraint; meanwhile, unemployment, foreclosures, homelessness, and general desperation will proliferate, along with crime, drugs, and random violence, while the middle and upper classes barricade themselves within gated communities--all prey, however, to rapidly rising fuel and food prices, layoffs, and more foreclosures...and anyone who attempts to mobilize the poor and destitute against the rich and well-protected will be ferreted out by internet surveillance and cellphone tapping, and be quietly spirited away and eliminated by paramilitary goon squads. Finally, we will face, worldwide, the grim specter of shrinking islands of fiercely defended affluence in the midst of a turbulent sea of random violence, despair, madness, starvation, disease, and chaos, while the climate gets steadily hotter, drier, and more turbulent, going into a self-accelerating feedback loop.

This is a future I would not wish on my worst enemy, yet it is the future we have created for our own children and grandchildren. And while I used to harbor a residual optimism that somehow a rapidly proliferating Gaia movement could somehow turn all this around before it is too late, that optimism has now vanished, particularly in light of this toxic, corporate-funded, neofascist "Tea Party" phenomenon, that is bringing out the worst in everyone: greed, willful ignorance, hatred, denial, and despair.

All of which, as always, begs the question: while our planet is going to hell, what is a Gaian Buddhist to do? My short answer is the same as it ever was:

Breathe, Observe, Let Go.
Be well, Do good work, Keep in touch.
Learn, Teach, Heal, and Create.

The slightly longer answer is this:

"Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form. The same goes for feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness..."

Breathing in, I take on my own, and everyone else's vast suffering, both now and in the future (and the past as well.)

Breathing out, I send forth friendliness, compassion, joy, and equanimity to myself and to all other living beings: my family, friends, students, total strangers, those who annoy me, those I despise, and every living, breathing being on the planet and throughout the universe.

(Repeat as often as necessary)

And let us remember--the Present is all there is--ever. The future is a mental formation only, and everything, including our body, our society, and our planet, is impermanent. The important thing, always, is to cultivate wisdom and compassion in the present moment, and then to take care of everyone and everything, and abandon no one and nothing...

As the English poet and Anglican divine George Herbert, a true Bodhisattva, once put it:

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky;
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night,
For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye;
Thy root is ever in its grave,
And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My music shows ye have your closes,
And all must die.

Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season'd timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Two Homilies

A number of years ago, I wrote a piece for my Humanities students, which I still use, called "The Four Paths to the Sacred." In it I made the case that all the religious and spiritual traditions on the planet could be classified according to the four directions:

  1. SOUTH--The Path of Learning (Ancient and Indigenous religious traditions, involving their own culturally specific mythologies and traditions)
  2. EAST--The Path of Teaching (Far Eastern religious traditions, involving ramifying lineages of teachers and students of the Dharma).
  3. WEST--The Path of Healing (The Abrahamic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--all positing one Creator God, and involving themes of redemption and healing played out through their sacred history).
  4. NORTH--The Path of Creating (The modern, secular traditions that emphasize human reason, freedom, and creativity--from the European Renaissance to the present).
I concluded with the view that our best bet, in this time of global crisis and the need for global healing, would be simultaneously to nurture our own chosen spiritual orientation, while remaining open to, and learning from, the wisdom available from all four paths, worldwide. The Buddha speaks of 84,000 Dharma doors--and of course "84,000" is simply a metaphor for an infinite number. The point is, of course, that good Dharma teachings can be found in all four of these paths--in every spiritual tradition on the planet. (This view has also been embraced and promoted by many modern-day Bodhisattvas, such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh.)

Pursuant to this, I would like to share two short Dharma teachings from the Western Path of Healing and the Northern Path of Creating. The first is from a Seventh Century English nun, St. Hilda, a talented, spiritually accomplished woman who founded the magnificent Whitby Abbey in north Yorkshire as a joint monastery for both monks and nuns. While on a walk through the Yorkshire countryside several years ago, my wife and I came upon a tiny village, almost a ghost town, called Ellerburn, and there we found an ancient roadside chapel, smelling of mildew, which was dedicated to St. Hilda. At the front was a slate tablet inscribed with a short homily from St Hilda, which provides some basic instruction to novice monks and nuns. Here it is:

A Homily of St. Hilda

Trade with the gifts God has given you.

Bend your minds to holy learning

that you may escape the fretting moths of littleness of mind

that would wear out your souls.

Brace your wills to actions

that they may not be the spoils of weak desires.

Train your hearts and lips to song

which gives courage to the soul

Being buffeted by trials,

learn to laugh.

Being reproved,

give thanks.

Having failed,

determine to succeed.

This is pure, 200 proof Dharma--aside from the obligatory Western reference to God, it could as easily have been written by Pema Chodron as by St. Hilda.

The other piece is from Walt Whitman's introduction to the 1855 version of Leaves of Grass--a wonderful, visionary example of the Path of Creating--the Sacred as the autonomous self--which characterized the Romantic movement in both Europe and America:

This is what you shall do

by Walt Whitman

"This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."

Amen to both Hilda and Walt!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Edgar's "Mustardseed" sermon.

In recent years, I have been mulling over an idea for a novel, which, given my habitual inability to stay focused on a long-term project, may never come to pass. The idea features a protagonist by the name of Edgar Markham, who is my alter-ego, (named after the character Edgar in King Lear), a Buddhist practitioner who--as fossil fuels become exhausted and our industrial society collapses into chaos, fanaticism, predatory violence, and resource wars--creates a grassroots mass spiritual movement, known as Dharma Gaia, based on the propagation of his (and my own) Dharma Gaia mantra:
Breathe, Observe, Let Go
Be well, Do good work, Keep in touch
Learn, Teach, Heal, Create.

Soon enough, however, Edgar realizes that if he promotes himself as yet another Buddhist teacher, he will reach only Buddhists and others, such as yoga and tai chi practitioners, who are already well-educated "cultural creatives," sympathetic to Far Eastern wisdom traditions, and that these, at least in America, are a vast minority, while most ordinary people continue to be seduced, especially in times of growing stress, by huge megachurches promoting a toxic, hateful brand of narrow-minded, intolerant right-wing fundamentalist Christianity. Unless Edgar can break through to such people, his movement will remain a fringe phenomenon, invisible to the media and hence incapable of creating any kind of healing cultural shift toward Gaian consciousness--that is, awareness of ourselves as part of a planetary community of life, in which "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Edgar therefore undertakes a radical solution. Knowing that no fundamentalist Christians would ever pay any attention to a self-proclaimed Buddhist, and embracing the line from his namesake in King Lear, "Edgar I Nothing Am,"--a radical realization of emptiness--Edgar abandons his outward identity altogether, leaves his few remaining possessions behind, and becomes "Tom the Preacher," a Christian missionary wandering from one church to another, preaching the Gospel. At the megachurch of one Brother Randolph Masterson, Edgar (i.e. Tom) gains permission to address the congregation, giving them a sermon on the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32; Matt 13:31-32; Lk 18-19). Here is what he says:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our text for today is from Mark, but it also has versions in Matthew and Luke. It is the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and it goes as follows:

Whereunto shall we liken the Kingdom of God?...It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:
But when it is sown, it groweth up and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches, so that the fowls of the air may lodge under it.

Now then, most of you who are gardeners know quite well that mustard seeds do not grow into large plants or trees which shelter birds. Mustard is a weed, which grows quickly, goes to seed, and proliferates in bright sunlight, close to the ground. So why did Jesus choose this particular simile for the Kingdom of God? Nothing, after all, could be more humble and commonplace than mustard plants. Was Jesus ignorant of basic botany? Not likely, since He lived in an agricultural society, where most farmers were familiar with mustard plants, and most likely regarded them as weeds to be removed, rather than anything of value.

Some will say that mustard greens, when cooked, add a nice, tangy flavor to foods, and that mustard seeds, when ground or spread, add the same tangy flavor, in more concentrated form, to other dishes. So maybe Jesus is referring to the Kingdom of God as adding a certain zest to our food?

In which case, what about the birds of the air? Where do they come in? Many theologians have come up with dramatically different interpretations of this parable, all struggling with the obvious contradiction between what Jesus says about mustard seeds, and what anyone who has a garden already knows. Others claim that Jesus was doing a parody of the conventional, lofty Cedar of Lebanon metaphor for the divinity, so show his readers that the Kingdom of God is ubiquitous, all around them, if they would open their eyes.

So here is one more attempt at interpreting this parable, from yet another gardener.

Mustard is a weed, which means that it quickly colonizes disturbed ground, and needs a lot of sunlight in order to grow. It is frequently used as a green manure, because it is a legume, meaning that it fixes nitrogen from the air, in symbiosis with rhizomes on the roots, and its roots also draw up valuable minerals, such a phosphorus, from beneath the topsoil. And of course, it can be eaten and provide good nutrition, as well as that tangy flavor. For all these reasons, mustard is a good example of the manifold blessings that God provides us, that we generally don't even notice or take for granted.

So while mustard cannot, of itself, provide shelter for birds, it nevertheless creates the ecological linkages between air, topsoil, and mineral substrate, that heals and rebuilds damaged topsoil, and creates the preconditions for larger plants and trees to flourish in succession. So in his short parable, Jesus is giving us all a lesson in ecology: Mustard seeds, which we are likely to regard as weeds, have an integral role in God's Kingdom, which is right here around us on Earth, as well as in Heaven, for the action of the mustard plant quite literally unites Heaven (the air) with Earth (the topsoil and minerals). And these larger plants, in turn, provide shelter for birds, who in turn disperse their seeds. In the natural world, as in the Kingdom of God, everything works for the benefit of itself and for everything else as well--whether they know it or not.

For this reason, from a deep reading of the Parable of the Mustard Seed, we may deduce a principle, a precept, and a practice:

The Principle was well articulated by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a devout Baptist preacher, when he said, "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

--Just as the Mustard Seed creates the conditions, indirectly, for the shelter that the larger plants that grow in the topsoil it creates provide for the birds (who in turn disseminate their seeds).

And it also, of course, reinforces the Precept--the Great Commandment--which Jesus derived from this basic principle of interconnectedness: "Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and that which is like unto it: Love your neighbor as yourself."

So I am going to conclude today by sharing with you all a Practice, by which you, like a mustard seed, can help heal our land and bring to fruition the Kingdom of God, right here on Earth.

Please pay close attention.

  1. BREATHE. As you draw breath and focus on it, reflect on the Holy Spirit that God breathed into Adam when He created him. Feel that same Holy Spirit within you, connecting you to all of God's creation.
  2. OBSERVE. Open your eyes, and see, as Jesus taught us, that the Kingdom of God is everywhere around us, for those with eyes to see.
  3. LET GO. Let go of your fears, your anxieties, and your hatreds--even of your own self-preoccupied thoughts, and rest within the Peace of God that passeth all understanding.
  4. BE WELL. Take good care of your own body, for it is the Tabernacle of the Lord.
  5. DO GOOD WORK. To get over any reluctance to do what you know you should do, simply say "Thy Will be Done." Then do your own part in realizing the Kingdom of God.
  6. KEEP IN TOUCH. Just as the mustard seed grows into a plant that draws nutrients from both Earth and Heaven, and makes them available to other plants, be ready at all times to reach out to all others--to express your love of God in your love of your neighbor.
  7. LEARN. Read the Scriptures prayerfully every day, and regard everyone you meet as a potential teacher, that you may "till" your own mistakes into the ground of your experience, as fertilizer for growing closer to God.
  8. TEACH. Do not put your candle under a bushel. What you have learned, share with others, just as the Mustard Seed creates topsoil for the benefit of all other life.
  9. HEAL. Our mission as Christians is to follow in the steps of Jesus of healing the sick, and healing as well the sickness of our society--just as the Mustard Seed restores damaged topsoil.
  10. CREATE. Just as God created us all, let us use our own creative gifts, whatever they may be, to create the Kingdom of God, just as the mustard seed creates the conditions within large plants and trees can flourish, offering shelter to the birds.
May the Peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and mind through Jesus Christ Our Lord.


--After delivering this sermon, Edgar plants Mustardseed Fellowships within each church he visits, to plant their own gardens, teach gardening skills to their faith community, reach out to the poor and needy, and practice (what they call) the Mustardseed Injunctions to stay on track.

Wouldn't it be nice??

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A single blue robin's egg

Lately, my wife and I have been faced with a minor dilemma with our hanging Fuchsia plant on our open front porch. The dilemma is simply that a local robin has chosen this plant as an ideal site to build her nest, and all of our efforts to dissuade her from this agenda have been in vain--including removing the nest-in-progress altogether and dumping it on the ground, and flooding it with water when we watered it.

Fuchsias need lots of water--they are rainforest plants, which require the equivalent of monsoon rains in order to flourish. So we were concerned--and still are concerned--that the robin would abandon its nest, once it saw how frequently it was threatened with a flood of water and with humans passing by regularly. But our efforts at discouraging this particular robin couple were in vain--they patiently built a new nest anyway. We did, however, move the plant across the porch, farther from the front door, so it would be disturbed less frequently. We believed--again in vain--that if we moved it, the robin would be frustrated and think it disappeared, and would go find a new nest site.

Not so: this morning when I went out to check it, I peered into the hanging pot and saw a single blue robin's egg in the middle of the nest!

At that point, my growing frustration transformed into something a lot closer to what Pema Chodron terms "original bodhichitta"--that is our innate capacity for empathy, love, and awe. So I went out with my 3/4 gallon plastic milk jug and carefully watered the Fuchsia, this time being careful not to let the water level go above the nest. The robin had assisted in this effort, building the floor of the new nest just above the soil (supported by the chopsticks that Ann had stuck in the pot to discourage birds from building nests!)

A single blue robin's egg is a deeply moving sight: the miracle of life, like a dewdrop reflecting the clear blue sky. I still worry that the robin couple will abandon their nest because of its proximity to meddlesome humans with watering jugs, but we will do our best to do right by both the Fuchsia and the robins, so that they can stay and raise their baby. We have no choice.

May these robins, parents and baby, know happiness and the root of happiness, be free from suffering, know the transcendent joy of flight, and the equanimity of knowing they are safe from danger! "Everything that lives is holy." --William Blake.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Beyond Nationalism

"Al vero filosofo ogni terreno e patria" --Giordano Bruno.
("For the true philosopher, every land is his country.")

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."
--Thomas Paine

"Everything that lives is holy." --William Blake.

Bruno, Paine, and Blake are all historical role models for me; all are what I like to call "proto-Gaians"--that is, people who, though they lived long before our present global crisis necessitated Gaian consciousness, were already there--aware of themselves as citizens of a planet, in which the Sacred is imminent in all life, human and otherwise, and aware, above all, that reason--clear and critical thinking--is the only known antidote to ignorance, superstition, and prejudice. As Blake also said, "Truth cannot be spoken so as to be understood, and not believed."

I mention this because, here in the USA, toxic nationalism, which most call "patriotism," is currently undergoing an upsurge, as Republicans position themselves as the true (white, Christian) "Americans" poised to "take back our country" from the "furriner" (i.e. negro) Obama, while Obama himself has recently stooped to toxic nationalism himself in exulting in the murder of Osama Bin Laden as "justice"--though extrajudicial murder for revenge has no rational relationship to justice whatsoever.

It is, perhaps, an interesting archetypal sign of the times that in the latest installments of the Superman comics, Superman, that Herculean icon of messianic Americanism ("Truth, Justice, and the American Way") has renounced his American citizenship in disgust (signifying, symbolically, that the American Way no longer has anything much to do with either truth or justice.) Another indication of the subconscious revolt of popular culture to this new, blatantly militaristic "Americanism" may be the enormous popularity of the recent blockbuster film "Avatar," a kind of Gaian fantasy romance, in which the US Marines--or a fictional facsimile thereof--become, not the good guys, but the bad guys, blowing up the very Tree of Life itself and wasting a whole planet and its peace-loving indigenous people in pursuit of a priceless mineral resource called, appropriately, "unobtainium."

But still, for now, the Corporate Party--that is, the Republicans--are firmly in control, and are using the full resources of the corporate media to brainwash the average American people into this new, militaristic, America-against-the-world toxic nationalism--so that several of my neighbors, including the two immediately adjacent to the north, now fly big American flags all the time. I am on good terms with these neighbors, who are ordinary, simple folk, getting through life, and addicted to television like most of the other ordinary, simple folk--but we maintain these neighborly relations in large part by never going anywhere near politics in our occasional chit-chat.

But I want no part of this nationalism, at all--so I continue to sport a license plate that says "GAIAN" along with bumper stickers to help other drivers interpret what to them is a strange, and possibly (perish the thought!) homosexual reference: "Celebrate Diversity;" "Loving Kindness is my Religion"--the Dalai Lama; "Buy Fresh, Buy Local;" "Earth;" and "Green is Good." That, and I wear an Earth lapel pin, as a subtly ironic commentary on the proliferation of flag lapel pins.

But do I dare get any more explicit than this about my upward shift of loyalty to the whole planet and all of life? I live, after all, in a military-dominated community where people strongly identify with "the Flag" and "Our Boys" who are "fighting for freedom" in the Middle East. And as my father, in his gently sardonic wisdom, used to say, "If you want to be a martyr, don't be surprised if you are a martyr."

It has to do with what Ken Wilber refers to as levels of awareness; there is no point in trying to get people at one level of awareness (i.e. identification with nation and religion) to see things from a higher level of awareness (i.e. identification with the planet, and with the Sacred as manifested in all religions and all life), unless they have reached a kind of crisis in their own inner development, where they are ready to do so. Otherwise, they will simply feel threatened, and see you as an enemy, whether of "America" or of "God." It is possible, indeed, that my two neighbors displayed their big flags precisely because they felt unconsciously threatened by my bright red car with its "anti-American" (i.e. Gaian) bumper-stickers.

So my best approach is to treat all such people with loving kindness, compassion, shared joy, and equanimity--just as I would have others treat me. For--levels of awareness notwithstanding--we are all, as Jack Kerouac said in his wonderful mantra, "Equally empty, equally to be loved, and equally a coming Buddha." If they ask about my license plate or bumper stickers, I will tell them, as patiently and compassionately as ever, what they mean. If not, I won't mention it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Osama, Obama, and the Dalai Lama

Over the last few days, we have all witnessed a rather appalling spectacle of media-induced mass schadenfreude, as television-addled Americans cheered and gloated over the murder of the unarmed Osama Bin Laden by US special forces in Pakistan. But the worst insult of all came with the headline from the LA times: that the Dalai Lama had justified this murder. Well--not quite. What the Dalai Lama actually said was the following:

"Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."

This is, at best, the DL's effort to remain diplomatically above the fray--not to justify a gangster-style hit job. There is a big "if'" here.

"But what about 9-11" people will say, if I object to this murder.

There are two answers to this.

First let us assume (though it has never been proven) that Osama Bin Laden was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. If so, and if he was unarmed, he could easily have been captured and brought to justice, like any other criminal--presented with evidence, and given the opportunity to defend himself. This would not have appeased the testosterone-crazed multitudes in our degraded country, but it would have preserved something far more valuable: the rule of law, and the principle of due process. Instead, Obama (and all those who are cheering for him) lowered himself to the same level as the terrorists, by opting for an extrajudicial murder--something every terrorist longs to do to his enemies, real or imagined.

The Dalai Lama's response--that sometimes countermeasures are necessary--is absolutely true, but only in those instances where violence is the last possible resort to prevent further violence against one's own--like defending one's wife and children against an armed and murderous marauder invading the house. But in this case, Osama was minding his own business, and we were the armed and murderous marauders--not he.

My second response is more to the point, however: What ABOUT 9/11? Much as our government and corporate media maintain a common front of silence and denial about it, there is no getting around the fact that the official story of 9/11--that the Twin Towers and Building 7 collapsed as a consequence of the impact and resulting fires from the jet crashes--simply does not hold any water, scientifically. It violates both laws of thermodynamics, egregiously.

For example, we are told (again and again) that the Twin Towers underwent a "pancake collapse" in which the weight and force of the collapsing upper stories created a chain reaction that brought down all the others at freefall rate (without encountering any resistance at all from the intact 60-80 floors beneath them, nor the 47 steel girders that were specifically designed to support the structure as a whole. ) If so, where ARE all these collapsing stories? Look at this photo:

What do you see here? I see no upper floors at all crushing those beneath them (which is not surprising, since those lower floors had always supported them before. What I do see is something a lot more like a Roman Candle--a sequence of powerful explosions, symmetrically pulverizing the building, floor by floor, and blowing the debris upward and outward as it falls. This is no gravitational collapse, but a controlled demolition.

And there is, besides, a peer-reviewed scientific study by Dr. Niels Harrit of the University of Copenhagen and eight equally qualified colleagues, all with Ph.D.s in chemical physics, that found direct evidence of iron microspheres and particles of unexploded nanothermite in the dust from the immediately surrounding area: all prima facie evidence of controlled demolition. For further evidence and information on the real story of 9/11, the best source I know of is that of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 truth

In short, you can now count me among the growing multitudes who simply no longer believe the official story--and therefore have no reason to believe that Osama Bin Laden had anything to do with the horrors of that day.

In which case, what Americans and all their media outlets are celebrating with such noxious fervor is simply a gangster-style murder of a man who, while far from innocent (since he apparently was the mastermind behind the attack on the USS Cole and the African embassy bombings), was nevertheless entitled to the same rights to due process, under a just legal order, as you or me or anyone else.

And this is why I no longer even like to call myself an American, but rather a Gaian--that is, a citizen of the world, like my role model Thomas Paine, who originally coined the concept of "The United States of America," but whose legacy of enlightened democracy and justice we have now abandoned, in favor of brute force and bread and circuses. As Paine himself once put it, "The world is my country; all mankind are my brethren; and to do good is my religion." The Dalai Lama himself could scarcely have said it better!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Gaian Economy?

In a letter I just sent to the Daily Press on energy use, I concluded with the following passage:

Our explosive industrial growth was made possible by cheap fossil fuels, but we have reached their horizon of efficacy, beyond which their rising costs and toxic side-effects will overwhelm us. So if we are to have a future at all, it must be one based on energy efficiency, intelligent technology, and sharing--not on endless growth and greed.

Looking over this passage got me wondering: is a Gaian economy even possible? That is, can we ever hope to create or evolve an economy based, not on endless growth of production and consumption (and therefore, of pollution)--not on the "invisible hand" of competing self-interest--but on "energy efficiency, intelligent technology, and sharing"?

This is, of course, an old, old question--but the present, glaring contradiction between our Glomart economy (based on endless growth of production and consumption in pursuit of short-term self-interest) and our finite, Gaian world makes it once again an urgent question to consider.

Does our basic human nature--our innate urge, shared with all other species, to eat, survive, and reproduce--doom us inexorably to an Easter Island future, a hideous feeding frenzy where we compete bitterly and relentlessly with each other to commandeer and exhaust the existing nonrenewable resources, rather than using those resources to create a cooperative infrastructure for renewable energy? Or can we actually learn to plan more intelligently for a sustainable, post-fossil fuel, steady-state economy where, as Shakespeare put it, "distribution should undo excess, and each man have enough?" Is an economy based on sharing, on planetary stewardship, and on voluntary reduction of per capita energy use even possible?

The odds weigh heavily in favor of the former, I'm afraid--a hellish future of accelerating climatic turbulence and drought, collapsing ecosystems, endless resource wars, societal and cultural disintegration, corporate tyranny, and marauding, predatory gangs roaming the blasted landscape and killing everyone in their path, set against shrinking islands of fiercely defended wealth and privilege...not a future I would wish on anyone.

Nevertheless, let us assume--if only for the sake of argument--that an alternative is possible. Buddhist teachings remind us that the present is all there is--that the future--any future--is always just a mental formation, and that the causes and conditions of the future always depend on what each of us chooses to do in the present, just as our present conditions are the direct consequences of causes and conditions in the past--including all the choices made by all our ancestors. If, in fact, the seed of the future always lies in the choices that we make right now, what can we do, starting this moment--to plant the seed for a better future, regardless of what others do, and whatever else happens?

Imagine then--and here goes my sustaining fantasy, yet again--that a self-replicating Gaia movement were to take root, analogous to the rise, in the past, of Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity--all massively culturally transformative events that started with a single visionary.
The Gaia movement would be rooted in a practice, easily taught and easily replicated, that brought immediate relief from stress, but also laid the foundation for serious dharma practice, within the cultural frame of reference of each practitioner--not so much a "new religion" (which would be seen as a threat to existing religions) but rather as a practice that is compatible with all existing authentic religious traditions. (By "authentic" I mean compatible with the universal Dharma--the awareness of our "inescapable network of mutuality"--despite their own religious identity politics).

So this new Gaia movement would be based on the following Principle, Precept, and Practice:

  1. PRINCIPLE: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."--Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. PRECEPT: "Take care of everyone, and abandon no one. Take care of everything, and abandon nothing." --Lao Tzu.
  3. PRACTICE: Breathe, Observe, Let Go; Be well, Do good work, Keep in Touch; Learn, Teach, Heal, and Create.
The Gaians--those first initiates in the Gaia Movement--would develop, within themselves, the skills necessary to promote this "seed" concept among adherents of many different religions. Each religion could give it their own name; for Buddhists, it is "Dharma Gaia;" for Christians, it could be called "the Mustardseed Project" after the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jews could associate it with the Hebrew concept of Tikkun--healing the world. And Muslims could likewise integrate it with their own Qur'anic traditions.

As the movement grew--among Gaian Buddhists, Gaian Jews, Gaian Hindus, Gaian Christians, and Gaian Muslims--communities of practice might form that engaged in whatever forms of praxis were appropriate to local conditions: Satyagraha for those who face oppressive political conditions; labor organizing among those exploited by corporate tyranny; negotiation and peacemaking; political advocacy where possible; and above all, ongoing community-building, gardening, education, and ecological protection and restoration.

What form might the resulting Gaian culture take? It is hard to say, of course, but ideally it would be decentralized--a loose association of bioregional communities, each developing cultures, political systems, economies, and technologies appropriate to their own bioregion.

Is such a thing even possible? Once again, transformative cultural movements, starting from a small seed, have happened before throughout human history; there is no good reason why they can't happen yet again. The alternative, for me, is unthinkable--however likely. And that is enough to reinforce my determination to pursue this vision of a Gaian future for as long as I draw breath--for it starts, indeed, by drawing breath: breathing, observing, and letting go...even of my own mental formations about what a Gaian future should look like... The present, after all, is all there is.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gaian Triads

Numbered lists, particularly in threes, fours, and fives, have long been used as mnemonic devices to help transmit spiritual teachings through the generations. There are obvious reasons for this; we learn best by organizing information into symmetrical patterns. And so we have, in Buddhism, many numeric schemes--the Four Noble Truths, the Five Precepts, the Six Paramitas, the Four Brahma-Viharas, the Three Dharma Seals, the Twelve Links of Codependent Origination, the Five Skandhas, and so forth. All these numeric schemes help practitioners to reinforce their understanding of, and grounding in, the Dharma.

In my own life, I seem to have been endowed with the mission to propagate Gaian Buddhism, the wonderful synthesis of Buddhist Practice and Gaianity, or global ecological awareness and commitment, that has been initiated by masters such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, and propagated by an array of eminent Gaians, such as Joanna Macy, Elizabeth Roberts, Gary Snyder, and (closer to home) my own friends and role models, John Croft in Australia, Chris Maser in Oregon, Dick and Pat Richardson in Texas, Evan Eisenberg in New York, Ian Prattis in Canada, and Martin Ogle in Virginia.

And so my own Gaian thinking and teaching has come to be organized around similar numeric patterns, particularly triads and tetrads. So here is a partial list of the triads and tetrads that have become the "strange attractors" in my own thinking:

1. Eat, Survive, Reproduce.

This triad of verbs I originally took from a cartoon I saw (I forget where) that showed a series of creatures in an ascending evolutionary sequence--a paramecium, a fish, a salamander, a dinosaur, a mastodon, and an ape--all with thought-bubbles saying "Eat, Survive, Reproduce."
The last frame showed an early human, but he was looking perplexed, and his thought-bubble was "What am I supposed to do?"

The implicit answer, of course, was the same as the above:--"Eat, Survive, Reproduce." So this first, foundational triad reminds us, from the start, of our kinship with all the rest of life--that our basic agenda, however clever and complex we have become, is the same as that of every other living being. From this common agenda we share with all life, we may logically derive all the others.

2. Health, Competence, and Adaptive Flexibility. This triad describes the basic survival values of all living beings, and can be logically derived from the above three injunctions.

  • Health is internal homeostasis, maintained by the influx of matter/energy from Gaia through food, water, and breath, the elimination of waste, and the autoregulation of these processes. It is, of course, the prerequisite of the others.
  • Competence is, quite literally, the ability to compete--that is, the ability to function effectively within a given, generally predictable niche, whether ecological or sociocultural. For a rabbit, competence consists of alertness to potential predators and the ability to find a safe hiding place for her babies; for a feline, competence is the ability to stalk prey effectively and all this entails. And of course for any human job or profession, competence is the ability to deliver the goods for which you are being paid, as well as or better than your competitors do. Competence, then, depends on specialized skills adapted to a given, relatively stable environment.
  • Adaptive Flexibility refers, conversely, to the generalized ability to adapt to unpredictable changes in one's environment. In the natural world, as in the social world, there tends to be a trade-off between competence and adaptive flexibility: the more highly specialized we become, the less able we are to adapt when the conditions we mastered through specialization change too quickly or dramatically. Evolutionary history is littered with extinct organisms who were admirably specialized for one environmental niche, once that niche changed. Those organisms that have survived the longest, conversely, tend to be those that are highly adaptive and flexible. This is why, for example, coyotes far outnumber wolves, in the dramatically changed environment induced by human civilization. Wolves were highly competent within their native niche, as running social predators in wide-open northern woodlands and prairies. But coyotes--solitary, devious, and diversified in diet--have been able to thrive much more effectively on the fringes of the civilized world, despite the relentless efforts by farmers and ranchers to exterminate them.
  • Self, Community, Planet. With this triad, we move into the exclusively human realm, in the present generation, as members of a species which, through language and culture, has come to dominate the entire planet, and whose numbers and resource consumption now directly threaten the survival of that planet as a habitat for life, human or otherwise. This triad specifies our shared obligation in this altered world we have inherited, creating what I like to call a new, Gaian Categorical Imperative: To assume responsibility, in every decision we make, for the health, competence and adaptive flexibility of ourselves, our community, and our planet simultaneously.
  • Be Well, Do Good Work, Keep in Touch. This wonderful triad, which I have borrowed from Garrison Keillor, specifies the means to the end implied by the above Gaian Categorical Imperative. It is a good, generic daily agenda, and as such forms the centerpiece of my Dharma Gaia Mantra: Breathe, Observe, Let Go; Be Well, Do Good Work, Keep in Touch; Learn, Teach, Heal, and Create. Note also the correspondence in these triads:
  1. Eat - Health - Self - Be Well
  2. Survive - Competence - Community - Do Good Work
  3. Reproduce - Adaptive Flexibility - Planet - Keep in Touch.

  • Good Buy, Good Work, Good Will. This triad translates Garrison Keillor's generic daily agenda into the language of Gaian social engagement. It can be unpacked as follows:
  1. Good Buy means to assume responsibility for the social and ecological consequences of the money we spend--to think of each dollar we spend as a "vote" for all of the processes that went into the product we have bought. Some general guidelines for "Good Buy" therefore include, whenever possible, buying locally produced food and other items, buying organically grown food, investing in renewable energy such as solar and wind, and deliberately boycotting corporations whose profits derive from damaging Gaia or exploiting workers. In general, the food that is best for our bodies--local, organic, nutrient-rich--is also best for our communities (in that it creates local employment and promotes local agriculture) and is therefore best for Gaia as well (in that it involves redirecting our money away from Glomart and all the agribusiness firms like Monsanto that profit from destroying our topsoil and genetic diversity.)
  2. Good Work means to assume responsibility for the social and ecological consequences of our livelihood. In general terms, this means avoiding livelihoods that increase the net level of suffering for Gaia and her creatures, and embracing livelihoods that promote the health, competence, and adaptive flexibility of ourselves, our communities, and Gaia. In general, such work involves learning Gaia, teaching Gaia, healing Gaia, and creating Gaia.
  3. Good Will means to "keep in touch"--to assume responsibility for the social and ecological consequences of our own mental attitudes, our behavior toward others, and every other choice we make.
Considered thus, these triads link up very nicely, forming an arc of associations between the basic survival needs of every organism (Eat, Survive, Reproduce) right through the engaged Dharma practice of individual humans to promote our health, competence, and adaptive flexibility (Breathe, Observe, Let Go, Be Well, Do Good Work, Keep in Touch) to the ongoing Gaian praxis of planetary healing: Good Buy, Good Work, Good Will.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Step by step

"Passo dopo passo." So reads today's entry (March 27, 2011) in my calendar of everyday Italian phrases. It translates "step by step"--or to put it in the inimitable words of my stepson Eric, "One fucking thing at a time."

And it is a good Dharma lesson always--to stay in the present moment, and do what needs to be done--one step at a time--regardless of how many obligations are closing in on us at any time. This also means, for me, subduing the various Maras that afflict me on weekends: internet addiction, dissipation, torpor, and avoidance or procrastination.

A few days ago, I was invited to give a talk on Buddhism to a group of high school kids over in Chesapeake, who were taking an Advanced Placement class in world religions. Most of my talk was "Buddhism 101"--going through the basic teachings with them--the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Three Jewels, the Five Precepts, the Four Brahma-Viharas, and of course the essential discipline--Breathe, Observe, and Let Go. But in the course of my talk, while describing the Second Dharma Seal--interbeing or nonself--I stumbled on a potentially useful metaphor for this difficult-to-grasp concept.

When discussing the essential unreality of the separate self (Anatman) I compared it to a rainbow: something you see clearly, as if it were real, but if you move toward it, it recedes--and if the sun disappears behind a cloud, it vanishes altogether. It is, in effect, a perceptual artifact--something whose "existence" depends on a particular conjunction of causes and conditions that includes angle of sunlight from one direction, rain in the opposite direction, and of course the location of the perceiver. As Thay would say, "When conditions are sufficient, we see a rainbow; when conditions are no longer sufficient, the rainbow disappears"--even though the latent preconditions are still there: sunlight, clouds, rain, and perceiver.

The point is, our notion of "self" is more like a rainbow--a perceptual artifact--than it is like, say, a rock or even an animal. If we look deeper, of course, people, animals, and ultimately rocks are perceptual artifacts as well--all depend on the conjunction of certain causes and conditions, including the eye of the beholder.

But there is a danger--an ethical danger--in going too far in this direction, for if we persuade ourselves that everyone and everything is illusory--that is just an artifact of our own perception--then why should we care whether or not they suffer? This is the danger, as I see it, in certain "mind-only" schools of Buddhist thought--they are an invitation to complacency and smug indifference to others--and "by their fruits shall ye know them."

So how do we avoid this trap, once we grasp the notion of the separate self as a perceptual artifact, of simply concluding that everyone and everything else is as well, and that we can do as we please?

The Dalai Lama points one way, in this regard, in enjoining us to recognize what we have in common with everyone else we see out there: we all want happiness, and none of us wants to suffer. And this is the key: the ultimately illusory nature of the separate self simply indicates that everyone else is, deep down, the same as we are, and as we do for ourselves, so we do for them as well. This is also the inner logic behind the law of Karma as well--whatever we do to and for others, we also do to and for ourselves, for ultimately there is no difference at all between us and them--even if we fear and despise them. Hence our only recourse, as Lao Tzu says, is to "take care of everyone and abandon no one; take care of everything, and abandon nothing."

But back to my calendar lesson for the day: How do we go about dealing with all the things we've failed to do thus far--all the people and things we have not yet taken care of--due to the various Maras of dissipation, internet addiction, torpor, and procrastination--like grading my weekly papers--in order to resume taking care of everyone and abandoning no one? Passo dopo passo.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Discipline of Satyagraha

A few days ago in my English 112 (Argument and Rhetoric) class, I had just shown the class a documentary film, The Corporation, a brilliantly crafted and scathing exploration and expose of the inherent self-maximizing logic of multinational corporations and their rapacious effect on the planet and society alike, and after class, one of my students, a young woman, remarked, "That film made me want to commit suicide." So I took some time out after class to give her a few alternatives to suicide, mainly by remembering that corporations need OUR money in order to thrive, and that the revolution begins in our wallets; that every time we choose to spend our money in a socially and ecologically responsible manner, we make it easier and more cost effective for everyone else to do likewise.

But her rather drastic response to this illuminating and terrifying film about the pervasiveness and rapacity of Glomart got me to thinking more deeply about how to give her, and all young people, an adaptive alternative to suicide in a time when (structurally self-serving) corporations have taken over our country, are destroying the planet with impunity, and have even colonized our minds via 24/7 television brainwashing--when all media voices critical of Glomart hegemony are being snuffed out one by one--Bill Moyers, David Brancaccio, and most recently Keith Olbermann.

Such thoughts got me thinking, yet again, about Mahatma Gandhi and his luminous concept of Satyagraha, the Dharma-based practice he developed for resisting systemic oppression of all kinds, a practice taken up, in turn, by other luminaries such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Thich Nhat Hanh, Vandana Shiva, the Dalai Lama, Wangari Maathai, Sulak Sivaraksa, and Aung San Soo Kyi. So what follows is my own take on Gandhi's essential principles of Satyagraha, and is dedicated to this young woman, to all my students, and to all young people on the planet.

The word Satyagraha combines two Sanskrit words: Satya (truth) and Agraha (Holding firm), and it therefore means simply "holding firmly to truth." Gandhi coined this term as a substitute for the familiar term "passive resistance" to describe his campaign against British colonial domination in India, for he pointed out, quite rightly, that Satyagraha, while nonviolent, is anything but passive. It is, in fact, a form of warfare, a means of opposing oppression, with the important difference that it strives to convert, not destroy, the enemy. It is, in short, resistance without hatred.

While Satyagraha is commonly understood merely as "civil disobedience" or "nonviolence," it is, in fact, much more--it is an all-inclusive discipline that, if practiced with integrity and diligence, touches every aspect of our lives, from our response to political and economic oppression to our daily relationships with each other and with the planet.

Gandhi defined Satyagraha based on three central and interdependent principles, likewise derived from Gandhi's own indigenous Hindu traditions: Ahimsa (Nonviolence), Satya (Truthfulness), and Swaraj (Self-rule). To these I would add, based on my own absorption in Gandhi's teachings, as well as my study of his disciples (especially Martin Luther King, Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and Wangari Maathai) three salient characteristics of a Satyagrahi (i.e. a practitioner of Satyagraha): in everything he/she does, he/she acts mindfully, strategically, and relentlessly. Let us therefore probe these two triads--Ahimsa, Satya, and Swaraj, practiced mindfully, strategically, and relentlessly, in order to clarify our understanding of this magnificent and transformative discipline.

Ahimsa which translates as "doing no harm," is the cardinal principle of Satyagraha, as both a political strategy and a way of life. It is based on the Dharma itself as principle, precept, and practice. If it is true (which it is) that we are "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality" where "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly," then it follows necessarily that any form of violence is ultimately self-defeating--that whatever goes around, comes around. Gandhi recognized, moreover, that means and ends are inseparable: if you justify violence as a means to any political end, the outcome itself will be dependent upon the perpetuation of violence, and the world you create will be poisoned by hatred, vindictiveness, and animosity. One way of looking at Ahimsa can be summed up in the following, paradoxical syllogism:

  1. "Strength lies in attack and not in defense." --Adolf Hitler
  2. (However), "Force is followed by loss of strength" --Lao Tzu
  3. (Therefore) "The meek shall inherit the Earth" --Jesus Christ.
All three quotes have their own wisdom. Hitler's satanic wisdom applies in the immediate short term, as any street fighter, soldier, or tyrant will tell you: in any combat situation, you gain advantage by attacking first. And believe it or not, Gandhi would agree. When asked what he would do if someone were attacking his family, Gandhi responded, without hesitation, "I would kill him first, if possible." The point is, there are circumstances where self-defense requires violence, but it only works in the short term.

In the longer term, Lao Tzu's wisdom, "Force is followed by loss of strength" always kicks in--as Hitler himself discovered to his cost, and in fact, as all tyrants, all who live by brutalizing others, come to find out sooner or later. This is simply a transform of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and it is also the foundation of all martial arts, properly understood: "Yield and overcome."

From which it necessarily follows, in the perspective of eternity, that "the meek shall inherit the Earth." The word "meek," however, is a connotatively obsolete translation of the Greek Praeis, a more apt translation of which would be "gentle," "accommodating," or "adaptable."--that is, someone who has cultivated the virtues of letting go of attachment to ego and maintaining equanimity: a practitioner, in heart and mind, of Ahimsa.

Ahimsa, however, is not easy. It involves coming to terms with the violence, not only in the world, but in ourselves. The best way to do this, of course, is to remember the essential discipline: whenever feelings of rage arise, we must remember to breathe, observe, and let go. And in fact, all practitioners of Satyagraha from Gandhi on have routinely withdrawn from the heated landscape of political strife to recharge themselves through meditation and devotional practices--Gandhi by withdrawing to his Ashram, King to the black churches, and Mandela, paradoxically, to the jail where he spent 26 years of his life, practicing Satyagraha day in and out.

Satya refers to the art of what the Quakers (themselves very proficient Satyagrahis) called "speaking truth to power." And this, likewise, is a demanding discipline, involving moral courage, eloquence, and strategic intelligence. Those who confuse speaking truth to power with disrupting a speaker by yelling insults completely misunderstand this principle, for effective and mindful speaking always involves listening as well. Today, some of the venues through which we can speak truth to power involve letters to the editor, public hearings, and visits to our elected representatives. If we do not practice these arts of citizenship, we will quickly lose them.

Swaraj or "self-rule" was originally a political term expressing the aspirations of the people of India for self-government, as opposed to British colonial domination. But Gandhi expanded the implications of this enormously, to comprise both self-discipline (through meditative practices and the ongoing cultivation of self-awareness and compassion) and also--most importantly--economic autonomy, as symbolized by Gandhi's spinning wheel. Today, therefore, in our struggle against Glomart domination, Swaraj involves reversing the three ways in which Glomart seeks to strip us of our autonomy. In three crucial domains--personal, civic, and global--the Glomart system (i.e. the Order of Money) is driven to reduce us from active to passive, and we must resist accordingly, asserting our autonomy:

  1. Glomart benefits, and Gaia suffers, by turning active citizens into passive consumers. We can therefore push back by exercising our citizenship in whatever ways are still available--speaking truth to power through electoral politics, letters, hearings, and visits to policymakers, as well as through strategically organized mass demonstrations. Even as consumers, we can push back by assuming responsibility for the social and economic consequences of the money we spend. A good way of doing this can be found on websites like Goodguide.
  2. Glomart benefits, and Gaia suffers, by turning active communities into passive markets for their products. We can therefore push back by organizing our communities, buying locally produced food, and forming or joining Community Based Agriculture cooperatives.
  3. Glomart benefits, and Gaia suffers, by turning our natural support systems--forests, mountains, fisheries, aquifers, and topsoil--into commodities which can be bought and sold on the market, and the pollution which results from manufacturing these commodities. We can therefore push back by doing everything we can to protect our planet--from voting with our dollars to speaking truth to power to organized nonviolent noncooperation with evil.
And of course, the latter--direct action--is always our last resort, after all the other efforts have failed. If and when a campaign of direct action becomes necessary, it is essential that we be well-trained and well-prepared for it, and that, as in any nonviolent warfare, we act mindfully, strategically, and relentlessly. A poorly organized campaign of nonviolent resistance often backfires, and simply aids Glomart in stereotyping us as "radicals" or imprisoning us as "terrorists." Therefore, strong, credible moral leadership--such as a Gandhi, a King, a Mandela, a Vandana Shiva, or a Wangari Maathai--is essential to the success of a nonviolent mass movement. Also, any direct action campaign--organized nonviolent noncooperation with evil--must always be fully predicated on all three principles of Satyagraha--ahimsa, satya, and swaraj--in order to be successful. But we need not fear defeat, for as Gandhi pointed out, a Satyagraha campaign, when practiced with integrity according to these principles, may know many setbacks, but can never be defeated. Like the Dharma itself, it is indestructible, even if we ourselves are impermanent. As Dr. King said, "the man who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for."

So in our common effort to bring spontaneous remission to the Glomart cancer of the Earth, please remember and adhere to these key principles: Ahimsa (resolute nonviolence); Satya (resolute speaking of truth to power); and Swaraj (resolute self-rule and local self-reliance). And remember the three attributes as well of any authentic act of Satyagraha: that it is mindful, strategic, and relentless.