Why am I starting a Dharma Gaia Circle this month? To answer this, I wish to begin with one of my favorite passages from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching.
According to recent scholarship in Chinese history, Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching most likely date from the Warring States era of Chinese history (481/403 to 221 BCE) when China had fractured into various rival warlord states battling viciously for dominance; a prolonged (two centuries or more) era of bitter internecine warfare prior to the unification of China under the Qin dynasty.
In the context of this period of catastrophic societal breakdown into civil strife, Lao Tzu composed a simple but beautiful recipe for social regeneration (Tao Te Ching, verse 54):
What is well planted will not be uprooted.
What is firmly grasped cannot slip away.
It will be honoured from generation to generation.
Cultivate Virtue in yourself,
(Gia Fu Feng Translation, adapted with reference to other translations).
The word translated as "Virtue" here is Te (or pinyin de), the second word in the title Tao Te Ching, often translated as "The Classic of the Way and its Virtue." However, like Tao itself, this word Te is not precisely translatable; it does not simply mean "goodness" or "manliness" (two Western meanings of "virtue" from its Latin root virtus), but it refers, in general, to what might well be described as the efficacy of human behavior in accordance with the Way of nature. (Hence it could even be taken as another definition of permaculture!) Therefore, my own interpretation of "Virtue" (Te) might be a combination of (1) ecological awareness, understanding, and responsibility, with (2) behavior that effectively promotes the health, competence, and resilience of ourselves, our communities, and our living planet, all rooted in wisdom and compassion.
So what is Lao Tzu telling us, in the context of a chaotic, violent, disintegrative era much like his own?
That social regeneration begins, not from the top down, but from the ground up--starting from individual healing and regeneration, leading to the healing and regeneration of families, communities, societies, landscapes, and our entire living planet. And this, in a nutshell, is why I am creating a Dharma Gaia Circle.
The key line is this one: "Cultivate Virtue in yourself, and Virtue will be real." This is a profound insight that we often forget as social activists, in our passion to right the wrongs of our society and government. No attempt to "cultivate Virtue" in the community or state is likely to last or become deeply rooted unless we first make that Virtue "real" by cultivating it within ourselves. So this one line comprises the agenda of my Dharma Gaia Circle: to "cultivate Virtue" in ourselves, so that it is real, and so that we can then plant it more firmly, and cultivate it more effectively, in the larger circles of relationship within which we live: our families, communities, states, and living planet.
There are, of course, myriad methods for cultivating Virtue in ourselves, but I have sought, over many years, to evolve an effective method for myself and others that integrates personal integration and healing with that of all the larger systems of which we are a part: our household, neighborhood, circle of friends, landscapes, community, state, nation, and--above all--our living planet. And here, in brief, is what I have come up with, based on the Dalai Lama's wonderful definition of the Dharma as simultaneously a "principle, precept, and practice."
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.
PRECEPT: "Take care of everyone, and abandon no one. Take care of everything, and abandon nothing." --Lao Tzu.
PRACTICE: (Guided meditation on the breath)
1. (Reinhabiting the present moment): Breathe, Observe, Let Go. --the Buddha (Sutra on Breathing)
2. (A generic daily agenda): "Be well, Do Good Work, Keep in Touch" --Garrison Keillor.
3. (A generic life agenda): Learn Gaia; Teach Gaia; Heal Gaia; Create Gaia.
For a deeper dive into all of this, please see my Dharma Gaia Manifesto.