Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
The UN COP 23 Climate discussions are just beginning in Bonn, Germany. I have been following the UN COP Climate Climate conferences for ten years. I have been working on climate change as a social condition for just as long. I’m about to finish my dissertation on social ecology movements as a response to climate change and ecological crisis. I have read literally thousands of articles on the global climate crisis, the crisis in agriculture and species extinction, and related problems. I have read literally thousands of articles on proposed and tested solutions to those problems. I can say that after ten years of studying these wickedly complex and connected crises, that though we have made some progress on climate agreements and renewable technologies, we are not much closer to resolving these issues than we were ten or twenty years ago. This is in part because though we have made some progress towards solutions, the ecological crisis becomes even greater and more complex.
I finished reading the Karmapa’s latest book; Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. In the last chapter it finally dawned on me what he was trying to say: that one way to approach the global ecological crisis is to go deep within to tap into the limitless spiritual resources within each of us, within our interconnectedness as a human species. The answers we need are not only ‘out there’ in the form of renewable energy technologies and new forms of social organization (the regenerative-sharing economy, the Commons). There are other critical answers to be found ‘in here,’ within the spiritual resources of the human being, deep wisdom and insights, innovations and solutions, novel ways of cutting through ‘wicked’ problems that we have not thought of because we are always looking for answers in the same place, ‘out there’.
What is it that would motivate an entire civilization to turn inward to find solutions to the crisis of civilization? Death, the existential crisis. When people are faced with death, they think of God, of ultimate realities. Confronting this existential crisis, not just one’s individual death, but the collapse of civilization and the immanent extinction of the human species might be enough to drive an entire civilization to make the turn inwards. Maybe the Great Turning that Joanna Macy speaks of is at its core an inward turning.
From Interconnected: “A Place for the Impossible.”
Aspirations are a powerful force leading us to grow beyond our current capacities. The ability to determine to surpass what is now a limitation is another of our limitless inner resources. The reality of interdependence means that the range of what is possible is vaster than we ordinarily recognize. As we have seen, even small changes in one condition affect the final outcome. we constantly set off ever-expanding ripples of change, as conditions adjust to accommodate each shift. This dynamic interplay of causes and effects brings endless waves of entirely fresh opportunities. . . .
Our actions change the world. How we act depends on the intentions and attitudes that form within us. Bringing together the right environment within us allows us to respond well to the environment around us. Inner conditions and outer conditions interact; the interplay between them creates the reality in which we live. The work that I have been describing is precisely this—working with the inner conditions of interdependence in order to transform the outer conditions and thus change the world.
So I’ve decided to make this my spiritual journey—to go deep within to find answers that have not been found without. I will continue to survey the landscape of ideas and practices that human culture devises. But I’m more certain now that the answers we need are to be found deep within us, in that fountain of wisdom and creativity that gushes from the well of introspection.
This is a form of contemplative engagement. It’s not introspection for self-liberation, but introspection for the liberation of all humanity, including myself, all living things that I am connected to on this planet. I am deeply motivated to make this journey and discover some of the wisdom that might help a world that is in so much peril and distress. We have looked for solutions to the climate crisis everywhere but within ourselves. Maybe its time to start searching for solutions in the one place we haven’t looked.