Mindfulness Again

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My last post on mindfulness elicited a comment pointing me to a recent article in the Guardian on pretty much the same idea. It was an interview with a Zen Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has recently published a book, The World We Have--A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology.

He has a far more elaborated approach than the very rudimentary one I wrote about yesterday, but the ideas lead to the same place. I haven't had time to read the book--I will--so I will crib some squibs from the Guardian.

He discusses in the book how he sat and consulted with the Buddha for many hours and came away with the recognition that we could be facing the end of our civilisation unless we can achieve a spiritual awakening and change our individual and collective behaviour.

"In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed," he writes.

Above all else, Thay - as he is known - teaches that the world cannot be changed outside of ourselves. The answer is for each one of us to transform the fear, anger, and despair which we cover-up with over-consumption. If we are filling our bodies and minds with toxins, it is no surprise that the world around us also becomes poisoned.

He also argues that those who put their faith in technology alone to save the planet are bowing to a false god.

Thay believes that within every person are the seeds of love, compassion and understanding as well as the seeds of anger, hatred and discrimination. Using a gardening metaphor, he says our experience of life depends on which seeds we choose to water.

From what I could read in the Guardian piece, the seeds he would have us nurture are those I have come to through an entirely Western path. It leads me to believe that the process the Buddha followed is not unique, except in the depth of his reflection and separation from the noise of the world. He has collapsed his thinking into five trainings, based on the Buddha's teaching, each one aimed at overcoming behaviors that contribute to the ills of the world. One of them, mindful consumption, lines up closely with the essence of my last post and with my book's themes. Other aims are to cherish all life on Earth; practice generosity; and, also related, relieve others of suffering (caring, in the words I use).

I was intrigued by some of the disdainful comments the Guardian article drew. A few argued that Thay didn't practice what he preached because he used airplanes to get around the world to spread his teachings. They miss a key point. There is no way to know the world and speak to it except to be in it. No one, even the Buddha, stays under his or her bodhi tree forever. Eventually they must return to the world, as it is, and spread enlightenment there. The alternate--to remain in a cave or a mountain top--is to require those who would come to listen and learn to get in an airplane. I suspect a life cycle analysis would clearly opt for the efficiency of moving the Bodhisattva around.

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1 Comments

Ali said:

Hi John,
I'm a masters student of Industrial Ecology in Sweden. I have read your book and been following your blog.
Would love to be able to share your blog posts on facebook with my fellow students and friends.
A facebook link on your posts would be a great way to share your thoughts.