It’s important that a more proactive, ongoing, sustained approach to the earth crisis—one that is an ongoing part of the life of the Monastery and the Temple—be created. The bodhisattva’s vow is to respond to the cries of the world. Anyone who is paying attention, or who’s actually turning towards and informing him or herself of what’s going on, recognizes that those cries are coming from every quarter.
In the past, we have responded to issues in our local community, speaking as Daido Roshi said, on behalf of those beings who could not themselves speak and be heard. Those were important issues and we should continue to respond to those kinds of things. But it is also necessary to go beyond waiting for situations to arise that affect us in our home region. We should initiate responses towards things that need to be changed now and examine this need from all perspectives.
MR: You mentioned the bodhisattva vows in relation to taking care of the planet, and I wonder what you think that we as Buddhist practitioners, and specifically the MRO sangha, have to offer in this regard? Because as you know there are many organizations out there doing different kinds of work on every aspect of the earth crisis, so is there something unique that we have to offer?
SS: In one sense, we as human beings—everybody—has something unique to offer, but more specifically, Buddhism has potentially a very important role to play here. One of the revolutions of the Buddha’s enlightenment was recognizing that human beings are intrinsically moral creatures, in the sense that every action we take with our bodies, every word we utter with our mouths, and every thought we think has a moral impact both on ourselves and on the world around us. There’s no way to be neutral in the world, to not have an effect. As soon as we engage in the world, particularly in human interactions, we either have a beneficial or negative effect. That is, what we do is life-affirming, sustaining and supportive of life, or it’s in some measure destructive.
When Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize, he spoke of the earth crisis as a fundamentally moral issue. That makes perfect sense from a Buddhist perspective because everything we do, whether we’re aware of it or not, is having a moral effect. To understand this truth broadens both the crisis and our response to it. Understanding this ever more deeply transforms the response from changing light bulbs or driving a hybrid car to a much deeper inquiry into how we understand ourselves in this world, how we are in the world, how we are the world.
Conditioning is, in a sense, a dream that we have learned. We all live in the dream that is constructed within our families, our communities, and our nation. This country, for instance, has very strong and powerful dreams about what it means to be an American—we even call it the “American Dream”—and there are both noble and unhealthy aspects to it. Our practice is to see through the illusory and negative aspects of those dreams and wake up to what is actually going on: that we live in a world that is not just about us; neither us as individuals— as human beings—nor is it about any group that ignores its effect on others.
Most of our actions throughout history speak to the fact that we regard human activity as being supremely important. There has been an historical evolution towards recognizing that all human beings have certain basic rights, but we have a much longer way to go to recognize that all life forms have certain rights, just by virtue of their being present on this earth. And so from that perspective, caring for the earth is a deeply spiritual concern. We really must understand ourselves in a fundamentally different way to get to the root of how we created this crisis to begin with, and how to move forward in a way that’s sustainable.