MR: I imagine there are some sangha members who have not engaged this area of their lives so far, for a variety of reasons. This subject is so big, and it can be daunting, and then there are ways of studying the earth that can be very depressing. So, often, people get paralyzed and don’t respond. I’m curious what you would say to people in this situation.
SS: An important part of what Buddhism has to offer is that from its very beginnings, this tradition is one of fearlessness—having the courage to face what is difficult. We speak of buddhadharma as a teaching that is concerned with the question of life and death. We practice turning towards what we would rather turn away from, recognizing that when we turn away from it, we don’t free ourselves, we actually entrap ourselves in that fear. And in doing so, we make ourselves impotent to effectively respond to what we’re afraid of.
When addressing real suffering, there may well be fear, and feelings of distress and sadness. Joanna Macy says those are wholly appropriate reactions. To experience profound pain that arises out of the recognition of what we have done, to ourselves and to our planet, can either be paralyzing, or it can be a great motivator. Our intention with this Initiative, of course, is for that pain to be transformed into a vigorous, vibrant, and even joyful, energetic response. Cultivating this will be part of our work.
I’ve been meeting for some months with a coordinating committee, a group of students who were selected because of their dedication to the Earth to help organize this whole initiative. One of the things that we all agree needs to be part of this Initiative is education. Periodically in our Green Dragon gatherings there will be films and speakers to help us better understand the breadth and complexity of the issues, so we can respond more skillfully. When we provide education, we also have to remember to offer inspiration, because inevitably when a person gains more information on this subject, there’s a feeling of depression and sadness. Turning towards those feelings, but not being mired in them, is Buddhist practice. We should not reject nor turn away, nor should we dwell in ideas of crisis and catastrophe, but rather, experience the situation deeply and respond. And so this is what the sangha is being invited to do. We’ll be dealing with the hesitation or fear to address the subject, as well as with the feeling of being overwhelmed. Over the last couple of months quite a number of students have come up to me and have voiced exactly that sentiment; they want to be engaged in working for the planet, but had no idea how to even begin. They feel insignificant and unable to do anything meaningful. As a sangha, we already have a great force—a gathering of bodhisattvas—and this action is a way to focus our efforts on behalf of the Earth and all its many beings.