For us, clearly this is bodhisattva practice—the alleviation of suffering for the many beings, sentient and insentient, that inhabit this planet. It's like the four vows: the work is vast and unending, and yet it's essential that we each be taking it on. The vows express the finest, most supreme way of living a human life, of awakening self and other. For the Earth Initiative they point to the inescapable fact that as human beings we rely upon the earth—and everything it includes—for every single instant of our life. This means that we are drawing upon the earth's resources for our sustenance, which also means that our very presence changes the earth.
This new world that we're now living in is the result of our impacting the earth in ways that are destructive and unsustainable. This must change. We ourselves must change, our behavior must change, and most importantly, our understanding must be enlightened to the real truth of this life.
As we engage the work of this Initiative it clearly cannot be goal-driven. We are not going to "fix" the problem, we are not going to return to some pristine, pre-industrial way of life. Too much has changed and there are too many of us living on the planet. So it requires a constant clarification for those of us who get confused about what we think we might accomplish. And yet, this is not an idle exercise. We are committed to making real changes in the lives of this sangha and beyond.
In the same way that practice and realization—action and effect—are one, how we conduct our meetings and how we engage the work that we do in the Initiative is as important as what we're doing. If we lose sight of this, then the dharma will no longer be functioning in our efforts.
In terms of how we specifically bring Zen practice into our work, each meeting begins with liturgy, which includes a dedication expressing the intention or mission of the Earth Initiative. We then read the mission statement, which clearly states our basic intention and is based in the Pure Precepts of Buddhism. But I don't sit down before a meeting and say, okay, how are we going to make this relevant to the dharma? It's inseparable. It's the great vow to alleviate the suffering of all beings So, in my mind, it's always present in our work, though I'm aware that that may not be true for everyone. So I look for opportunities to make that point clear. Last spring ango, when we were studying Dogen's fascicle on "The Bodhisattva's Four Methods of Guidance," I brought in some of those teachings because they tied in perfectly with the work that we were doing.