The Challenge to Axial Age Religion within Climate Catastrophe by Thanissara

I’ve just finished reading Chris Hedges piece “The Coming Climate Revolt.” His closing paragraph is daunting.

flood
Gathering for Flood Wall Street

The response of the corporate state is repression rather than reform then our strategy and our tactics must be different. We will have to cease our appealing to the system. We will have to view the state, including the Democratic Party, as antagonistic to genuine reform. We will have to speak in the language of … revolution. We will have to carry out acts of civil disobedience that seek to cripple the mechanisms of corporate power. The corporate elites, blinded by their lust for profit and foolish enough to believe they can protect themselves from climate change, will not veer from our path towards ecocide unless they are forced from power. And this means the beginning of a titanic clash between our corporate masters and ourselves.

Hedges preceding words detail a grim litany of usurped power by the “corporate state” that “perpetuates the facade of democracy.” Why I feel so daunted by Hedges diagnosis is that much of it unfortunately rings true. In the face of corporate and oligarchic power once again I feel like a Hobbit journeying to Mordor. I would like to stay in the Shires and not have to venture further into a terrible journey of confrontation, struggle and risk.

hobbits-at-mordorI am also reluctant to move to this “reality check” while still coasting on the good feeling of our Peoples Climate March and its hopeful buoyant joyful exuberance.

BGRpeoples-climate-march11

For now, I’m still digesting the impact of the last week as well as the implications of the challenges ahead. In the midst of that I’ve been talking with friends and teachers about our “Buddhist” piece in all this. Basically, we seem to agree that the reality of our current times is going to profoundly challenge Buddhism along with other Axial Age religions which forged many evolutionary shifts in their time. These focused on an individuated experience and relationship with the divine/ transcendent while also connecting that to an inner moral imperative. However they also shaped a profound split with nature in the tendency to posit “salvation” and “nirvana” as apart from this world.

While Buddhism has followed its own evolutionary arch which dissolved that fundamental split in texts like the Heart Sutra, it is still deeply embedded in the philosophical template that sees the world as samsara and therefore “bad, seductive, lesser and corrupting.” It is this fundamental split and the rise of a patriarchal — earth and female averse — religious doctrine that contributes to our catastrophic and perilous situation.

Rev angel
Rev angel

Fast forward to this last week. I listened to Rev angel Kyodo williams at Shambhala New York talking a straight message. Rev Williams explored “de-white-ing” our collective conditioning. While an obvious reference to skin color and the entitlements of “whiteness” she made the point of including everyone in our “whiteness” focus. The decolonizing of the mind means moving beyond our tendency to characterture and package everyone according to painful social and racial conditioning which generates the inability to actually see each other. In response to her talk, a young African American woman gave the example of arriving at the meditation center where another attendee said to her and her black friend, “Oh the fun people have arrived.” This was painful because immediately the young woman was objectified and stripped of depth, gravitas and seriousness. While it may have been a clumsy attempt to reach out, it actually gave the message “you are other.”

When it comes to the revolution that is needed to ensure our collective survival, we have to understand that part of the problem is our chronic “othering” which denies the reality of a seamless web of life. At Flood Wall Street I was interviewed (a rare occurrence I assure you) and found myself talking about this “othering” as a crisis in consciousness that underpins our energy crisis. We have to stop seeing the earth, the world around us, and the vast diversity of peoples, animals and creatures as apart from ourselves, our tribe and our “special entitlements.”

BB
Bhikkhu Bodhi @ Flood Wall Street

This new evolutionary arch is summarized brilliantly in Zenji Dogen’s statement Dogen-zenji[1]Enlightenment is the intimacy of all things. Buddhism, when at its best, has never divided evil and good but sees the origin of all dualities within our own mind. We have not launched holy struggles against “evil” but seek to purify our own heart and transform our own consciousness. In doing so, the Buddha engaged Kings and Generals and he sought to stop wars and social injustice. But he did so from an inclusive consciousness.

So blog pieces should not be too long. To be brief here. While I believe Chris Hedges analysis – we have to have a revolution that takes down a rogue fossil fuel state machinery – how we do this is critical. We saw this last week that people power is indeed a brilliant power. We also saw that when it coalesce diversity, youth, grandmothers, indigenous peoples, workers, leaders, people of faith, and a variety of concerned citizens across the globe with creativity, joy, focus and determination, then we have found ourselves a movement. A movement that expresses our new evolutionary edge.

We are warriors and we do have a battle to engage; but we will not default to hatred and violence (though we may feel both impulses.) And it is at this crux that Buddhism has a valuable offering to make. I hope we can get beyond our tribal sangha competitiveness, our narcissistic introversions and sanctioned quietism, our inner splits and entitled “whiteness,” and our fear of the sacred feminine enough to meet the coming wave. Our work is cut out!

Santussika Bhikkhuni carrying a banner made by her 6 year-old grand daughter
Santussika Bhikkhuni carrying a banner made by her 6 year-old grand daughter
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3 thoughts on “The Challenge to Axial Age Religion within Climate Catastrophe by Thanissara”

  1. Thank you for your post Thanissara. As a fellow Climate Train rider I really appreciate sentiment expressed by the paragraph “We have to understand that part of the problem is our chronic “othering” which denies the reality of a seamless web of life.” I think one of the environmentalists’ biggest challenges is to use messages of inclusiveness to harness the people power we saw last weekend, thanks for adding to that dialogue. Cheers.

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  2. “There is no other” came up very strongly during the Earth Day celebration at Spirit Rock last April. Now when I think that someone won’t understand about climate change, that “they” won’t get it. I recall that strong feeling, try to set aside my “othering” and talk to them anyway. I am very often pleasantly surprised.

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