Red Cedar Zen Community, 1021 N Forest, Bellingham Washington

Dharma Talks

Talks by sangha and visiting teachers.

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  • 21 Dec 2016 8:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Report on EcoSattva Training Course


    The One Earth Sangha (an online Buddhist organization) recently conducted an online seminar about directing Buddhist practice at the enormous problem of Climate Change. The sessions provided inspiration, information, and reflection on how to use our Buddhist practice to work together to reduce the impact of climate change. At this point we won’t be able to stop climate change, but there are things we can do collectively and individually to limit its impacts. Four of us RCZC members took the course together, meeting from time to time to discuss what we were learning. I want to share a little of the course content with you now.


    Looking at climate change—the increasingly devastating storms, fires, floods, droughts and the wars, dislocations, political, social and economic upheavals—we see that individual actions are not enough. We must work together to change the systemic causes of climate change—which are--

    • The growth imperative of capitalism – requiring ever more natural resources

    • Consumerism – always craving and getting more stuff

    • Extractivism – believing there is always more we can extract from the earth w/o penalty

    • Unregulated & subsidized corporate behavior – polluting air and water, using up resources for which tax payers pay

    • Politics increasingly controlled by corporate interests, not community values and needs


    How to respond to these conditions? What to do?


    Buddhist principles can guide us in actions we can take and encourage:


    Abstain from all evil:

    • Rescind subsides to fossil fuel corporations - $37.5 Billion annually

    • Impose a carbon tax – to ensure economic justice (not tax payer supported)

    • Reject pipelines & infrastructure that support fossil fuel extraction

    • Prohibit fuel transportation that pollutes and endangers communities

    • Reject trade agreements (TPP) that give global corporations economic control over local needs/values

    • Shift from Meat Agriculture (to reduce dependence on grain and cruelty to animals)

    Cultivate all good:

    • Subsidize clean, renewable energy—individually and governmentally

    • Refurbish old buildings rather than using up irreplaceable resources

    • Create more and better public transit to cut fossil fuel use

    • Establish more ecological agricultural models—climate friendly diets (no meat)


    Purify our own minds:

    • Develop contentment—to replace consumerism

    • Focus on spiritual values—qualitative growth rather than quantitative acquisition

    • Develop wisdom. Understand the consequences of our actions

    • Arouse compassion in ourselves for all people—no exclusions

    • Advocate for justice for all—no bigotry, racism, sexism, etc.



    Benefit all beings:

    • Vote

    • Petition elected officials

    • Divest money from fossil fuel companies. Invest in environ. friendly companies

    Buddhist teaching that suffering is caused by greed, hatred, and ignorance or delusion helps us understand that these actions/changes are needed if we are to save the earth. Joanna Macy, widely known for her work in Deep Ecology, advises as follows:


    “Our individualistic, destructive culture discounts our deep concern for the earth, our home. When we think about the enormity of the problem, we usually react in one of two ways:

    • We feel helpless, hopeless, overwhelmed, and we shut down.

    • In our panic and grief about what’s happening, we look for someone to blame, and we shut down.


    “How can we keep from these two ineffective reactions? We can take refuge in sangha--

    • We help each other—we, in sangha—remind each other that our practice asks us to face the present moment, whatever its contents

    • We look to each other to help us speak without defensiveness

    • We trust each other to speak truthfully about ourselves and our feelings

    • We speak about our love of the earth as well as our fears for it and ourselves

    In effect, we practice our true relationship, which is interdependent, Interbeing.


    “To do what the earth needs now, we need to shift from our current individually oriented, care-less orientation to acknowledging the true situation, which requires radical change. And we need to support each other in this effort--and we can.”


    The EcoSattva course sessions offered questions for participants to answer and discuss. You might want to answer them; if possible discuss them with a friend, for you will learn more.


    1. When I see what is happening to our world, what breaks my heart is: __________________

    Notice your physical sensations when you speak, including numbing or shutting down.


    2. To what extent do I invest in my Buddhist practice as an escape? Can I integrate my zazen practice with engaging in the world (taking action on climate change)?


    3. What is the balance between my propensity toward reflection and toward action? Do I want to change this balance? In what ways would I change it?


    4. What prevents me from closer collaboration with others? How might I overcome these obstacles?


    5. Are there places in my life where I can sense the beginnings of a new perspective that might help me make change?


    6. How do I hold on to my habitual behaviors about taking action? Where do I see I could take a spiritual risk? E.g., Does not knowing if I will succeed prevent me from acting? Can I practice Not Knowing and engage anyway?


    7. What would stretch me as an EcoSattva (one who saves the earth)? What arises in my body when I imagine doing or being this?


    8. What does my heart tell me will support my continued EcoSattva journey toward saving the earth?


    Climate change is a really big challenge. We don’t know if we can be successful at reducing its effects. But I believe we must try--for the sake of our children and future generations. I believe it has fallen to us—those of us alive and well now—to try. To make our best effort to reduce the harm to our planet that has begun to manifest.


    But what can we as individuals do that will have any substantial impact on such an enormous problem? It is easy to feel helpless and to return to being numb. We can reduce our personal use of fossil fuels—things many of us already do—take public transportation, ride our bikes, turn off our lights, use energy saving light bulbs and appliances, install solar energy, etc. These are all good, but not enough. There are political actions that must be taken. Letter writing, calling Congress and state representatives, educating ourselves, going to meetings, supporting petitions, speaking at city council meetings, attending rallies, going on marches, etc.


    BUT what if we don’t have the time or the information or the inclination to do these political things? How do we find something to do that could help even a little bit? I have thought about this for myself because due to my age, I have some physical limitations. So here’s what I have done, and I offer it to you:


    1. Reflect on what your heart tells you you’d like to do—what action you are drawn to.


    1. Then think about the ways in which you might implement that action. First, think small:

    • Are you hesitant to reveal how scared or overwhelmed you feel about this subject? Then ask a trusted friend to have a conversation with you about the topic.

    Talking will help, and it might lead to further actions you could take.

    • Are you curious about what friends or co-workers think or know about climate change? Ask them, “What do you think about climate change?” or “Do you think that recent [flood, hurricane, drought] was caused by climate change?” You don’t have to engage in an argument or even a big discussion, but you can raise awareness by asking the question. Awareness is what we need.

    • Are you drawn to speaking at a meeting but you don’t know enough to do so? Make your first action educating yourself about your topic. After that figure out what meetings to go to and then go.

    • Do you regularly communicate by Facebook? Or read and respond to a blog? Try posting your response or a new post as a way of taking action.

    • Do you like to write? Study a concern and write an email to your Congressional Representative or Senator. You can do this online through their websites.

    • Are you better on the phone than in email? Prepare a statement and call your Congressman or Senator and talk with one of his/her assistants about your concern.

    • Are you good at creating posters or signs or artwork? Prepare visuals for meetings or marches; handouts to distribute; photographs to post.


    This type of self reflection can also apply to any areas calling for citizen action, such as

    • Health care (repeal of the Affordable Care Act)

    • Safeguarding democratic processes – in the press, in public roles)

    • Women’s issues (misogyny, reproductive rights)

    • Rights of diverse identities (racial minorities, LGBT, religious, immigrants)


    There are myriad small actions we can take. Reflect. Act. Come for refuge.


    Wendell Berry, a American farmer, environmentalist and poet, has the following encouraging words: “Be joyful even though you have considered the facts.”


    The final sessions of the EcoSattva course emphasized coming together in sangha for moral support. Also getting past demonizing The Other; instead realizing that WE—everyone—are all in this together, so we must include those with whom we disagree. The course offered the following Buddhist principles to guide us:


    • Everything is sacred

    • Deferential listening – in order to really hear what others are saying

    • Compassion – forgiving mistakes, ours and others’

    • Honesty – with self and others

    • Generosity

    • Humility – not pushing our agenda as the only way

    • Wisdom – honoring the wisdom in all

  • 02 Dec 2016 10:30 AM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • 16 Nov 2016 8:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Notes prepared for this talk, and the reading at the end was from At Hell's Gate by Claude Anshin Thomas.

    This last evening was a "supermoon" - the moon as close as it's been to the earth since 1948 and an opportunity that will not be repeated until 2038. I read this was coming and several friends pointed it out with excitement. And I could feel the anticipation of seeing something special and maybe getting a great photo with my telephoto lens. A little excitement and a little desire arose in my heart.

    And not too unusually for the Northwest it was rainy and cloudy - at least when I looked (I'm not too hard core about such things). So I didn't get to see the full moon clear and unobscured.

    The first time I looked up at it, I barely looked. All I could really register was the disappointment of not seeing what I'd wanted.

    And of course for so many of us for the last 8 days we've been thinking and feeling in all kinds of ways about the unexpected results of our national elections.

    The full disclosure here is I'm on the liberal side of the equation, but I hope these reflections are useful for my friends on the conservative side. And the minute I write that I'm aware of how limited and narrow is it to think that there are just two kinds of people in our country.  And that people can all kinds of reasons for choosing to vote for one candidate or the other, or choosing not to vote at all.

    This morning I was up early and went out to my backyard mediation hut to practice.

    Another full disclosure: for the last 8 days I've found it really hard to keep up my daily practice. I skipped several days figuring I'd be sitting with others in mindfulness classes or at the Zen center. Which is true enough but it doesn't serve the same essential purpose as sitting quietly at home in the morning does for me.

    I've felt literally a bit ill in the body - queazy, low energy. And I've felt a bit sick at heart. It's been hard to really show up for life. Challenging conversations in classes and at home. Trying to make sense of what's happening and trying to be helpful as others make sense of it. Sometimes trying a little too hard to reassure others. Other times feeling shut down and not wanting to engage. Wanting to hope that everything is okay sometimes. Other times batting down the whisps of despair that everything is very much NOT okay (and again this paralyzing belief in there only being two possibilities). 

    And then this morning I saw the moon hanging just above the horizon to the northwest. On it's way down for the day. I saw it through the trees and in the clouds. I could just make out some of the details of the lunar surface. Mostly a glowing white orb. 

    And I stopped. I really saw the moon - the supermoon! - as it was showing itself at this particular moment. Not what I had wanted in my mind, true. And incredibly beautiful and just as it is, also true.

    I've heard people (mostly those within my liberal-leaning circles) talking like this is the beginning of dark days. We'll have to be strong. We need to mobilze. So much to do. Anger and frustration needs to be channeled and used. I've heard doubts about peacefulness too: we don't want to chill out too much, we need that hard edge to be strong, to be motivated, to show up.

    But of course the America of last Monday was, more or less, the same America that voted the way it did on Tuesday. Either the dark days have been with us for a long time or it's not quite right to say the days are dark.

    The days are dark and light. The moon is clear sometimes, obscured by clouds other times. It's still the moon. This is still our beautiful, diverse, strong country. Part of the ultra-liberal ethos is to be a little suspicious of "loving our country" - that could be code for a certain kind of narrow minded, potentially violent, nationalism.  And I guess it can be.

    But maybe it's time for all of us, not matter what our particular kalideoscope of views is, to learn how to really love our country. What is our country after all but the lands and peoples that live in it. And that live in it now. It's time to learn the effective and clear way to love everyone. That's what I hope our mindfulness and compassion practices will support us in doing. I think we need a much bigger vision than "enduring dark times."

    Will sitting on the cushion and bringing our attention back to our breathing with kindness solve anything really? Not exactly, but it can help us find a stronger ground to stand on to do our work of love. If there's anger, we can find ways to include that reality and know that reality, if there's fear - the same, but spilling our anger and fear out into the world only adds to our troubles.

    My secret hope from the suprise (or even shock) of this national election we will all be moved to find our own particular way to express and contribute to our hopes for the future. Whether that's renewing our attention to the quiet helping we're already doing at work or at home, or whether it expresses as overt activism.  And I hope that somehow the insights of our practice will help us not fall into these binary traps. Us and them. Good or bad. It's a mix. It's an unbelievably rich mix, and none of us can know the whole story.

    So I can understand if you voted for Mr. Trump. I really can. I want to know your reasons and I want to be in dialog and I hope even as you support the changes you hope for in making that choice we'll all join together to resist the anti-love expressions of mysogyny and racism that also emerged in his campaign.

    It's time to be strong and loving. And this isn't new. It's always been true. Maybe this last week we all received a big wake up to that ongoing reality regardless of how we voted or didn't vote (the third choice which about half of us made!).


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