COLUMN: Renewable by 2035

Buddhist commitment to climate change draws on interdependence and caring

Four faith communities in Nelson recently pledged to transition their electricity, heating, cooling, transportation and all other operations to renewable energy. The Star will be publishing a column by each of them, reflecting on this pledge. Today’s contributor is Russell Rodgers, senior teacher at the Shambhala Buddhist Mediation Centre.

The Shambhala Buddhist Meditation Centre recently joined four other spiritual organizations in Nelson in committing to carbon neutrality by 2050. This movement is an outgrowth of last year’s interfaith study of Pope Frances’ encyclical on climate change. Although our approaches were different, we found a huge amount of common ground.

The Shambhala Centre’s approach to the climate commitment draws on a couple of important Buddhist themes: interdependence and caring.

Interdependence describes our relationship with the universe. Speaking personally, my clothes are made of cotton, grown in just the right conditions of sunlight, temperature, water and nutrients. Other people turned the cotton into clothes and brought them to me. It’s roughly the same with my food, my body and my other possessions. Even my thoughts are formed by words and concepts that I inherited from my culture. Their content depends on my surroundings and what people are saying. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, poetically calls this “interbeing.” We affect the world and the world affects us. The connection is intimate and it transcends the walls of selfhood.

Interbeing sounds nice, but it can bite. As conditions change, we change. Civilizations rise and fall, the economy changes, the environment changes. Changes create anxiety and suffering. Recent events like the migration crisis in Europe, and the rise of leaders who play on people’s fears show that society doesn’t always adapt gracefully. Climate change looks set to be a big one. When I look at children, birds and animals I wonder how they will cope.

This brings up a second major theme in Buddhism: love and caring. One can approach the challenges of interbeing with fear and resistance. One can try to fortify one’s separate existence with possessions and material things. One can ignore change, and build psychological walls. Or, one can gracefully accept the fact of interbeing.

In a family, close relationships can bring stress. The magic that transforms family life into a profoundly rewarding experience is love and caring. Part of Buddhist practice is to extend that love and caring to the whole world. Doing so releases the magic that makes our relationship to the environment and its creatures one of beauty and sacredness.

One of my Buddhist teachers once said “If you want to be miserable, think about yourself. If you want to be happy, think of others.”