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Dec 03
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Practice, Love, Protect, and Act

The natural steps we can take to apply Shambhala Buddhism to environmental action

By Irene Lorch-Wauchope

Practice makes us more aware: we look around and we see what is going on. As we practice, our circle of awareness naturally expands, and we become more aware of our immediate surroundings, as well as of the state of the world. When we come out of our cocoon, we notice our environment — in the smallest and in the biggest sense of the word.

As practitioners, we also become aware of the interconnectedness and interdependence of everything: we realize that we depend on all the natural systems of this planet for our survival. When we are informed of the global climate crisis, we are brave enough to face the “Inconvenient Truth” rather then shying away from it because it is too scary.

It’s Our Choice
We are brave enough to contemplate what it would mean to reach the “tipping point” of 2-degree warming, when all the natural systems which absorb greenhouse gases (the oceans, soil, and forests) will not be able to absorb any more and instead will release these gases in huge amounts. It is a very scary truth to face that, as many scientists say, we have at best 7 years left to make the necessary and deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid “run away” climate change beyond the “tipping point”.

If we miss this narrow window in time, it will be too late to avoid catastrophic effects.

Once we realize this, we have a choice: we can ignore, we can despair, or we can fight. I have chosen to fight and I think being a practitioner has a lot to do with my choice. As peace-loving dharma practitioners, why would we want to become environmental activists? Why would we choose to fight? Because our survival as a species is threatened and we fight because we care, because we love. We love our children, our families, our friends, and as dharma practitioners we develop compassion for all sentient beings. We love our own species as well as the animals and plants which cohabit our beautiful planet.

It is inconceivable for us to imagine a world without elephants, tigers, lions, polar bears, songbirds, fish… yet it is estimated that 30% of the world’s species may be extinct by 2050 if we do not make the necessary emission cuts now.

Love all Beings ~ Reduce Your Footprint
Because we love, we want to protect what we love. It is natural for us to want to protect our children, to want to make sure they will have what they need in order to have a life worth living. It is inconceivable for us to imagine humans roaming the planet in search of fewer and fewer resources, looking for areas in which survival is still possible.

In order to protect, we need to reduce emissions in the atmosphere; we need to get from 385 ppm to 350ppm – the amount required to avoid reaching the “tipping point.”

NASA’s James Hansen and colleagues key 2008 scientific paper, “Target Atmospheric CO2–Where Should Humanity Aim?” states:

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm, but likely less than that… If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects.”

Our Responsibility
As dharma practitioners, we need to do our part to reduce our personal carbon footprint: we can drive less, reduce the “foodmiles” of our food by eating local food, grow our own, use less electricity by changing lightbulbs, insulating our homes better, using clotheslines instead of the dryer, taking less showers, doing less laundry, buying less in general, wearing used clothes, reducing or giving up meat consumption, and most importantly — since flying is the most polluting activity an individual can engage in — fly only when necessary.

Some of these things are relatively easy to do, others are very hard. Try avoiding attending your favorite dharma program at a far away practice center because you do not want to add the equivalent of 5 years worth of daily car commuting to the atmosphere with this single trip. When we make decisions such as this, do we choose to ignore or do we choose to protect?

Beyond the Individual
Never before has the law of karma been this inescapably evident. But as we engage in our personal path of sustainability, we soon discover that there is only so much that we can affect with our personal life-style changes. The way our electricity is being produced, the way our transportation systems work, the way industry produces emissions, the way our government uses collective resources to support carbon intense or sustainable energy production — to name just a few — has a much bigger impact on the atmosphere then our personal emission reductions.

There are many sustainable choices we would gladly make if they were in our reach to make. We can’t drive electric cars, if they are not being produced or if they are unaffordable. Major institutional changes — both technological and economic — are required to make our lives truly sustainable.

When we realize this, we can become despairing. With such little time left and a general culture which ignores the severity and the urgency of the crisis, it is easy to feel hopeless and helpless.

A Climate Warrior
The warrior practices of Shambhala are a powerful skillful means to cut through this sense of helplessness. They give us the energy to be brave and to fight for what we love. They give us the inspiration and perseverance needed to engage in activities which raise public awareness and influence politicians to make the necessary changes on the national and global level.

Without personal engagement in environmental activism — by many, many people – these changes will not happen!

As His Holiness Karmapa says,
“Individuals alone cannot protect the world’s environment. We have to work together as a team… I understand that this is usually considered to be a matter simply for political discussion, but I see it as an essential part of dharma practice. It is none other than working for the benefit of all sentient beings, as advised in the Buddha’s own words. Since all living things on Earth are interdependent, we have to act to protect the environment as a matter of our own survival and happiness…An essential feature of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition is to think and act constructively for the benefit of all sentient beings. Hence environmental protection practice, rather than dwelling on one’s own benefit, should be made part of our daily life.”

And as it says in the “Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change” — which was signed by the Dalai Lama and His Holiness Karmapa — “If political leaders are unable to recognize the urgency of our global crisis, or if they are unwilling to put the long-term good of humankind above the short-term benefit of fossil-fuel corporations, we may need to challenge them with sustained campaigns of citizen action.”

So please, for all beings, begin speaking on behalf of our world by signing this declaration by December 6th so your intention can be delivered to world leaders in Copenhagen. Then act as you are inspired – change your lifestyle, express yourself by protesting, work to change our culture and our systems. Do something.

Irene Lorch-Wauchope is a long-time practitioner of Shambhala Buddhism, living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is a mother works in the alternative health field. Her passions are dharma, the natural world, gardening, and protecting the environment. She is engaged in the sustainability activities of the Halifax Shambhala center and in other related sangha activities in Nova Scotia. She also engages regularly in local environmental activism and writes e-mails to politicians, tv, and radio networks, etc.

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3 responses to “ Practice, Love, Protect, and Act ”
  1. David Wimberly
    Dec 6, 2009

    Your title gets right to the heart of it: Practice, Love, Protect and Act. A balanced, awakened life on this living planet requires it all. Thank you for writing this call to action.

  2. Irene, what you’ve written so eloquently about here is how we can come out of guilt about our lifestyle and just do some ordinary things to ACTUALLY help the Earth. Waking up to our love and connection to Earth is where it all starts. Thank you!

  3. Jeremy Fagan
    Dec 3, 2009

    Thank you for that clear appeal, I believe that our shambhala disciplines can be helpful in this. Like Oryoki practice, being self contained for the most part. Obviously we have a long way to go.

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