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A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency Paperback – August 1, 2009
The Amazon Book Review
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"Eminent scientists have said that global warming is as dangerous for our future as nuclear war. We have entered the uncharted territory of a global emergency, where 'business as usual' cannot continue. We must take the initiative to repair and protect this world, ensuring a safe-climate future for all people and all species.... It is now urgent that we take corrective action to ensure a safe climate future for coming generations of human beings and other species." (His Holiness the Dalai Lama)
"If we continue abusing the earth this way, there is no doubt that our civilization will be destroyed. This turnaround takes enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening. Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction." (Thich Nhat Hanh)
"The world itself has a role to play in our awakening. Its very brokenness and need call to us, summoning us to walk out of the prison of self-concern." (Joanna Macy)
"Each of us must take complete responsibility for the world, as if the world's fate depended on our words and actions. And whether we know it or not, it does." (Hozan Alan Senauke)
"This surely must rivet the urgent, critical attention of anyone who takes the bodhisattva vows." (Susan Murphy Roshi)
"This is the time for humankind to embark upon a new historical epoch. We ourselves have to make the critical decisions, individually and collectively, that will determine our future destiny." (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"In A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency, editors John Stanley, David Loy, and Gyurme Dorje aim to inform and inspire Buddhists to take action, and soon. The book challenges us to consider what climate change means for the bodhisattva vow. If Buddhists are fundamentally concerned with the alleviation of suffering, surely they have a distinct role to play in responding to climate issues. The authors presented in this anthology assume that awareness will bring about behavior change; however, by 'awareness' they mean much more than the usual environmental education. They literally mean awakening from delusion, engaging the deeper and more powerfully motivating force of spiritual awareness. This, they contend, is what it will take to awaken from the broad collective denial around climate change, to challenge the habitual patterns and hindrances that present such formidable obstacles to awakening. Foremost is the power of aspirational prayer, as suggested in many of the contributions by Tibetan teachers. Setting a strong intention is necessary for breaking through systemic social denial regarding the state of the climate emergency. The state of life on earth may ultimately depend on our capacity to act with true ecological intelligence." (Shambhala Sun)
"The editors, John Stanley, David Loy, and Gyurme Dorje, have compiled a selection of provocative and even beautiful essays, interviews, and poetry by Asian and Western Buddhist teachers, almost all composed specifically for the book. The aspirational prayers are perhaps the most effective and inspiring. Rather than lecture from a distance, many of the teachers present with refreshing honesty their own struggles to articulate a position on climate change and address the myriad related problems that developing countries and Western nations face. The editors also provide introductory essays to the various sections of the books that serve as concise summaries of the science and potential dangers of the climate crisis." (Buddhadharma)
"At last--a clear exposition of our responsibilities as Buddhists in dealing with the enormous challenge of saving our planet. Two of the world's most influential Buddhists--His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh--are joined by many rinpoches and leading Buddhist scholars in helping us to define our roles. Our individual and our ecological predicaments are remarkably similar and the persuasive voices in this book help us to understand this--and give us some tools to 'take corrective action to ensure a safe-climate future,' as His Holiness puts it. Please read this book!" (Mandala)
About the Author
John Stanley, PhD, is a biologist who has led research groups in Canada, Switzerland, and the UK. He has held both university and government positions. He is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences.
David R. Loy's previous books include the acclaimed Money, Sex, War, Karma, The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory, and The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons, a finalist for the 2006 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award. He was the Besl Professor of Ethics/Religion and Society at Cincinnati's Xavier University.
Gyurme Dorje holds a PhD in Tibetan Literature and an MA in Sanskrit with Oriental Studies. From 1991 to 1996 he held research fellowships at London University, where he worked on the Encyclopaedic Tibetan-English Dictionary. He has written, edited, translated and contributed to numerous books on Tibetan culture.
Top customer reviews
First, an overview of the contents: After an introduction and opening by the current Dalai Lama (including a moving contemplative poem/prayer), there are several chapters by John Stanley (one of the editors) covering the science behind global warming, as well as its impact. This is followed by 'Asian Buddhist Perspectives', essays by several Tibetan Buddhist teachers and leaders presenting their thoughts and aspirational prayers. Following this is 'Western Buddhist Perspectives', in which a variety of teachers from all different Buddhist lineages, but all currently teaching in the West, share their thoughts. The book ends with 'Solutions', a collection of steps to address global warming and the related ecological issues, followed by a closing chapter by Thich Nhat Hanh.
This book is a call to action for those already convinced climate change is a, if not the, major issue facing humanity at this time. Those still on the fence might be turned off by certain statements, for although the editors cover the science behind global warming, and make some attempt to refute skeptics, their perspective on dissenting views regarding global warming are essentially derisive, as summed up here:
"Complex manipulative strategies always oil the wheels of society, and so it should not surprise us that collective denial has been encouraged and sustained by sophisticated efforts of social deception." (p. 225)
This tone surprised me a bit, and is one of two slight reservations I have about this book (and the reason for 4, instead of 5, stars.) Although it is meant to be a call to action, I felt a bit confused about who the target audience is - it seems unlikely someone not already concerned about global warming would pick up this book, but the editors chose to include supporting science, presumably to convince those not already convinced, and so the sometimes dismissive tone seemed counterproductive to that.
My other reservation is regarding the organization of the teachers selected. 'Asian Buddhist Perspectives' should more rightly be called 'Tibetan Buddhist Perspectives', as there are no other Buddhist schools represented in this section. And although the editors say in the introduction that their separation of Tibetan and Western perspectives was "not meant to create an artificial division in the one world of Buddhism but to acknowledge how Buddhism has been transmitted in our time...", I felt that the book's organization did, in fact, create an artificial division, and one that might turn off some Western Buddhists (again, presumably the target audience.) I also would personally have loved to have seen more women represented (two of 21 essays were contributed by women - Joanna Macy and Susan Murpy Roshi.)
Those reservations aside, this book does indeed offer a uniquely Buddhist perspective on the ecological challenges facing humanity today. Many essays offer a Buddhist analysis of how and why this crises has occurred, using Buddhist teachings on suffering (dukkha) and its origins (samudaya) to understand the roots of human behavior in relation to the environment. Others discuss teachings on dependent origination (pratityasamutpada) and lovingkindness (metta), to discuss the basis for a uniquely Buddhist response. As Gyalwang Karmapa XVII puts it, "Our aspiration as Dharma practitioners is to free all beings from suffering."
Several of the writers refute misperceptions of Buddhist teachings that might lead to a lack of response. I thought Joanna Macy covered this topic the best, with her list of 'spiritual traps' some might fall into:
"...That the phenomenal world is an illusion. Impermanent and made of matter, it is less worthy than a realm of pure spirit....That suffering is a mistake. Pain we may feel in beholding the world derives from our own cravings and attachments....That we create our world unilaterally by the power of our mind [and that therefore] grief for the plight of the world is negative thinking...And the corollary, that the world is already perfect when we view it spiritually [and so there is no] need to act." (p. 178)
As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, partly in refutation of such views, "We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness."
Many of the writers look to Buddhist teachings for guidance on how to respond, and connect creating a sustainable world with 'the middle way' - striking a culture of balance, not grasping and greed. Buddhism's emphasis on personal responsibility is also discussed, and as Joseph Goldstein notes about his own Insight Meditation community, "if one or two people take the lead in making even small changes, it energizes the whole community."
Other more esoteric topics covered are how the current crises is related to the Kaliyuga or 'age of dregs', the period of history that Tibetan teachings posit we are currently in; and how the present state of the planet may impact the ability of beings to incarnate here.
Overall, this is an interesting read for any Buddhist looking to understand global warming and environmental issues in the framework of Buddhist teachings, or anyone already interested in global warming that is looking for a new way to respond.
The buddhist concepts outlined in this book such as collective and individual karma, personal responsibility and mind training need to be brought to the conversation of climate change, scholars, scientists and regular joes alike.