Ecodharma And Our Climate Emergency

During an interview with the Buddhist scholar David Loy yesterday, we were speaking about ecodharma, a neologism that tries to synthesize the teachings of the dharma with a commitment to ecological engagement.

Loy thinks we have every reason to believe–and so he argues in his book Ecodharma–that we’re right in the thick of a climate emergency. What does this mean for a socially and ecologically engaged Buddhist?

On the one hand, he says, “It looks bad.” We might, he says, liken caring for the earth to hospice care. You don’t cease caring for someone who is dying. On the contrary, you act so as to reduce their pain and suffering and with a view to hearing and feeling them with all your heart.

On the other hand, he goes on, as Buddhists, we really don’t know what is going to happen. In this sense, we are, as we must, be open to the Great Mystery.

Some ecologists have gone into despair and thence into hiding. Some Buddhists have retained a single-minded focus on attaining classical, individual enlightenment. Neither will do for Loy. As we spoke, what stood out to me was his resolve: we must “do the very best that we can,” he observed, without “knowing whether it will make any difference” while accepting that “that’s OK.”

But what does this enigmatic commitment mean? One, you act while “abandoning all hope of results” as the Tibetan Buddhist slogan from the lojong training would have it. Two, you accept that everything you do may amount to nothing in the end. That is, you don’t delude yourself into thinking that any collective effort will contribute in any significant way or at all to the viability of the earth and to the well-being of future sentient beings, whatever these might be, that inhabit it. And, three, you embrace non-attachment in the fullest sense of the word. “Basically,” Kyogen Carlson states in Zen in the American Grain: Discovering the Teachings at Home, “nonattachment means all-acceptance with willingness and positivity of mind. All-acceptance means complete willingness to admit that things are exactly as they are.”

Ergo, act with resolve; act without knowing; act while being all-accepting. Wise words these.