Monday, October 31, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh on 'The Five Precepts'

One commentator observed that a fundamental difference between Christianity and Buddhism lies in the nature of their respective proscriptions. Christianity has the famous "Thou Shalt Nots" of the Ten Commandments, whereas Buddhism has the "Refrain Froms" or the "Avoids" of the Five Precepts that constitute Right Action. The defiant streak in human nature, the commentator pointed out, makes it tough for us to avoid the wrong actions covered by the Ten Commandments (or, at least, the milder of them). One might also point out that violation of the Ten Commandments can allegedly end one up in Hell, while it is through non-observance of the Five Precepts that we create a hell on Earth.

One of the most comprehensive and astute renderings of the Five Precepts (avoid or refrain from killing, from taking what is not freely given, from sexual impropriety, from harmful speech, and from taking intoxicants) is set out in the following "Five Mindfulness Trainings" recommended by Thich Nhat Hanh in his helpful book "Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames," (Appendix B) pp. 209-212:

"The First Mindfulness Training:
Reverence for Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.
The Second Mindfulness Training:
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving-kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on earth.
The Third Mindfulness Training:
Sexual Responsibility
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.
The Fourth Mindfulness Training:
Deep Listening and Loving Speech
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training:
Mindful Consumption
 Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

William James: On 'Inner Religion'

Wm. James
In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, one of the acknowledged "fathers" of modern psychology, distinguished between outer and inner religious faith. To him, "outer religion" was the province of rituals, sacraments, vestments and bells, while "inner religion" was a state of consciousness. In the true sense of the word, he viewed "inner religion" (from the Latin ligare, meaning to 'tie' or 'unite') as a state of natural, unitive and acceptive consciousness in which "religion comes to our rescue and takes our fate into her hands."

"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others," he observes, "in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the folds and waterspouts of God."

"In this state of mind," he notes, "what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about, has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."

"This enchantment," he points out, "coming as a gift when it does come - a gift or our organism, the physiologists will tell us, a gift of God's grace, the theologians say - is either there or not there for us, and there are persons who can no more become possessed by it than they can fall in love with a given woman by mere word or command."

"Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject's range of life," he concludes. "It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward battle is lost, and the outward world disowns him it redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste." "There are plenty of men," he adds parenthetically, "in whose religious life this rapturousness is lacking. They are religious in the wider sense; yet in this acutest of all senses they are not so."

[Wm. James, "The Varieties Of Religious Experience," pp. 47-48.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Aldous Huxley: On the Perennial Philosophy and the Ground of Being

" . . . (T)here is a hierarchy of the real. The manifold world of our everyday existence is real with a relative reality that is, on its own level, unquestionable; but this relative reality has its being within and because of the absolute Reality, which, on account of the incommensurable otherness of its eternal nature, we can never hope to describe, even though it is possible for us directly to apprehend it."

-- Aldous Huxley --
("The Perennial Philosophy," page 33.)
Just to the extent that we mistake our "relative reality" with "absolute Reality" do we suffer. That is the nature of samsara, the unawakened life. Our identification with the unawakened "self" of our normal, workaday consciousness obscures the consciousness of the true "Self" which is co-extant with the Ground of Being. The object of the Buddha's 'Eight-Fold Path to the End of Suffering' - the fourth of the Four Noble Truths - is, like all true spiritual teachings, to bring us to a unitive knowledge of this Ground of Being.

In his Introduction to "The Song of God," a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by his frineds Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, the polymath author and philosopher, Aldous Huxley, outlines "the Perennial Philosophy" underlying the world's great spiritual traditions, a philosophy which points to our ability to realize the ineffable Ground of Being.
"At the core of the Perennial Philosophy," Huxley observes, "we find four fundamental doctrines."
"First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground."
 "Direct knowledge of the Ground (of Being) cannot be had except by union," Huxley notes, "and union can be achieved only by the annihilation of the self-regarding ego, which is the barrier separating the "thou" from the "That.""  The ego, or smaller "self" is, thus, the face and identity of the "relative reality" which obscures our higher consciousness, while "the Self" of the divine "Ground of Being" is the higher consciousness which enables us to experience (although not describe) true "Reality."

"Thou art that," we read over and over again in the Upanishads, and in other Scriptures. "Tat tvat asi."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rumi: "The Other Thing"

The Other Thing

There are few resistance pockets left,
patches of shade the sun has not struck,
but mostly this universe is transformed.
Every star has become the evening star.

Every soul, a king with no flag or parapet
to shield him from direct light.

Go within and discover this land
where everyone is a living soul
under a wide, sky-field with a king entering
from the other side, a jubilee, a singing
where wine and dessert and the other thing
are given away.

            Last night I was out of myself.
If I were that way again, I could finish
this poem, but I'm not.

My poet-self is a protective pawn
put before the king, who is Shams,
whose light changes every being to an ocean,
and every body to a coral reef.

-- Jalalludin Rumi --

[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi," pp. 310-311.]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Viktor Frankl: On Suffering and Life's Meaning

To psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, the test of life lay not in overcoming suffering and thereby achieving enlightenment, but rather in how one finds meaning in suffering itself. "If there is a meaning at life at all," he observed, "then there must be a meaning in suffering."

"Suffering," he pointed out, "is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death," he observed, "life cannot be complete."

This very humanistic viewpoint is, of course, quite opposite to the transcendental teachings of the Buddha, who demonstrated and taught that suffering can, in fact, be overcome even in this life. Nonetheless, there are similarities in the two teachings. Both identify, for instance, the central role that man's relation to suffering plays in shaping the course of the individual's life. And both identify suffering as the great potential teacher of mankind.

"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross," wrote Frankl, "gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal."

"Here," Frankl observed, "lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this," he declared, "decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not."

To what end, then, are we going to use our suffering? Are we to use it to face the worst in life and overcome it? Or, are we to go beyond embracing suffering - a necessary first step, perhaps - and use it as a catalyst to transcend self and strive for enlightenment? Are we worthy of our suffering?

[Excerpts from Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," p. 88.]

Monday, October 3, 2011

The End of Suffering

"When you can't stand the endless cycle of suffering anymore, you begin to awaken."
-- Eckhart Tolle --
("A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose")

"To the unawakened mind, life is suffering," the Buddha taught. This First Noble Truth was the prime basis of all the Buddha's teachings. Turning his back on his own practice of self-induced suffering (he was born a wealthy prince) the Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi Tree determined not to move from that spot until he had achieved enlightenment. 

It is said that during the four watches of the night he consecutively realized (a) that ordinary life is suffering, (b) that there are specific causes of suffering, (c) that there is an end to suffering by eliminating these causes, and (d) that there is a path to eliminating these causes. Thus, the Buddha's own enlightenment is evidence, as Tolle notes, that the beginning of awakening is unendurable suffering.

Moreover, it is taught in some schools that this realization, some 2,500 years ago, was the first turning of the dharma wheel, the first realization of the true nature of being, and the first realization of nirvana. If this is so, then Tolle's observation is all the more pertinent. The Buddha's awakening was then, indeed, the beginning of the end of "the endless cycle of suffering" - the beginning of the end of both individual and collective suffering.

"Suffering is a wonderful teacher," Tolle observes in the video (below) on "The End of Suffering. And for some people it is their only spiritual teacher he points out. "Suffering deepens you. It gradually erodes the mind-made human sense of self, the ego. And for some people the point arises where they realize, "I have suffered enough."" This, he points out, "is the end of living in the state of suffering."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Enlightenment Takes No Time At All

Spiraling, spiralling,
out through space-time
the stars and all their planets
ever whirl.

I look about and all I see
is star dust.

Enlightenment takes no time at all.
Being eternal it is beyond space-time,
which can only denote and thereby sever it.

Even the finest wine turns to vinegar in time.
Therefore, imbibe now!

If eye could see all this from without,
would not the universe itself be an infinity
of swirling vortices congealing out of the void?

And yet,
when we envision that within which is every being, how still and empty does it seem?
Such illusory stillness is the stuff of which some far off heaven's made.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dying to Self

He who knows men is clever;
He who knows himself has insight.
He who conquers men has force;
He who conquers himself is truly strong.

He who knows when he has got enough is rich,
And he who adheres assiduously to the path of Tao is a
      man of steady purpose.
He who stays where he has found his true home
      endures long,
And he who dies but perishes not enjoys real longevity.

-- Lao Tzu --
("Tao Te Ching")

Verse 33 from the Tao Te Ching, above, like teachings from all the world's great wisdom traditions, identifies the great metaphysical challenge for all men and women: to know, and then overcome, their own narrow "selves." For in every one of us a separate ego-self arises, but in only a very select few is it overcome.

"It is by self-forgetting," St. Francis of Assisi affirmed, "that one finds. . . . It is by dying (to self) that one awakens to Eternal Life." Or, as Lao Tzu put it, "(H)e who dies but perishes not enjoys real longevity." Thus, not only is being born a second time a great spiritual goal, but perhaps more so is dying to one's self while remaining in the world.  It is the loftiest of goals, only to be achieved by disciplining the mind that has created the second self of the ego.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Tao of Non-Resistance

The spiritual path is a path of non-resistance - i.e., a way of accepting what is. In electronics, a resistor heats up, and if it isn't cooled off it is liable to burn out and fail. A conductor, on the other hand, allows the current to flow through it. The best conductors are those that exhibit the least resistance. The sage allows circumstances to flow in, around, and through him and, in turn, flows through life without resistance. That, the following suggests, is the secret of acting in accordance with the Tao.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

      Act through nonaction.
      Handle affairs through noninterference,
      Taste what has no taste,
      Regard the small as great, the few as many,
      Repay resentment with integrity.

      Undertake difficult tasks
            by approaching what is easy in them;
      Do great deeds
            by focusing on their minute aspects.

      All difficulties under heaven arise from what is easy,
      All great things under heaven arise from what is minute.

For this reason,
      The sage never strives to do what is great.
       He can achieve greatness.

      One who lightly assents
            will seldom be believed;
      One who thinks everything is easy
            will encounter much difficulty.

For this reason,
      Even the sage considers things difficult.
      In the end he is without difficulty.

[Lao Tzu, "Tao Te Ching," Victor H.  Mair trans., p. 33.]

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Simon Small: On the Inner Path and Contemplative Life

"I stand at the bottom of the pond as the fulcrum of limitless space, within and without, a gateway to both, an icon that joins the two. But who am I, so small and insignificant yet at the heart of existence? As I ponder this question, infinite space reveals itself once more. For as hard as I look, I cannot find myself. I can only find thoughts, memories, fears, beliefs and concepts that constantly arise and cease. But whoever I am does not arise or cease. I am who I have always been. Different thoughts and a new body, but I am who I am. And as my mind stills consciousness expands without limit. There is a deep sense that, indeed, it has no limit. It too is infinite, a vibrantly alive space. As I stand at the bottom of the pond, I am the still center of awesome space, but so is every other human being. And, in its own way, so is every animal, plant, virus, bacteria and living cell. And in some far distant galaxy, on another insignificant lump of rock, at the bottom of another pond, stands another still center of space staring uswards and inwards, filled and humbled by the mystery of existence."
-- Simon Small --
 ("At the Bottom of a Pond")
In a recent interview (attached below) Iain McNay, co-host of ConsciousTV, sat down with Rev. Simon Small, an ordained Church of England clergyman and author, to explore the latter's journey from run-of-the-mill modern materialist businessman to a Christian contemplative. Small's inner journey of self-inquiry led him from spiritualism, through A Course in Miracles, to Theravada Buddhism and back to his Church of England roots, revealing to him the spaciousness and interconnectedness that is at the heart of all the world's great wisdom traditions.

Small describes the fruits of the inner path in the following terms: "One begins to experience a taste that one is not separate to everything else, that this hard sense of being separate and cut off from all of this, and just relating to it, is actually just a perception, and that whatever I am is flowing out of the source of everything, just as this table is, and this room, and everything outside."

"Contemplation," he notes, "is an ancient Christian word for a universal experience. (It) describes what happens when we have those moments . . when suddenly our very small world that we are living out in our head almost seems to dissolve and suddenly there is this vast mystery there in the moment. We all have experiences like this. Many of us have them out in nature. We will be walking along and there will be a moment when the sunlight coming through the branches and hitting the leaves just stops us in our tracks. There is a sense of time almost stopping as well, and there is almost a sense of resonance in the moment so that we are no longer separate to the sunlight and those leaves. There is something vibrating there that is vibrating in us as well. We all have these moments."

A life of contemplation may not, however, be for everyone. The fruits of the inner path and contemplation are very rich, Small notes, but they come at a price, a price that many people are, perhaps, loathe to pay.

"At first, (contemplation) is a wonderful experience," he points out, "because you have never quite tasted anything quite like it. It is like the finest wine you have ever tasted, and you become aware. . . . Suddenly life has gone to colour from black and white.  But then very quickly," he warns, "one begins to realize that if you are going to pursue this you are not going to be able to live the same way anymore in the world. Things that you used to value, you won't value anymore. And you will begin to value things that you have never dreamed of before."

Small's advice to those who wish to explore the contemplative way is: "Enter stillness. Try and taste the wonder of being. Go out into nature, (into) whatever it is that brings this sense of wonder into your life. And then as you are experiencing that quality of consciousness, hold the question: Where do I go from here?" The answer will come, he notes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On the "Great Way" - The Tao of Nature

There was something featureless yet complete,
      born before heaven and earth;

Silent - amorphous -
      it stood alone and unchanging.

We may regard it as the mother of heaven and earth.
Not knowing its name,
      I style it the "Way."

If forced to give it a name,
      I would call it "great."

Being great implies flowing ever onward,
Flowing ever onward implies far-reaching,
Far-reaching implies reversal.

The Way is great,
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,

The king, too, is great.

Within the realm there are four greats,
      and the king is one among them.

      patterns himself on earth,
      patterns itself on heaven,
      patterns itself on the Way,
The Way
      patterns itself on nature.

(Lao Tzu, "Tao Te Ching," Victor H. Mair trans., p. 90.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bhikku Bodhi: "An End to the Future"

Ven. Bhikku Bodhi
We live in perilous times. War, poverty, hunger, accelerating climate change and obtuse, unresponsive governments constitute a global crisis which threatens the prospects of humanity's future, as the Venerable Bhikku Bodhi points out in the attached Google TechTalk.

"An end to the future, at least to the human future, is now easily imaginable," Bodhi observes. "Even if the end point of the future doesn't occur in our own lifetime," he warns, "there is a very real danger that it might occur at some point in the present century, even during the lifetimes of your children or grandchildren."

"During our daily lives when our attention is involved in our day-to-day tasks and projects," Bodhi notes, "these kinds of thoughts normally don't trouble us. But if we step back for a few moments and reflect, we can easily see that these claims are not exaggeration. The dangers are very real, and when we take them seriously, as we should take them, they can send a chill down our spines."

All living things are interconnected as parts of a unified field, Bodhi points out in a recent issue of Tricycle (Fall, 2011), and such interconnectedness "bids us consider the long-term effects our deeds exert on other people, on all beings endowed with sentience, and on the entire biosphere."
"In minimal terms," he asserts, "this means that we cannot tolerate behaviour that endangers vast sections of the world's population. We cannot use the earth's resources in ways that result in the mass extinction of species, with unpredictable results. We cannot spend billions on the fratricidal activity of war, while a billion people suffer from hunger, sleep on the streets, and die from easily curable illnesses. We cannot burn fuels that irreversibly alter the climate, or discharge toxic substances into our water and air, without initiating chain reactions that will eventually poison ourselves."
"For the spiritual life to unleash its full potential as a fountainhead of grace and blessings, the wisdom of selfishness on its own is not sufficient," Bodhi points out. "Wisdom has to be joined with another force that galvanizes the will to act. The force needed to empower wisdom is compassion. Both wisdom and compassion shift our sense of identity away from ourselves toward the wider human, biotic, and cosmic community to which we belong."

In addressing his audience at Google, Bodhi asserts that the existential problems and challenges we face may be seen as "many manifestations of a deep and hidden spiritual malignancy that is infecting human society. And the common root of all these problems," he notes, "might be briefly described as a stubborn insistence on placing narrow, short-term, self-centered interests above the long-range good of the broader human community."

"What is needed above all else," he points out, "is a new orientation . . . a kind of universal consciousness that will enable us to regard others as being essentially the same as oneself. We have to learn to reject the demands of self-interest and acquire this universal perspective from which the welfare of all appears to be just as important as our own good. That is, we have to outgrow the narrow egocentric and ethnocentric attitudes to which we are normally committed, and instead embrace a worldcentric ethic that gives priority to the well-being of all."

"Such a worldcentric ethic should be moulded upon three guidelines," he suggests. "First, we have to overcome exploitative greed with global generosity, helpfulness and cooperation. Second, to replace hatred, suspicion and vengeance with a policy of kindness, tolerance and forgiveness. And third, we have to recognize that the world is an interconnected whole such that irresponsible behaviour anywhere has potentially harmful consequences everywhere."

"These guidelines," Bodhi points out, "can constitute the nucleus of a global ethic to which all of the world's great spiritual traditions could easily subscribe, without requiring any kind of exclusive adherence to Buddhism."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh: On Habit and Mindfulness

"Our habit energy is what causes us to repeat the same behaviour thousands of times. Habit energy pushes us to run, to always be doing something, to be lost in thoughts of the past or the future and to blame others for our suffering. And that energy does not allow us to be peaceful and happy in the present moment."

"The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognize that habitual energy. Every time we can recognize the habitual energy in us, we are able to stop and to enjoy the present moment. The energy of mindfulness is the best energy to help us embrace our habit energy and transform it."

-- Thich Nhat Hanh --
("Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way")

In the Tao Te Ching we read:

The sage has no mind of his own. He takes as his own the mind of the people.

Those who are good I treat as good. Those who are not good I also treat as good. In so doing I gain in goodness. Those who are of good faith I have faith in. Those who are lacking in good faith I also have faith in. In so doing I gain in good faith.

The sage in his attempt to distract the mind of the empire seeks urgently to muddle it. The people all have something to occupy their eyes and ears, and the sage treats them all like children.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the attached two-part video, the renowned Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, takes the viewer through a mindful movement and breathing meditation:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thomas Merton: Eastern Musings

The Lion
From alien heavens
Where there are no fabled beasts
No friendly histories
And passion has no heraldry.

I have nothing left to translate
Into the figures of night
Or the pale geometry
Of the fire-birds.
If I once had a wagon of lights to ride in
The axle is broken
The horses are shot.

-- Thomas Merton --

The iconoclasitic Benedictine Monk, Thomas Merton, was above all a poet, a poet who shook his worldview loose from old forms, as The Lion, above, amply demonstrates. The spare, stark images of the wagon of lights, the broken axle, and horses that have been shot suggest the growing influence that Zen and Taoism had on his worldview, an influence that can be seen in the following selections about Nothingness and the Void taken from his later work, "Cables to the Ace."

"For (Merton) solitude was his desert where he had to face death and Nothingness. As he explored the Asian religious traditions in the 1960s, he sought to integrate this Nothingness into his Christian theology. Buddhism and Taoism had long found in Nothingness or the Void a creative, even joyful, reality that was in harmony with Being. But Western thought only recently began to face the challenge of Non-being." -- Alan Altany --

(For more of Alan Altany's informative and delightful summary of Merton's poetry, see "Thomas Merton's Poetry: Emblems of a Sacred Season," on the website.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Don't Drink the Ego's Kool-Aid

The spiritual quest can become an ego trap. Instead of diminishing and letting go of the separated sense of 'self' the ego can quite easily flip and appear to cooperate in its own diminishment. "You want to be spiritual," the ego says, "then watch just how spiritual I can be!" Perhaps it is this reverse egoic thinking that leads to the demise of many of the so-called 'gurus' and self-proclaimed messiahs who rise, crash and burn. The trouble is not only that all too many drink their kool-aid, but even more critically, that we are all too prone to mix and take our own.

Having learned that there is such a thing as enlightenment, and finding out that literally thousands of books have been written on how enlightenment might be achieved, the ever-voracious ego sets out to gain more and more knowledge. However, once one has read even a few of these books one knows that it is only practice and experience, rather than intellectual knowledge and beliefs, that will do the trick. But, oh, how attached the ego can become to more spiritual knowledge!
"In one way or another," writes Ram Dass, " all of the practices of jnana yoga work with our intellectual faculties and with different levels fo the mind to get to something that is finally beyond the mind's grasp. It's called higher wisdom, and higher wisdom is a different thing altogether from knowledge. . . . Knowledge is a function of the intellect; higher wisdom goes beyond mind and intellect."

"The intellect," Dass notes, "is like a siddhi, a yogic power, and like all such powers, it's very seductive. It's easy for us to seduced  by all the fascinating things we can know about. But our knowing isn't wisdom - it's knowledge; and all of that fascination with knowing things can end up drawing us outward rather than inward."

"We get trapped in the world of knowing," Dass points out. "We busy ourselves collecting more and more worldly knowledge, and focus on the matrix of the rational mind instead of openining into our deeper wisdom. And then the very tool we're trying to use to escape becomes our trap, because with knowing there's always still a "knower" and a "that which is known.""
"Only when the knower and known become one," writes Dass, "does that One get through the door. Nobody who knows anything gets through the door - which means that the ultimate sacrifice for the gynani, the intellectual, is giving up everything."
[Ram Dass, "Paths to God," pp. 74-75.]
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

"Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment," Rumi advises us.

[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi, p. 36.]

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Attachments

One cannot go through the world without attachments, and yet all such attachments - to our pets, to our children, to our spouses, to our vocations, to our possessions, to our various 'identities' etc. - are all bound to create suffering, either in the short-term or the long-term. What is one to do?

The Tao Te Ching seems to suggest that we recognize but neither "assert" nor "abide in" such attachments. It recognizes that unfettered enjoyment of such temporary attachments as "extravagances" which prevent us from living in accordance with "the Way."
"Who is puffed up cannot stand,
Who is self-absorbed has no distinction,
Who is self-revealing does not shine,
Who is self-assertive has no merit,
Who is self-praising does not last long.

As for the Way, we may say these are
   "excess provisions and extra baggage."
Creation abhors such extravagances.

      One who aspires to the Way,
            does not abide in them."

In the two related dharma talks (below),  Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Brahmili explores our deep-seated attachments and how we can move beyond them to live a more liberated and awakened life.

We need to create an inner refuge, separate and apart from our attachments, Ajahn suggests, if we are to begin the task of moving beyond attachments and the innate suffering that comes with them. In this way, it is possible to live in the world of attachments, but not be wholly attached to that world.

Creating such an inner refuge, he points out "is really a path of beautifying the mind, of making the mind more bright, and of having an internal source of happiness."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Karma, Harm and Harmlessness

The law of karma is inexorable and found in all traditions, and not just Hinduism and Buddhism, from which the notion of karma arose. The well-known saying, "As you sow, so shall you reap," which we read in the New Testament at Galatians 6:7, is clearly an expression of the universal law of karma.

"Every sin must be paid for, (and) all karmic debt must be paid," points out the late Unity minister, Eric Butterworth. "However," he notes, "the choice is ours whether we work it out in the cycle of retribution, through profound suffering in the 'furnace of affliction,' or whether our payment of debt is through the discipline of rising above the consciousness from which the act was committed into the freedom of spiritual understanding where we go forth and 'sin no more.'"
[Butterworth, "Discover the Power Within You:," p. 137.]

Addressing the corrosive effects of bad kharma (or action), the great sage, Patanjali observed:
"The obstacles to yoga - such as acts of violence and untruth - may be created or indirectly caused or approved, they may be motivated by greed, anger or self-interest, they may be small, moderate or great, but they never cease to result in pain and ignorance. One should overcome disturbing thoughts by remembering this." (Yoga Sutra II:34)
"Everything we do, say, or think, or even indirectly cause or passively sanction," writes Swami Prabhavananda, "Will inevitably produce consequences - good, bad, or composite - and these consequences will react in some measure upon ourselves."

"Our most secret ill-wishes towards others," he continues, "our remotest permission of evil done to others, can only end by hurting us, by increasing our own ignorance and pain. This is an absolute law of Nature. If we could remember it always, we should learn to control our tongues and our thoughts."

Again, Patanjali observes:
"When a man becomes steadfast in his abstention from harming others, then all living creatures will cease to feel enmity in his presence."
 Elaborating upon this concept of ahimsa (or, harmlessness), the inevitable corollary of karma, Swami Prabhavananda notes that we have become so used to using the word "harmless" in a deprecating and even "derogatory sense" that "it has become almost synonymous with ineffectual." "Yet," Prabhavananda points out, "the perfected harmlessness of the saint is by no means ineffectual, it is a positive psychological force of tremendous power."

"When a man has truly and entirely renounced violence in his own thoughts and in his dealings with others," Prabhavnanda remarks, "he begins to create an atmosphere around himself within which violence and enmity must cease to exist because they find no reciprocation."
[Prabhavananda and Isherwood, "How to Know God," pp. 146-148.]

Thus, what we sow with our thoughts and in our consciousness has the potential for either harm or good, and "as we sow, so shall we reap." It is not just what we say or do that brings about "bad karma," but rather who we are in our inner Being.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Suffering and the End of Suffering

The central teaching of Buddhism is that to the unenlightened being life is suffering, that there are specific causes of suffering, that there is an end to suffering if these causes are overcome, and that there is a specific path to the working out of these root causes and thus to the ending of suffering. Called the Four Noble Truths, this teaching of the Buddha is perhaps the earliest and most explicit teaching of how suffering works as the soil and water that nourishes spiritual growth. As one famous spiritual writer put it: 'When we are suffering we are really being blessed, but we do not recognize it at the time.'

"You won't be able to surrender," notes preeminent spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle (in the video, below), "unless you are completely fed up with suffering, (unless) you have had enough suffering, and at some level you recognize that most of your suffering is self created."

"Suffering is a wonderful teacher; (it) is most people's only teacher," he points out. "Suffering deepens you. It gradually erodes the mind-made sense of self, the ego. And for some people the point arises where they realize, "I have suffered enough.""

Not only is the message of suffering and the end of suffering the central tenet of Buddhism, Tolle notes, it is also a central teaching of Christianity. "Finding the Pearl of Great Price, finding the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you, here and now, as Jesus says, is of course the ending of suffering. So one could say that you need suffering for you to realize, to come to point of realization, that you do not need to suffer anymore."

That one needs to suffer in order to come to the realization that one no longer needs to suffer, is as Tolle puts it, the "great paradox" that drives spiritual growth. One finds in time, however, that one can sincerely strive to live a life of the spirit without the necessity of constantly being bludgeoned into that position by painful struggle. That, Tolle would probably agree, is the beginning of the end of the small, ego-self.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One-On-One with Adyashanti

In a far-ranging, in-depth interview Renate McNay, co-host of Conscious TV, explores the life and experiences of neo-Buddhist teacher Adyashanti. Starting from his childhood spiritual inklings, McNay draws out the story of this popular author and teacher's ongoing spiritual awakening.

Particularly interesting, for those who may have experienced their own awakening and yet continue their search for ultimate enlightenment, Adyashanti describes a plethora of ever-deepening experiences after what he calls "the honeymoon of awakening" wore off. Not for the faint-hearted, perhaps, Adyashanti explores the depths that exist beyond "the perfume of self" and describes (as far as such experiences can be described) what happened to him as he entered into what McNay describes as "the Divine Coma."

Trying to illustrate what happened when "consciousness completely woke up," Adyashanti describes it as being "like the 'knowing' that was dawning then was that 'knowing' arises from 'this,'  (then) that 'oneness' arises from 'this,' (and then) that 'knowing of oneness' arises from 'this.'" It is, he says, as if one experienced an infinity of nothingness and then got rid of the nothingness itself.

"What I would call the ultimate," says Adyashanti, "is that which is inconceivable, unexperiencable, it cannot come into any of the categories we usually put it in."

"If you take something and you then you take absolute emptiness, nothingness, and then you go really completely outside of duality - something and nothing - what," he asks, "is there when there is not even nothing?" Neither mind, nor experience, nor imagination can go there, he notes. But yet, he notes 'it' is there. "If there is a defining characteristic," says Adyashanti, "it is the 'unknowability' that is the defining characteristic."

And yet, Adyashanti points out, having realized this ultimate ground of being, the experiences of an ever-deepening understanding do not stop. "'It' itself has an infinite capacity to reveal itself," he notes. "We can call that revealing of itself  'deepening,' 'never-ending,' or as the Buddhists would say, 'always being, always becoming.'" "There is," he concludes, "never more nor less of it."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lower Self, Higher Self, No Self

Thirty spokes join at the hub;
their use for the cart
is where they are not.

When the potter's wheel makes a pot,
the use of the pot
is precisely where there is nothing.

When you open doors and windows for a room,
it is where there is nothing
that they are useful to the room..

Therefore being is for benefit,
Nonbeing is for usefulness.

-- Lao Tzu --
("The Essential Tao")
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"The image of the wheel that is not too tight on its axle and not too loose," says Allan Watts, "that is really with the axle, is the Zen principle of not being attached, not being sticky. It is very difficult for us to function in that way," he points out, "because we have been brought up to believe that there are two sides to ourselves. - one the animal side, and the other the human and civilized side."

"These are expressed," he observes, "in what Freud calls 'the pleasure principle' which he classifies with the animal side, the Id, and the other the 'reality principle' which he puts on the side of society and the Super-Ego. And man is so split, that he is in a constant fight between these two."

"Theosophists," Watts notes, "sometimes speak of our having two selves: the Higher Self which is spiritual, and the lower self which is merely psychic - the ego. And therefore the problem of life is to make one self, the higher one, take hold of the other like a rider takes charge of a horse."

"(However) in Zen," he points out,  "a duality between higher self and lower self is not made. Because if you believe in the higher self, this is a simple trick of the lower self. If you believe that there really is no lower self, that there is only the higher self but that somehow or other the higher self has to shine through, the very fact that you think it has to try to shine through still gives validity to the lower self."

On the other hand, he notes: "If you think you have a lower self or an ego to get rid of and then you fight against it, nothing strengthens the delusion that it exists more than that. So this tremendous schizophrenia amongst human beings of thinking that they are rider and horse, soul in command of body, or will in control of passions wrestling with them, all that kind of split thing simply aggravates the problem and we get more and more split."

"And so," he points out, "we have all sorts of people engaged in an interior conflict which they will never ever resolve. Because the true self, either you know it or you don't. If you do know it, than you  know that it is the only one, and the other so-called lower self just ceases to be a problem. It becomes something like a mirage, and you don't go around hitting them with a stick or putting reins on them, you just know that they are mirages and walk straight through them."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The "Fictitious Self" or Ego

The greatest insight in human history, according to spiritual teacher and best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle, may have been when the Buddha recognized that the "self" is an illusion. Calling this egoic sense of 'me' and 'mine' the "fictitious self," Tolle illustrates how this seeming separation of one from another is a form of "collective insanity" and the source, as the Buddha recognized, of all suffering.

"But there is a level within yourself," Tolle notes, "where you are already a full expression of the one life. You are already complete on the level of the timeless, the essence of your own being."

"It is quite a relief," he observes, "to realize that the world cannot make me happy. To demand that situations, people, places or attainments should complete me or make me happy is bound to be frustrating, whether I attain or I do not attain."

"(Life) loses its frustration," he notes, "when you do not look to the world anymore for your satisfaction or for your 'self.' When you give up demanding that people, places, (and) situations should make you happy and fulfill you - when you don't demand it anymore - then suddenly the ability arises to allow the forms of this moment to be as they are."

  "Because life at this moment," Tolle points out, "already always is as it is."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The New Biology: Where Mind Meets Matter

The attached two-part lecture by Dr. Bruce Lipton will fundamentally change your understanding of the human body, the process of evolution, and perhaps your life. It is that powerful.

Dr. Lipton, a prize-winning cellular biologist, is a pioneer in the field of epigenetics - the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

That we are not simply the product of our genes, but rather the product of our perceptions of the world is a crucial point that Dr. Lipton demonstrates by taking us through the entire cellular and biological mechanisms understood by "the New Biology" - a field informed by quantum rather than classical mechanics. The all-pervading consciousness that exists within our enviroment, it turns out - in biology as in physics - plays the central role in shaping our world, including our bodies.

Clocking in at roughly three hours, the attached video lecture is nonetheless a truly must-watch documentary, as Dr. Lipton clearly and lucidly explains how changes in the scientific paradigms of biology itself are impacting everything from neo-natal care and disease prevention, to the role of Big Pharma, to the role that spirituality has in optimizing the health and well-being of the individual.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Right Livelihood" versus "Right Living"

What is "right livelihood"? When first exposed to the teachings of the Buddha and the dharma of the Eightfold Path, I was under the assumption that "right livelihood" referred solely to the means by which one made one's living. For example, working as a hangman or in a slaughterhouse, or working as a pimp or pornographer, would be "wrong livelihood" as a result of the harm that such occupations causes to other beings as well as to the state of one's own being. Now, however, I wonder if "right livelihood" does not extend far beyond the mere way one earns a living, but rather extends to the totality of how one lives.

In the face of pollution, global warming and a man-made environmental crisis that has resulted in a thousand-fold multiplication of the rate at which whole species become extinct does not the whole impact of how one lives become relevant? If one commutes 100 kilometres a day just to work, does this not speak to whether one has right livelihood? If one eats food that is imported from countries thousands of kilometers away does this not impact others and constitute an unwise way of living? Certainly, these and so many other examples of daily activities that are essential to maintaining our "standard of living" in the West (and increasingly in the East) must impact whether or not we are living wisely.

There is, of course the traditional dharma strictures on "right action" which consists of avoiding killing, stealing, lying, sexual improprieties and ingestion of intoxicants, but are there not many gray areas that are very much a part of our day-to-day existence that fall outside of these traditional strictures? Perhaps, therefore, it is more relevant in the increasingly interrelated lives we live today to talk of "right living" instead of merely "right livelihood."

Living simply in harmony with one's local environment, it would seem, is the key to "right living." Taking public transport rather than one's own vehicle, or walking or bicycling rather than taking public transit, it would seem, is one factor to promote harmony and balance. Living in a small space, rather than a large house is another. Eating locally and organically would be a third of many wise strategies one might uses to maximize a truly wise way of living. Reducing, reusing and recycling the materials one uses is an obvious fourth. Yet, how differently we in the West typically live.

This is not a wholesale rejection of our modern, technological way of life. As Robert Pirsig observed in his classic work, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:"
" . . . (F)light from and hatred of technology is self-defeating. The Buddha, the Godhead resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a (motorcycle) transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha - which is to demean oneself."
When facing the existential crisis that would impel me forward on a spiritual quest for meaning in my life - a path that would open me to the dharma teachings of Buddhism, Taoism and the Advaita Vedanta, along with other spiritual traditions - I was sure of only one thing: unvoiced, I nonetheless I sensed that I wanted to "walk gently through the world and leave only shallow footprints." Yet, how difficult it is, I have found, to live up to that ideal.

When even the traditional strictures on "right action" and "right livelihood" prove difficult to live up to in this fast-paced, fast-lived, fast-food culture, making a vow to strive for radical "right living" is indeed challenging. Nevertheless, the necessity of a radical change in lifestyle if we are to survive the current existential problems we face makes such an individual (and eventually collective) intention seem inevitable.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chuang Tzu and the Butterfly

Blessed are those who are humbled by life, for they may become meek. Blessed are the meek, for they are free of self. When we are suffering, we are being humbled, and in being humbled we are actually being blessed although it does not feel like it at the time.
"We each have a view of the universe," notes Thich Nhat Hahn. "That view may be called relativity or uncertainty or probability or string theory; there are many kind of views."

"Its okay to propose views," he notes, "but if you want to make progress on the path of inquiry, you should be able to be ready to throw away your view."

Chuang Tzu, the great Taoist master, was so amenable to changing his views of the ultimate 'realities' of life that he awoke from a dream unsure if he had been Chuang Tzu dreaming he had been a butterfly, or if he was then a butterfly dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu.

"If you worship something as a dogma, as absolute truth," Thich Nhat Hahn points out, "you are not a good practitioner. You must be totally free, even from the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings of the Buddha," he notes, are offered as instruments, not as absolute truth."

To the extent that I 'know' the truth I suffer, for I have not yet become truly humble. Yet, how often am I caught up in my view of what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'? Far too often, as it turns out, for I continue to suffer the pangs of my own 'righteousness.'

My spiritual mentor often told the following story:
"One day a man saw a butterfly shuddering on the sidewalk, locked in a seemingly hopeless struggle to free itself from its now useless cocoon. Feeling pity, the man took a pocket knife and carefully cut away the cocoon to set the butterfly free. To his amazement, it lay on the sidewalk, convulsed weakly for a while and died. Sometime later a biologist told him, "That was the worst thing you could have done. A butterfly needs that struggle in order to develop its muscles to fly. By robbing him of the struggle you made him too weak to live."
Never deny another of there struggle to be free. Do not rob them of the opportunity to be humbled by life. We all need to fulfill our own karma.

You do not have to reassure Chuang Tzu, that he is indeed Chuang Tzu. You may be mistaken. He may, in fact, be a butterfly dreaming that he is just Chuang Tzu.

"The truly Right View," notes Thich Nhat Hahn, "is the absence of all views. According to the teachings of the Buddha, we have to throw away all views, including the so-called right views. Reality, things as they are, cannot be described in terms of notions and views. That is why so-called 'right views' are only instruments to help us."

[Thich Nhat Hahn, "Beyond the Self," pp. 14-15.]

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Tao of Understanding and Mystery

"The ways that can be walked are not the eternal Way;
The names that can be named are not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of the myriad creatures;
The named is the mother of the myriad creatures."

      Always be without desire
          in order to observe its wondrous subtleties:
      Always have desire
         so that you may observe its manifestations."

"Both of these derive from the same source;
They have different names but the same designation."

"Mystery of mysteries,
The gate of all wonders!"

-- Tao Te Ching, Verse 45 --

* * * * * * * *

 "The one who understands Heaven and understands the ways of humanity has perfection," writes Chuang Tzu. "Understanding Heaven, he grows with Heaven. Understanding humanity, he takes the understanding of what he understands to help him understand what he doesn't understand, and so fulfills the years Heaven decrees without being cut off in his prime. This is known as perfection."

"However, it is true that there are problems," he notes. "Real understanding has to have something to which it is applied and this something is itself uncertain. So how can I know that what I term Heaven is not human? Or that what I call human is not Heaven?"

"Only the true man has understanding," Chuang Tzu points out. "So what is a true man? The true man of old did not fight against poverty, nor did he look for fulfillment through riches - for he had no grand plans. Therefore, he never regretted any failure, nor exulted in success. He could scale the heights without fear, plumb the depths without difficulties, and go through fire without pain. This is the kind of person whose understanding has lifted him up towards the Tao."
-- Chuang Tzu, "The Tao of Nature, p. 27 --

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Ego, Identification and Attachment

Psychologically, the lower consciousness of the ego may perhaps be viewed as a learned attitude, an habitual way of thinking that the individual grows into as he or she grows towards adolescence. By adolescence, the vast, vast majority of individuals have taken the stream of thought generated by the ego as their identity.

Wholly identified with this "voice in the head" we are attached to the personas it creates for us, and then seek, in turn, further attachments to objects, conceptual structures, experiences and other people to reinforce this attachment to our egoic "self." This attachment process, robs us of the reality of the higher levels of consciousness which are nascent within us, but which are obscured by the wiles and wants of the ego.

"Whatever the ego seeks and gets attached to are substitutes for the Being that it cannot feel," writes Eckhart Tolle in "A New Earth," his best-selling treatise on higher consciousness. "You can value and care for things," he observes, "but whenever you get attached to them you will know it's the ego. And you are never really attached to a thing but to the thought that has 'I,' 'me,' or 'mine' in it. Whenever you completely accept a loss, you go beyond ego and who your are, the I Am which is consciousness itself, emerges."

"In the end," it has been said," what matters most is how well did you live, how well did you love, and how well did you learn to let go."

Letting go, however, necessitates our letting go of the egoic state, not only of our identification with he ego, but with the never-ending attachments and desires that the ego produces, the subject of the reading by Tolle, below.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lama Surya Das: The Bodhisattva's Vow

"Bodhisattva (Skt; Pali, Bodhisatta). The embodiement of the spiritual ideal of Mahayana Buddhism, in contrast to the earlier Arhat ideal advocated in the Hinayana. Bodhisattva literally means 'enlightened being' but the correct Sanskrit derivation may be 'bodhi-sakta' meaning 'a being who is oriented towards enlightenment'. The ideal is inspired by the lengthy career of the Buddha before he became enlightened, as described in the Jatakas. A Bodhisattva begins his career by generating the aspiration (prajnidhana) to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings, often in the form of a vow, which according to many Mahayana texts is often accompanied by a prediction of success (vya-karana) by a Buddha. He then embarks on the path leading to enlightenment (bodhi) by cultivating the Six Perfections (sad-paramita) and the four means of attracting beings (sam-graha-vastu) over the course of three immeasurable kalpas. The spiritual progress of a Bodhisattva is usually subdivided into ten stages or levels (bhumi). Many Mahayana sutras state that a Boddisattva foregoes his own final enlightenment until all other beings in samsara have been liberated, or else describe a special form of nirvana, the unlocalized nirvana (apratistha-nirvana) by virtue of which a Bodhisattva may be 'in the world but not of it'. Earlier Mahayana sutras are specific in their belief that a Bodhisattva can only be male but later texts allow the possibily of female bodhisattvas."
-- Damien Keown --
("Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism")
"How," asks best-selling author, Lama Surya Das, "do we apply impeccable intentions to the mundane, dog-eat-dog world that we perceive around us?"
"A real Bodhisattva," he notes, "has pure intentions toward everyone and everything. There is no selfishness, no neurosis, no rough edges and no hidden agendas. This is the ideal we strive to cultivate when we take the Bodhisattva's selfless altruistic vow. This is what we are hoping to achieve as we work on ourselves and set about purifying our intentions."
"Our internal thoughts and intentions ideally could reflect a purity of heart and a sincere sense of interconnectedness with all humanity," Surya Das points out. "Our lives can reflect generosity, tolerance, hope, forgiveness, honesty and commitment. This is true," he notes, "whether we're thinking about the survival of the rain forest, the person in the next room, or the snail struggling across a blacktop driveway."
However, he cautions the would-be post-modern Bodhisattva, "(s)ometimes its easier to feel this high-minded purity of intention toward the world as a whole than it is toward those in your own immediate environment."

[Lama Surya Das, "Awakening the Buddha Within," pages 146-147.]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Below, Lama Surya Das reads the Bodhisattva's vow from his book: "The Mind Is Mightier Than the Sword".

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Home," An Ecological History of Humanity and the Earth

In his best-selling environmental study, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," author Jared Diamond speculates about what went through the mind of the person who chopped down the last tree on Easter Island. One wonders what will go through the mind of the person who ploughs under the last hectare of tropical rainforest on Borneo, harvests the last fish off of Greenland, or burns the last gallon of gasoline in Los Angeles.

In the must-see documentary, "Home," (trailer attached, below) we are given a deep history lesson of life on Earth, our evolution, and the role that we are each now playing in changing the face of the Earth, perhaps irrevocably, And time is running out, we are warned, for us to ameliorate the collective damage we are doing.

An evocative film with spectacular aerial footage, and as poignant in its message as "An Inconvenient Truth," it directly addresses the horrendous impact mankind as a species is having on our shared environment and on each other, citing the following statistics:
  • 20% of the world's population consumes 80% of its resources.
  • The world spends 12 times more on military expenditures than on aid to developing countries.
  • 5,000 people a day die because of dirty drinking water.
  • 1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water.
  • Nearly 1 billion people are going hungry.
  • Over 50% of grain traded around the world is used for animal feed or biofuels.
  • 40% of arable land has suffered long-term damage.
  • Every year, 13 million hectares of forest disappears.
  • One mammal in 4, one bird in 8, and one amphibian in 3 are threatened with extinction.
  • Species are dying out at a rhythm 1,00 times faster than the natural rate.
  • Three quarters of fishing grounds are exhausted, depleted or in dangerous decline.
  • The average temperature of the last 15 years have been the highest ever recorded.
  • The ice cap is 40% thinner than 40 years ago.
  • There may be at least 200 million climate refugees by 2050.
"The costs of our actions are high," we are shown. "Others pay the price without having been actively involved."
"Must we always build walls to break the chain of human solidarity, to separate peoples and protect the happiness of some from the misery of others?"
And yet the message of "Home" is not pessimistic, but hopeful. "It is too late to be a pessimist," we are warned. . . . "(A) single human can knock down every wall. It is too late to be a pessimist. Worldwide, four children out of five attend school. Never has learning been given to so many human beings. Everyone from richest to poorest can make a contribution."

"It is time to come together," we are told. "What is important is not what is gone, but what remains. We still have half the worlds forests, thousands of rivers and lakes, and glaciers, and thousands of thriving species. We know that the solutions are there today. We all have the power to change."

"So what," we are asked, "are we waiting for?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To view the full documentary, click here.