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."

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