April 22, 2011

Good Earth Day

Hello Earth. What can we say to you on a day like today—your day—when the glaciers are melting and the rivers are rising? That we're sorry? We know that you're sick. We know that we've taken advantage of you, that we're responsible for your dangerously high temperatures. Should we apologize to you on your big day? At a moment like this, would it be awkward if we said "Thank you"?

On this Earth Day I'm thinking of something that Kurt Vonnegut wrote towards the end of his life.

The crucified planet Earth, should it find a voice and a sense of irony, might now well say of our abuse of it, “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.”

The irony would be that we know what we are doing.

When the last living thing has died on account of us, how poetic it would be if Earth could say, in a voice floating up perhaps from the floor of the Grand Canyon, “It is done. People did not like it here.”

Oh, Kurt! Oh, humanity! Seriously, this makes me want to cry. But, it should be pointed out, some people do like it here. I think of Katy Butler and her award winning 2005 Tricycle article, "Everything is Holy."

An hour later I round a ridge and the peak of the mountain reveals herself, rising. I remember Mirabai, the sixteenth-century devotional poet who abandoned her aristocratic family and wandered India, singing, “I worship the mountain energy night and day.” The trail switchbacks take me down deeper. An hour after noon, I stop at a flat, thick wooden bench in a grove of old-growth redwoods that the loggers left behind. Here I sit zazen, robed in silence and filtered brown light. The natural world restores my soul. It soothes me like a mother. I rest my head on it and lay my burdens down before it the way some Christians rest their heads on the cross.

I'm thinking also of the countless Buddha-ancestors who have both deeply loved our Mother Earth and/or worked tirelessly on her behalf: Emerson, Thoreau, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy, Gary Snyder. On the Huffington Post today we have David Loy and John Stanley telling us about their EcoBuddhism project and where Buddhism and environmentalism intersect.

The Buddha developed a culture of awakening from self-centered conditioning. But we are living in the midst of social-engineering technologies that persuade us to base our identity on consumption. My consumer-self is dogged by dissatisfaction, so I spend more and more to resolve the conditioned anxiety. And I will resist the truth of ecological crisis because consumption has compelling psychological meaning for me.

If Buddhist meditation is to have comprehensive relevance now, it must be able to cut through such social conditioning. And that must take place in a context that is vastly different from the Indian Bronze Age, when the Buddha first set forth his noble path to awakening.

We should also consider Clark Strand's "Green spirituality," and his exploration of what it might mean to become a "Green Bodhisattva."

What I'm getting at here is that, despite Vonnegut's haunting image, we have reason to be optimistic. Hey Earth, if you're listening, people do like it here. We at Tricycle like it here, and we'd like to take a moment on this Earth Day to say "sorry" and to say "thank you."

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simonemaleschewski's picture

I know people who consume Buddhism in the same way as everything else. I plead with you here to stop, please. Stop buying all the props and materials, and stop flying to retreats all over the planet. You are enough. Give the money to teachers so that they can travel to students! What a good idea.

Alan Shusterman's picture


Thank you for speaking up about this. Many members of my local Buddhist community have eagerly exchanged "mindless Earth-killing" consumerism for "mindful spiritual" consumerism. One coast-to-coast airplane trip can release as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as heating a house for an entire year.

There are many Buddhist teachings on the importance of "now", but if Buddhism is going to address ecological issues, it will need to also address the importance of "here". Unnecessary travel and consumerism are forms of escape and suffering.

Must we make the Earth, our home, suffer too?


Sam Mowe's picture

I with you, Simone. If we all do our best to stay earth conscious, that might be enough. Be well.

william allred's picture

mother, lover, mother grand
mother of all my brothers and sisters
you who fulfill my every need
and offer your benevolence
to satisfy my natural desires
in the womb of my being
and fertile ground of home
of life so plentiful
nurtured and matured
in the garden of your making
we have consumed the placenta
the foundation of our life
as we depart in awe
and gratitude
forget us not
remember us in the
wounds and tears
we left as legacy
we loved you less
than we loved ourselves
our blood and bones
we return to you
for safekeeping
for the next generation
of beings to nurse
at your tender breast
may they be kind
to each other
and to you

timchandler's picture

I surfed my guts out today. Beautiful waves. Great session. Awesome sunset. Then good friends visited this evening. I'm dwelling on the positive in celebration of today. Happy Earth Day = yes. If your day wasn't so good, you can use mine. I'm happy enough for both of us.

Sam Mowe's picture

That sounds perfect, I think I will use your day. Thanks for sharing.

Kyorei's picture

The Kurt Vonnegut passage reminds me of this haunting poem by Lucille Clifton-- let's just hope she was wrong:


we will find ourselves surrounded
by our kind all of them now
wearing the eyes they had
only imagined possible
and they will reproach us
with those eyes
in a language more actual
than speech
asking why we allowed this
to happen asking why
for the love of God
we did this to ourselves
and we will answer
in our feeble voices because
because because

Sam Mowe's picture

Thanks for sharing this, Kyorei.

In spite of these sentiments, I hope that you're able to have a happy and uplifted Earth Day.