Meditation, Suffering, Aggression, and Taking Social-Environmental Action

Posted on August 31, 2013 by Jeff Bloom

I don’t want to diminish the critical importance of meditation experiences, insights, and realizations. From a Buddhist point of view (but any tradition with a contemplative practice), meditation is absolutely necessary, if we are to have any hope of taking any kind of compassionate or skillful action. However, I worry that we all can get caught up in our own (meditative and other) experiences and that we only practice compassion on the cushion. I’m quite guilty of that myself.

For the first time in the history of humanity, we face, at least during the lifetimes of our children and most certainly our grandchildren, massive global environmental, social, and population collapse. When hundreds of millions of people are dying monthly and suffering is beyond comprehension, I feel like I need to be reminded continuously of the immensity of suffering now, so that maybe I can take actions that may contribute to the survival of humanity in the future.

I started and help run a small meditation group here, but in my mind this is not enough. I have to help with the larger issues in whatever ways I can, at multiple levels of scale. If I don’t get my hands dirty helping in as many as possible small ways to create possibilities for human survival (including my own kids), I don’t really see the point in just staying in my small comfortably uncomfortable world. How can I die (hopefully sometime in the relatively distant future) knowing I haven’t tried to help with the big problems? What’s the point of practicing the Dharma, when no one will be alive to practice in the future?

Maybe I’m wrong, but constantly taking in the aggression and suffering of others helps keep me “honest.” There seems to be no shortage of aggression and suffering in what was once a friendly, laid-back college/tourist town (Flagstaff, AZ) in the mountains, not to mention the exponential increases globally. Part of this very basic level of suffering is being perpetuated by things we can change in fundamental ways. As Trungpa Rinpoche, suggested, one can’t practice the Dharma (or try to live with any joyfulness) if one is starving or struggling for survival. And, it’s at this level of fundamental survival that is going to increase and spread. We’re already peak everything (food, fertile soil, water, oil, you-name-it). How can I ignore this? And, how can I help? Maybe I’ve been inspired by the early years of Greenpeace. One book accompanied all of their early missions…Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. And, all of their missions had protection cords and blessing from His Holiness the Karmapa. They pursued actions, but constantly tried to keep ego in check.

Now in my old age, I feel like I’ve blown many opportunities to help. Now, I’m trying to do what I can. But, it’s a tight-rope, where balance can be lost. It’s a path riddled, as Gregory Bateson would have said, with double binds (of seemingly no-win situations, Catch-22’s, etc.). But, I see no alternative to just jumping in. I’m too old to wait.


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