We all live in a creation, no matter how we view its origins. The world we live in is a creation, whether by the hand of God or planetary and biological evolution, or any other vision. As modern humans we find ourselves in an extraordinary relationship to that creation, which we do not share with other life in the creation. We have a god-like power to re-create the world.
We live in two creations. In the root natural one we live as biological beings equal under natural law to all other life forms. In the other we are agents of a peculiarly human world of cities, roads, agriculture, industry, pollution, resource utilisation and a host of other activities that no other species in the root creation can share.
As the human creation has evolved it has come more and more into conflict with the root creation. The most recent conflict is the issue of climate change. The current mainstream perspective around climate change is that we are facing an environmental crisis of our own making due to our initially blind and headlong pursuit of industrialisation fuelled by coal and oil. We are no longer excusably blind, as perhaps 19th-century industrialists were in their love of coal-driven machinery, transport and energy generation. We are more aware of the consequences of our actions. The reality of those consequences now challenges our continued pursuit of the way that we live. There is a greater need than ever before for humans to look after the creation.
There is no scope in this article to look at all the ways in which we face serious problems related to climate change, pollution, over-population and so forth. The core problem is that there is a need for change. Change is needed in the way that we create the world of the future. I will limit this article to what helps us to meet the problem of the need for change.
What does Buddhism have to offer to this? Core to Buddhism is faith in a positive vision of humanity, something of beauty that we can look towards. In general, and more immediate for us all, that would be a vision of how we might individually act to create a more positive world. Collectively that translates as a mutual striving for the ultimate benefit of all life. Together we can collectively rise to the challenge of climate change and other pressing problems of the world today.
To this end, Buddhism offers ways to become more mindfully aware and more open-heartedly kind. These qualities help in dealing with the emotional challenges, such as anxiety and grief, that may rise up to meet us when we look honestly at the nature of our current predicament. Apocalyptic fear and denial of the problem will not get us anywhere.
Realistic appraisal of the situation and positive emotion will together fuel the creative solution-finding that is needed.
Realistic appraisal: Collectively, as societies and as nations, we will have to face some traumatic consequences of our humanity’s past and current actions. From 1970 to 2014 we lost 60 per cent of wildlife, species that quietly disappeared and we probably didn’t notice from the artificial city worlds in which we live. Many more serious predictions of degradation of the creation are predicted by science, listened to by insurance companies, and denied by populist politicians.
We can deal with our inner reaction to such truths when supported by faith. It may be faith in science, faith in religion, faith in humanity – it matters little where it comes from. Faith in this sense is the confidence and trust that we can put in ourself and others and is supported by mindful awareness and emotional positivity mentioned earlier. Faith in this sense supports creative and sustained action in facing the known problem. Faith by its own nature must act!
We will all personally face the challenge of the need for changes to our lifestyle and expectations. Buddhist practice promotes personal development of qualities of clear awareness and love. They can be the guiding stars that support a vision of strategies for a better future. Here’s where faith comes in: If the lifestyle changes are only seen as an austerity then our broader strategies may not succeed because we cannot love austerity for its own sake.
We will surely be successful if we love the changes that we embrace, because we clearly see and deeply love the outcome: the wellbeing of the creation.