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”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Me, I Am No Savior

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” —ibid.

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be Superman. There are photos of me, maybe three years old: I am wearing a red cape and tights, and the “S” is on my chest. It is a serious business, saving the world: my fiercely determined eyebrows declare it, as do my yellow moon boots. 

Of course, I was too small to actually rescue anyone. My parents told me that I used to cry about this, about how I wanted to save the world but that there was no way to do it. 

It remains this way today.

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Becoming an Ecosattva

When it comes to ecodharma, David Loy wrote the book. (It’s called Ecodharma.) A professor of Buddhist philosophy and a Buddhist teacher in the Sanbo Zen tradition, Loy has been writing and speaking about ecological issues and socially engaged Buddhism for more than three decades.

In 2017, Loy with Insight teacher Johann Robbins and others co-founded the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC) in Boulder County, Colorado. They have since been hosting ecodharma retreats, aimed at reconnecting Buddhists with nature and grounding ecological action in spiritual practice. In the last few years, the ecological crisis has significantly worsened—as wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters occur with increasing frequency and severity. As a result, ecological issues have received more mainstream attention, and, Loy says, interest in ecodharma has grown, too. 

Tricycle recently spoke with Loy about the state of Buddhism and environmentalism and what goes into an ecodharma retreat.

What role have Buddhists played in the environmentalism movement throughout the years?
Buddhism generally, and perhaps Zen in particular, has a built-in sensitivity to nature. But Buddhism has been fairly slow in actually responding to the ecological crisis, despite the concerns of early Western Buddhist pioneers such as Gary Snyder and Joanna Macy. I think that the Buddha, in a number of ways, was more progressive than the institution that developed after he died. Buddhism has survived and thrived because it focused on personal transformation, individual awakening. Asian Buddhism wasn’t much engaged in political or social issues, at least compared with Abrahamic religions, which have a prophetic dimension that introduced concern for social justice very early on. Of course, back in the mid-seventies, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship [a non-sectarian network of Buddhist activists] was formed. But that group has been concerned with a lot of issues, and environmentalism is only one of them. 

What do you think is different now? I notice that the more frequent wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters seem to be making the threat more immediate.
Yes, events like the fires and hurricanes are finally beginning to bring it all home, and of course things are just going to get worse. I cannot see a future in which ecodharma doesn’t become more important. And, even as the ecological crisis is the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced, it’s also the greatest challenge that Buddhism has ever faced. Buddhism developed, evolved, and spread by interacting with new cultures, and just as Buddhism in China interacted with Taoism to make Chan, it may be that Buddhism in our globalized, secular, consumerist world is going to interact with Extinction Rebellion (XR) or similar movements to create something new. Will the bodhisattva become the ecosattva? It’s a pretty exciting time to be a Buddhist.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Buddhists Call for ‘Moral Leadership’ from Senate on Impeachment

Buddhist leaders urge the US Senate to fairly assess impeachment evidence, two scholars create a database of Jataka tales, and Tibetan Nyingma master Garje Khamtrul Rinpoche dies. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Karen JensenJan 18, 2020

Clerk of the US House of Representatives Cheryl L. Johnson (2nd, R) and appointed impeachment managers carry the two impeachment articles from the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate on Jan. 15. | Ting Shen/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week. 

Buddhist Leaders Urge Senate to Hold Fair Impeachment Trial

Buddhist leaders asked the Senate to hold a fair and complete impeachment trial for President Donald Trump in a letter sent to all sitting US senators this week. At least 149 Buddhist teachers, scholars, authors, and practitioners, including Roshi Joan Jiko Halifax, Professor Robert Thurman, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ven. Thubten Chodron, Rev. angel Kyodo williams, David Loy, and Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, have signed the letter, which urges senators to “provide moral leadership” and “assess the evidence . . . without prejudice or partisanship” during the critical impeachment hearings. “If each of you pauses, breathes, and takes some moments to honestly look into your heart and conscience, we hope you will recognize that the current president is not capable of providing moral leadership or acting in a manner consistent with ethical conduct or truth,” the letter reads. “Since he cannot, you must.”

Read the full letter here.

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Pema Chödrön Steps Down as Senior Teacher at Shambhala

The American Buddhist nun and bestselling author Pema Chödrön has stepped down as an acharya (senior teacher) at Shambhala International in response to the group’s handling of the allegations of sexual abuse against Shambhala lineage holder Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Pema Chödrön, who had remained a part of the organization after the Sakyong stepped away from teaching and administrative duties, decided to resign after the Sakyong announced that he would resume teaching and a transitional board of directors invited him to lead an upcoming event in France. 

In her letter to the board, released publicly on January 14, 2020, Pema Chödrön wrote, “I have decided to step down as an acharya.  As you know, I haven’t actually served as an acharya for a long time, and I have been considering retiring for a few years.  And now, the time has come.”

She said she was “disheartened” at the Sakyong’s decision to start teaching again:

I experienced this news as such a disconnect from all that’s occurred in the last year and half. It feels unkind, unskillful, and unwise for the Sakyong to just go forward as if nothing had happened without relating compassionately to all of those who have been hurt and without doing some deep inner work on himself.

Then came the letter from the Board informing the Shambhala community that they have invited the Sakyong to give the Rigden Abhisheka [an initiation ceremony] in June, and I was dumbfounded. The seemingly very clear message that we are returning to business as usual distresses me deeply. How can we return to business as usual when there is no path forward for the vast majority of the community who are devoted to the vision of Shambhala and are yearning for accountability, a fresh start, and some guidance on how to proceed?  I find it discouraging that the bravery of those who had the courage to speak out does not seem to be affecting more significant change in the path forward.

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“My Consciousness Can Now Prepare for Death”

Once a month, Tricycle features an article from Inquiring Mind, a Buddhist journal that was in print from 1984–2015 and now has a growing number of back issues archived at inquiringmind.com. To remember the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, who died last month at the age of 88, we are reprinting Inquiring Mind co-founder Wes Nisker’s interview with Ram Dass after he suffered a stroked in 1997. The article first appeared in the Fall 2000 “Impermanence” issue as “Interview with Ram Dass: A Stroke of Luck.” Be sure to check out related articles in the archive, such as Joseph Goldstein and Robert Thurman’s explorations of impermanence and scriptural quotations on impermanence, translated from their original Pali by Buddhist scholar Andrew Olendzki. If you feel so inclined, consider making a donation to help Inquiring Mind continue adding articles to its archive!

When he is not out promoting his new book, Still Here (Riverhead, 2000), or appearing at conferences and benefits, Ram Dass can usually be found at home these days. He lives in a modest house in Tiburon, California, where he likes to sit in a big overstuffed armchair and look out a picture window over the waters of the San Francisco Bay and nearby Marin County hills. He and Inquiring Mind editor Wes Nisker recently met there for a conversation.

Ram Dass (RD): I love my little cabin here overlooking the bay. I’ve always taken vacations near water, so it feels a little like I’m on vacation here. You can hear the cars passing on the road, which runs right beyond these bushes, but you can’t see the road. You look out at the bay, which is so calm, and then you hear the road, which is a river of mechanized humanity. So from my home, I can hear the river of humanity. And then at night, I see their lights across the water in Sausalito. It’s like being on vacation here.

Wes Nisker (WN): Does it seem as though your stroke helped to put you in vacation mode?

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