How can we cultivate our awareness of the reality of the world we live in?
So often people say, "What shall we do?" "Give me a solution." They
want to have a solution before they look at the problem. In America
President Johnson, when he was in office in the White House during the
Vietnam War, is known to have said to his staff, "Do not bring me a
problem unless you bring me the solution." And for many of us--and
certainly in my country today--that is what we want. In systems-theory
terms he was closing himself to the feedback loop, or to actuality. And
that is happening, of course, in many political governing circles
today, even if this is an uncomfortable truth.
We do not want the discomfort of looking at the problem. We want a
ready-made solution. That attitude turns our attention away from the
world. We cannot see what is going on in a period where suffering is
accelerating: ecosystems are being disrupted, there is climate change,
there are huge gaps between the rich and the poor, more and more of our
resources are going to the military, and there is the loss of our
resources and the extinction of species on every side. There are things
that are hard to see. And many of us want to look away so that we will
not have to feel sorrow, so that we will not have to feel fear. We want
to protect ourselves from a broken heart. And so we close down, we
divert ourselves; we turn to entertainments or distractions, consuming,
or drugging our mind. Or we become very passive and try to persuade
ourselves that we do not care very much or that the experts will take
care of it.
How do we cultivate true awareness? To practice, see the power of
mind. At the beginning of my workshops I say to people, "Tell me what
you love about life." You love the sunrise, you love the sound of the
waves of the ocean, you love the wind in the trees or in your face. Our
bodies and our senses can help us to pay attention, and if we can
awaken our love for life, then it helps us pay attention to the
beloved. This world is like our beloved one, and we can look. We do not
turn away from our beloved because our loved one is sick; or if our
loved one has a disease, we do not walk out and leave. To cultivate
awareness, we must get in touch with the love of our heart for this
world and also the love of our body. So, paying attention to the
breath, paying attention to the rhythm of our heartbeat, all of these
bring us into touch with what is going on in the moment.
The greatest gift that we can give to the world and our fellow
beings is our attention--our full attentive presence, because as humans
we have the capacity to choose. It is precisely that capacity to change
karma that we need to be aware of right now, because the social
systems, political systems, and ecological systems are becoming
unstable; and when systems are unstable, they can change very quickly,
and you need particular attention then so that you can intervene with
your choices as a citizen, as a healer/teacher in any profession, as a
consumer, as a reflective mind, and as an activist.
We have the choice not to turn away from the world. I find that the
Buddha Dharma helps us with the teachings of the first Noble Truth.
There is suffering. Do not pretend there is not. And it is also helpful
to learn to watch what your mind is doing, how you are trying to turn
away. When I teach my classes and graduate school seminars on the
planetary crisis, I assign the students insight meditation practice, or
vipassana. They do not need to believe in Buddhism, they do not
need to adopt any belief system, but they learn a discipline of paying
attention to what is in front of them. So I like to say to them, "This
is the greatest gift you can give your world. Do not pretend to have
the answers yet. The answers are groping in your hands, but you have
the opportunity and the courage to see what is going on."
Have you been sharing ideas about how to transform the
present, closed industrial society into a more life-sustaining
This shift, or what we call "the Great Turning," to a
life-sustaining society begins with a sense of what our relationship is
to each other and to the living earth. And I say "the living earth"
because the great paradigm shift in our time is bringing us back to a
realization that this world is alive.
In Japanese culture from the beginning, before Buddhism, there was
always a sense of the presence of this living world. And that is
reinforced by the central teaching of the Lord Buddha. Well, that is
also central to this healing shift to a life-sustaining society. Let us
see and engage in the new forms that are arising for active community
development. Some of them are ancient, and some of them are new, and
all bring us solidarity. That is necessary because we are facing a dark
time. Economic and social systems are unraveling, coming apart. We
cannot survive if we do not hold on to each other. Social and
environmental activism gives us new ways for experiencing our
solidarity, our mutual belonging in the web of life.
How do the Buddha's teachings apply to global healing?
The knowledge of our interconnectedness helps us to see the effects
of every action--how we preserve our water, what we do with our trash,
how we raise our children. All of those aspects reflect on each other,
showing us that we are living in a web of relationships and that if we
act with a clear intention for the healing of the whole, that has
results far beyond our separate and individual capacities. We cannot
see the results, so we just trust--we know we belong to each other.
That gives us strength to act, to speak the truth about present
conditions. Even small actions like writing a letter can affect the
Another of the Lord Buddha's teachings, of course, is
self-restraint. Refraining from overconsumption fits well with
traditional values of frugality. You know, people take pride in using
things and keeping them. People can have a new relationship with their
belongings as they care for them, mend them, and develop an affection
for them instead of just throwing them away.
Then, I find the Buddha Dharma gives us the courage, the strength,
to be with what is. The practice of meditation helps us train in that;
particularly, the mindfulness and insight practice of the Theravada
tradition schools us to just be present, and we do not have to like
something in order to be present to it. So that is very helpful.
Then there are methods like the Brahmaviharas, or the Four
Immeasurables. I use them and guide people in all of my workshops, so
that they can learn to see each other without fear and competitiveness.
Metta [loving-kindness], karuna [compassion], mudita [rejoicing in others' joy], and upekkha [equanimity] are magical in terms of their immediate effectiveness in transforming relationships and worldviews.
You see, all you need to do is remember, and so we practice in the
workshops. We call them "Learning to See Each Other." We learn to see
each other without fear by practicing loving-kindness. We learn to keep
our hearts open to the suffering of the world through the practice of
The third immeasurable, mudita, helps people overcome
competitiveness and envy and divisiveness. It helps people take
pleasure in other people's accomplishments. This is a truly wonderful
spiritual treasure, a psychological release, and then, of course, upekkha--equanimity.
I share these practices with people irrespective of their own
traditions. You do not need to be Buddhist to use them.
Some say that nuclear power is more effective and cleaner for
sustaining people's daily life. But you have mentioned somewhere that
going nuclear is not effective and is more expensive.
Well, it is a delusion to say that nuclear power is clean, and it is
a delusion to think of it as economical. It is a big money-maker for
the corporations that have decided to provide it. Unfortunately, they
have been able to block information about the immense suffering caused
by nuclear power stations. I continue to work with people who have
suffered from nuclear accidents, particularly at Chernobyl, but that
was not the only one; there are accidents very frequently elsewhere.
The safe decommissioning of nuclear power plants is, like nuclear
waste, an unsolved problem.
So that is an area that I continue to feel very passionate about,
and my interest and concern about nuclear power and nuclear
weapons--because they are inseparable--has been a great gift for me. It
has opened my heart and mind to future generations, the scores of
thousands of generations who will be crippled and stunted by the
poisons that we leave behind. And while this breaks my heart, it has
also stretched my heart and mind so that I now do quite a bit of active
work in the workshops to help people feel a living connection with the
beings of the future, to speak for them. And to feel the presence of
the beings of the future is actually one of the gifts of this moment in
time. Because our karma, which is the consequence of our actions,
extends into a geological time-frame, the choices we make now will
affect people for a long time. So we are given the responsibility, but
it also gives us a sense of--yes, a moral power and moral imagination
to feel the presence of the health and well-being of the future
generations with us now.