Shantideva was a renowned eighth-century Indian Buddhist monk. His Bodhicaryavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life) is considered one of the greatest texts of the Buddhist tradition. A bodhisattva is one who vows to put others before oneself. “It is a statement of willingness to give up one’s own well-being, even one’s own enlightenment, for the sake of others,” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche explains in Lion’s Roar.
For those whose selfless work to protect the Earth is a manifestation of the bodhisattva path, Shantideva offers four powers that can support those efforts. “The powers of aspiration, steadfastness, delight, and letting go are for the sake of accomplishing the benefit of sentient beings,” he explains in two verses from Bodhicaryavatara. “Out of fear of suffering, one should generate that aspiration as one contemplates its blessings. Uprooting its opposite in this way, one should strive to increase one’s zeal with the powers of aspiration, self-confidence, delight, letting go, dedication, and determination.”
In her blog A Buddhist Year, Anka Hoerster explores this teaching. “Within the teachings on joyous effort and perseverance, the great master Shantideva describes four powers that come to our aid in doing good work:
• A strength that comes from our good aspirations, a certainty in the benefits of our goals and their possibly far-reaching meaning.
• A steadfastness that develops based on recognizing that we are uniquely qualified to pursue our goals – who else will do it if we don’t?
• A delight that comes when we recognize that we are actively moving towards our goals – we are doing it! This joyous energy especially helps if things get challenging.
• And finally, when we happily understand where we’re heading and why, there’s a natural letting go of activities that don’t help us. We don’t have to force ourselves to let go of anything; we naturally feel like staying in the stream of the good energy we’ve been enjoying.”
Everyday folks who have chosen to engage in environmental activism, study, and spiritual practice can easily be pulled into riptides of despair and anxiety. There’s plenty in the news that constantly assaults our sense of well-being and security. “Climate change” is no longer confined to scientific reports. It is now central to the reporting of catastrophic weather events, immigration, economics, diplomacy, human rights, and more. It can not be denied nor ignored anymore.
This weekly blog aims to share the stories of individuals’ choices, of best practices, of adaptive mindsets, of systemic awareness. It’s one initiative of UUCA’s Climate Action Team, which is just one passionate group that’s part of one faith community in one small corner of the globe. So with the magnitude of the climate crisis – the present-day impacts, not just the future predictions – and the head-in-the-sand reaction of so many around us, how can we recharge our tender soul’s batteries?
We can claim strength from our aspiration to serve life and to honor the interdependent web of all existence. It can become our raison d’être, our purpose for being on this planet. Cue the dramatic music because it’s as epic as it sounds.
We can harness the power of our steadfastness, our unshakeability, our perseverance. Many environmental groups now publish “victories and setbacks” features on their websites. The positive news, like the Senate’s bipartisan ratification last month of the Kigali Amendment, a treaty that will phase out the world’s use of hydrofluorocarbons, can be overshadowed by catastrophic news, like this past week’s flooding in Nigeria – attributed to climate change – that killed more than 600 people, destroyed more than 200,000 homes, and displaced 1.3 million people. Our steadfastness helps us to hold both the triumphs and tragedies, all of the complexity.
We can renew our delight with every vegetable harvested from our gardens and every kitchen scrap we compost; from every global solution we learn about from sources like Paul Hawken’s Regeneration; from the messages of inspiring young leaders like Greta Thunberg, Genesis Butler, and Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez; from our evolving choices that prioritize sustainability; and from our sensory experiences of colorful leaves, brisk breezes, roasted root vegetables, and the “quee-ah” of yellow-bellied sapsuckers.
We can celebrate our own transformation as we increasingly refuse, as one Atlanta brewery’s trademark puts it, “to float the mainstream.” We are shifting our thinking, clarifying our values, and living our lives in deeper alignment with what we know is important. We are abandoning mindless, market-driven consumption that falsely convinces us we lack what we need. We acknowledge that everything comes from somewhere and requires both natural resources and human labor. We refuse to forget that everything that’s discarded goes somewhere and impacts ecosystems, air and water quality, and the health of those who live near our waste.
In Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “We need a real awakening, a real enlightenment. New laws and policies are not enough. We need to change our way of thinking and seeing things. This is possible; the truth is that we have not really tried to do it yet. Each of us has to do it for ourselves.”
No more asking, “What can I do?” The answer is already within you, and the resources to help you are everywhere. Accept your responsibility, play your role, and live your values. Own your powers of aspiration, self-confidence, delight, letting go, dedication, and determination. Shantideva knows we can all become bodhisattvas, and that’s what the world needs.
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BOOKS FOR YOU: Expand your knowledge base, read about solutions, deepen your spiritual practice, and challenge your thinking with books from the Climate Action Team’s lending library! Browse the new and classic titles we’re sharing and request a book loan from our members. You can find contact info in the Realm directory. Coordinate an exchange at church, read the book, and return it at a future church service. Easy!
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FUNDS AVAILABLE: The Carbon Offset Fund accepts donations at any time, and we encourage you to consider a gift after you’ve taken a flight or an extended road trip. The fund is now ready to offer grants! Read more here and consider working with another member or church group to prepare a grant request.