What would activism that is informed by dharma (along with all its spiritual, trans-personal or contemplative implications) look like? If as practitioners and teachers of dharma, we were working to support and help grow the “activist” with us, what practices would we offer and engage in?
Here I’m envisioning “sanity” as an holistic framework – a framework to build a unified movement towards justice, equality, health and joy where deep ecology meets strategic activism, deep love and sense of inter-connection with the past, present and future worlds meets our words and collective action, and our emotional, intellectual and spiritual energies converge.
The word ecological points towards the holistic worldview that “celebrates the fundamental inter-connectedness of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, humans are embedded in the cyclical processes of nature and web of life”. The way we relate to the natural world, other species or other human beings are all interlinked and the ‘eco’ paradigm helps us make the shift from ways of living based on hierarchy and control to those based on co-intelligence, co-operation and partnership. Dharma is a Sanskrit/Hindi term often used to refer to the ancient lineage of practices and non-dual teachings of eastern spiritual traditions, including ethics and meditation, which support the unfolding of ever greater levels of wisdom and compassion, alleviating suffering at the deepest level and leading to release from the bondage of individual greed, hatred and ignorance. Thus, “sanity” encompasses the combining of valuable methodologies, frameworks and insights of contemplative traditions, especially Buddhism, with a radical ecological sensibility for the maturation of consciousness, through which we can tear down the veils of individual and institutionalized ignorance that cause us to suffer. This “sanity” will contribute towards the ongoing re-vitalization of the Dharma by keeping it in sync with our times: relevant, courageous and compassionate. “Sanity” also identifies the spiritual traps so many religious traditions are liable to fall into, including a split between the spiritual and the everyday socio-political life, between mind and matter. This “sanity” asks for a radical change in both inner individual consciousness and outer socio-economic structures to address the crises of our time.
The logo above encapsulates the three pillars of sanity. Without harmonious and inter-connected strengthening of these three pillars, a sustained and unified movement towards justice, equality, health and joy that is rooted in spirituality might not be possible. These pillars enable, inspire and empower each other. It is crucial that as individuals, organizations and communities, we explore how we inhabit this triad and which parts of it are we possibly neglecting.
Mindful “healing” and “trauma-resilient” individuals: This pillar clarifies the importance of our inner individual-level work to honor our physical health and to develop our psycho-spiritual clarity and integrity. While modern top-down environmental advocates might pay adequate attention to their physical health, the psychological and spiritual healing might remain neglected. Without this pillar, it is extremely easy to fall into or remain trapped in either egotism and needy self-promotion or bitterness, isolation and anxiety. Without inner work on our own-selves, we can not access trust, contentment and joy in our activism that are possible even in the face of difficult circumstances. This pillar would also include ways to build wealth (both through financial and other forms of capital), especially for young grassroots-level activists. The ability to embrace our emotional landscape under wise guidance of a community of spiritual friends and teachers should also be an integral part of our individual training as movement-builders. A healed individual should also be able to move away from the speed and consumerism – this often happens through embodied work at a specific place in collaboration with natural, renewable and “appropriate” small-scale technologies or practices. Yes, individual level conservation practices will likely not be able to bend the curve of carbon emissions by themselves. And yet, it is spiritually and morally crucial to be mindful about implications of our daily choices on the most vulnerable present and future beings. More crucially, individuals who can move away from speed and consumerism can be more easily attuned to the deeper kind of co-intelligence that emerges from interactions with other humans, plants, animals and the natural world.
Ongoing contemplative practices, especially those built around silent cultivation of deep connection with nature and unconscious layers of mind should be excellent tools to strengthen this pillar. Art, psychotherapy and movement can come to our help as well. At the deepest level, contemplative practices bring us face to face with the “Boundless” which can hold our anxieties,help us see that everyone and everything is co-creating whatever happens and inspire our continuous “outer” work towards a equal, just and free culture while letting go of our expectations. Of course, resilient, mindful and justice-driven individuals don’t exist in isolation: they sprout out of a ground that has been made fertile by a knowledgeable, skillful, wise and compassionate community.
(Please see three pillars mind map to understand this framework more deeply)
Compassionate wise communities or communal “village” life: This pillar empowers individuals in their personal journey and creates much needed energy for collective strategic action. Unless we are part of faith-based groups, in modern times, we usually don’t appreciate importance of communities at all. Even advocates who are working on top-down strategic action sometimes fail to appreciate the importance of this crucial component in their movement building initiatives. Individuals remain engrossed in their high-stress jobs, perhaps a few family or friends in their vicinity and our gadgets that create an illusion of interconnection. The recognition that we are being deeply and subconsciously influenced by values of our wider society’s culture and that we can change our community’s values by patient, loving and skillful inner and outer work is often missing. In addition, our ability to face, express and release our deepest emotions (including both that arise due to individual and collective trauma) are highly dependent on our ability to access a wise and trauma-informed community. Our ecological crisis as well as our socio-economic & political discords and injustices are planetary in their scale: we can not meet them in isolation. Either these problems seem too-big-to-change or we appear to be too-small-to-make-a-difference.
Being in communities which don’t value inner transformation and/or investigation of institutional causes of planetary suffering can provide psychological support to individuals but will not help build movements. We need to invest in development of “sane” communities that model the kind of co-creative, just and equal society we wish to leave behind for future generations of human and all other beings — communities that create collaborative spaces for fostering deeper trust and inter-dependence and for allowing joy without suppressing anger, fear or confusion; And, most of all for energetic action to reformulate our economy, built environment, educational institutes, policing, media in a way that honors our ecosystems and all past, present and future lives.
Strategic collective action: This pillar asks us to study and deeply investigate the external root causes of our societal injustices, distractions and arrogance as well what comes in the way of us reclaiming our collective power. Contemplative practices encourage us to keep up with our inner journey and realize the role that we might play in creating our psychological reality. This pillar, however, asks us to understand and then strategically act to undo the deep-rooted “external” causes of our pain that lie in our global finance, military, media, educational, social and even religious institutions and structures. Unless we collectively understand the institutional sources of our pain, we will not be able to design strategies to make lasting change. Without identification of strategic levels for collective action, our individual level actions might not meet the scale of the problems we face. Of course, we can also remain in a stage where we have deep individual-level intellectual understanding of the planet and its ecological and socio-economic problems but have felt stymied in our ability to act on that understanding because we haven’t connected with a community! Without individual-level inner work that inspires us to meet big problems with a no-problem (or no-thought) “Big Mind” and without loving communities to support our inner and outer work, working with institutional greed, aggression or delusion often causes bitterness and “holier-than-thou” othering.
It is important to remind ourselves that transformations are sustained by people who are fighting for landscapes/people they deeply love. Knowledge of global issues (including climate) is crucial but fighting for global causes can be nebulous, can become ego-strengthening which is opposite of what contemplative traditions teach us. Fighting for our own neighborhoods, local ecosystems or friends can involve a sincerity and humility that global fights might not.
Thus, this logo presents a framework to think about the relative roles of both sacred healing of individuals and the secular collective activism. Put another way, a wise community (or a group of synergistic communities) can hold and integrate both the “feminine” (self-care, individual level healing) and the “masculine” (study of strategic levers, policies) elements necessary for movement building.
We invite you to consider how you or your community inhabit these three pillars of sanity. Depending on our backgrounds and personality, building or sustaining each of these pillars can take hard work. Some of us might strive to specifically add a commitment to pay kind attention to our health and/or attend long contemplative retreats/workshops that will help align our consciousness with our intellectual vision(s). Some of might need to look for communities that will help loosen the grip of consumerism on our minds. Some of us might already have access to wise communities but might need to identify how to focus our intentions on one necessary local/regional task. Regardless of areas in our or our community’s life that require work, we need to start today because the well being of both our present and future human and non-human fellow-beings depends on it.
— By Kritee (Kanko), originally written in 2016, Updated in 2020. This article was originally called “Three pillars of Ecodharma”. This ongoing work on three pillars of sanity is informed and inspired by decades of work of members of YTBN network, BLM movement, Joanna Macy, Bernie Glassman, David Loy, my root teacher Kurt Spellmeyer, many social and financial permaculture experts and countless being whose teachings I receive in myriad conscious and unconscious ways.