In his new book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Charles Eisenstein makes a wonderful case for what the Engaged Buddhists have been saying for a while – activism that doesn’t begin at a spiritual level has little chance of real, long term success.
This passage lays it out pretty clearly:
Let us ask, “What kind of human being is politically passive, votes from fear and hate, pursues endless material acquisition, and is afraid to contemplate change?” We have all those behaviors written into our dominant worldview and, therefore, into the institutions arising from it. Cut off from nature, cut off from community, financially insecure, alienated from our own bodies, immersed in scarcity, trapped in a tiny, separate self that hungers constantly for its lost beingness, we can do no other than to perpetuate the behavior and systems that cause climate change. Our response to the problem must touch on this fundamental level that we might call spirituality.
It is here where the root of our collective illness lies, of which global warming is but a symptomatic fever. Let us be wary of measures that address only the most proximate cause of that symptom and leave the deeper causes untouched….
He cautions against making any one cause the primary, all-important cause, because it leads to the very control-based thinking – the same ‘war mindset’ – that is part of all our society’s problems. He says that such thinking
…subordinates all the small, local things we need to do to create a more beautiful world to a single cause for which all else must be sacrificed. This is the mentality of war, in which an all-important end trumps any compunctions about the means and justifies any sacrifice. We as a society are addicted to this mindset; thus the War on Terror replaced the Cold War, and if climate change loses popularity as a casus belli, we will surely find something else to replace it— …
[Eisenstein, Charles (2013-11-05). The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible (Sacred Activism) (p. 47). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.]
He describes this dominant worldview as the Story of Separation, the idea that the universe is comprised of a multitude of separate, independently existing entities – that we as humans are separate from each other, separate from all other phenomena, and that we can effect change in any given realm without affecting anything else. As long as we are working within this mindset, within this narrative, everything we do just continues to support things as they are and really will never bring about significant change.
Drawing primarily on the wisdom of ancient cultures allied with the work of modern science – quantum mechanics specifically – Eisenstein comes to the same conclusions as we Buddhists – that we are all and everything intimately and inextricably connected. That nothing we do on any level is without consequence on every level.
On the positive side, this means that everything we are doing to help bring about understanding of the truth of our interconnectedness with all that exists is helping to deal with even the most daunting and dangerous problems in our world. Bringing up our children to understand – truly and deeply understand – that we are all one is helping to end war, poverty and environmental destruction.
Demonstrating that truth in our everyday lives, by being a good neighbor, a kind person, a responsible parent, a fearless defender of truth is true spirituality and our true calling, our true activism.