It seems that wherever we turn, we are confronted by a world in disintegration, with little rationality or compassion. Human rights are at the bottom of most countries agendas. At the end of 2020, The Top 10 Human Rights Abusers, according to the UN Watch List, are China at number one, followed by Iran, Cameroon, Venezuela, Saudia Arabia, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Turkey, North Korea and Russia. Very few countries get a clean bill of health!
Evolving into selfless, loving and compassionate beings is not the only challenge humanity faces. In 1812 there were 1 billion people on the planet; in 1912, it was 1.5 billion, and just over 100 years later, we are heading quickly towards 8 billion. It is not simply the human world that is in trouble; the planet is in danger too. We have in our power the destruction of all civilization, including the Earth.
So a change has to come, not just to the political & economic system; these are an absolute necessity, but a shift in the mindset of humanity. The retrieval of the ancient wisdom of the Buddha is not a question of relevance anymore; it’s a question of human survival.
Through all the news footage and social media posts, I find myself asking what I need to do to ensure my children and future generations have a life here on planet Earth. As a child, I grew up in a dairy and beef farming community, enjoying holidays fishing off the Cornish Coast while being reared on the results of fresh milk, meat, and fish. Last week, I was shocked to discover that producing 1 gallon of milk takes approximately 1000 gallons of water, and a 1 Ib beef steak requires 2000 gallons of water to produce. At first, the figures seemed excessive, and as always, there is much-opposing data out there on the web. But probing further, they take in the whole life cycle, including rainfall, to grow the fodder eaten. I also came across a recent 4-year study of sea life suggesting that through overfishing, the oceans will be empty by 2048. Scary stuff!
Some see the way out as ignorance. Let’s pretend it isn’t happening and make the most of the resources left, whereas others believe that we can resolve the crisis that we face as humankind. Human beings have overcome adversity many times before. Yet, we as humans only began to develop into what we were today 12,000 years ago; we have come nowhere close to solving our afflictions during this time. We want more, and we want bigger and better. We want to fulfill our insatiable inner desires, and as we witness, it affects our personal and professional lives, the realms of international business and politics. Global conflict and warfare are rife, and the destruction of our environment results from our corporate and political greed.
Zen Buddhism identifies greed, hatred and delusion as Three Poisons, for which the Sanskrit translation is the Three Unwholesome Roots. I like the root analogy as we all have these character flaws, and for me, without a doubt, they are the root of suffering and pain.
Greed refers to our selfishness, attachment, and grasping for happiness outside of ourselves. Hatred reflects our anger, aversion and repulsion towards what we perceive as unpleasant circumstances and uncomfortable feelings. Delusion points us towards our bewilderment with the world and wrong views of reality. These three poisons manifest into nonmoral and inept thoughts, speech, and actions, causing much suffering and unhappiness for ourselves and others. The three are deeply embedded in the conditioning of our personalities, and our behaviour is habitually influenced and tainted by these unwholesome roots buried deep into our bodies.
The work of transformation is not a swift process, even though we may demand quick results. This work requires what I call the 4P’s, i.e. the daily Practice of turning up on the mat, Patience to witness our habitual unwinding, Persistence to overcome obstacles on the path, and the Perseverance to pass what we perceive as the end. We also need to throw in a bit of deep compassion for ourselves and others—the aim to liberate ourselves from obscuring the clarity, joy and radiance of our natural enlightenment.
This transformation is the work of the Zen Leader and begins with the challenge of calming the mind and seeing deeply into ourselves. In other words, to eliminate greed, hatred, and delusion, we must first learn to recognize them as they appear. Through zazen and hara breathing, we discern how these deep-seated characteristics influence our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions. This awareness, this seeing deeply into ourselves, is the beginning of our ability to transform not only ourselves but the world in which we live.