10 Nov 2005
A Buddhist Perspective
I have long admired Ken Jones, the Buddhist writer who has written a great deal about the concept of socially engaged Buddhism. Ken lives in Wales and has written widely on the subject and is one of the founders of the Network of Engaged Buddhists. His insights on activism and social change are of great relevance to those of us designing methods for engaging communties in energy descent work.
Fifteen years ago I lived in a Tibetan Buddhist community in Italy, where I grew fascinated by the depth of wisdom and insight in the tradition, but weary of the disconnection between theory and practice among some of the Western practitioners when it came to environmental issues. There we were discussing mindfulness practice while at the same time buying all our food from the supermarket and filling the dustbins with compostable waste (things have improved a bit since then…).
It was around this time that I came across an article that Ken had written on socially engaged Buddhism and ‘walking the talk’ with regard to environmental issues. It had a profound effect on me, putting clearly what I had been thinking but not quite managed to articulate yet. You can read some of Ken’s articles here and his latest book, The New Social Face of Buddhism – a call to action is available here.
I spoke to Ken recently about how he thought his ideas related to Energy Descent Action Planning work. We had a very interesting discussion. He said that for him, the way environmental groups approach communities needs rethinking. He said we have to give people the space to share their thoughts and feelings about things, rather than always trying to win them over to our cause. He said that for him the key thing was to change the climate of opinion, rather than win the argument. If you try and just win the argument you will get frustrated, burn out, become disillusioned, whereas if you change the climate you also win the argument. He said that there is so much fear and emotional stuff around the whole peak oil/climate change issue that it is essential to build trust rather than fear. In his article “An Activist’s Tool Box’, he writes “the origins of the greed and aggressiveness in the world can be traced back, in the final analysis, to insecurity and fear, in both individuals and in whole cultures and societies, which may feel threatened and exploited, and lash out in rage and frustration.”
In this sense, to run into a community screaming that everything is about to collapse and that peak oil means the end of the world as we know it, a la Kunstler or Savinar, is counter productive, as it feeds into the fear and isolation that either manifests as the lashing out that Ken refers to, or to the more pervasive response of apathy. He used a term a friend of his had coined, “the fetishism of results”, meaning that as activists for social change we become addicted to results, whereas from a Buddhist perspective of non-attachment we should live without any attachment to them, working to, as I already mentioned, change the climate. I would strongly recommend Ken’s articles and books, his thinking is highly relevant. What he calls a ‘Bodhisattva Road Map to the Future’ offers much that is of use to Energy Descent Action Planning work, seeing this work as being a service to others.