December 1, 2016
Mississippi River Gorge
waning crescent moon, cloudy, 50 degrees
It is coming up to rohatsu, bodhi day, the annual celebration of Siddhartha Guatama’s enlightenment and his realization of the interconnectedness of all reality and the path to end suffering. In the zen tradition there is a week-long silent meditation retreat that leads up to the day, and often practioners will sit in meditation through the last night.
For many years I sat rohatsu at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center on the shore of Lake Bde Maka Ska, meaning White Earth Lake in Dakota and formerly known as Lake Calhoun. The lake usually iced up at some point during the week. To be in silence daily for an entire week observing the continual shifts of color, texture, movement and emotion was a rare gift in my hyperactive urban life. There was a sense of gentle, non-grasping anticipation in watching a mundane, and yet miraculous, event.
It is clear that this year the lake will not freeze during rohatsu. It takes weeks of temperatures below freezing before the surface becomes solid, and this year we have had very few of those days. One year a trend does not make; nevertheless, it is an ominous sign. The earth and air are warming, driven by an ever exploding population of Homo sapiens and an ever higher standard of living for a growing number of individuals of our species. Added to that are ever advancing technologies that allow for greater population and resource exploitation, e.g., the “green revolution” and hydraulic fracturing.
I sometimes wonder, too, if there is a dark side to alternative energy technologies, like wind and solar, in that they relieve pressure on the growth of population and consumption. Perhaps our faith in them is just another delusion that with the right technology our resources are endless and we can “have it all.”
I am not anti-technology, certainly not against rapid adoption of alternative energy sources. However, we face an extremely complex situation and there are no simple fixes. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of time to make the fixes. We need to proceed calmly and thoughtfully and as if our hair was on fire.
Which is why I will be sitting rohatsu, though not on the shore of Lake Bde Mka Ska.
It may seem counter-intuitive to sit in silent meditation while the world is burning up and species are dropping like flies. But in buddhist texts this burning world is referred to as the saha world, the world of endurance, the world of suffering, and it is considered a great and rare opportunity to be born into it. It is only in this world that we are called upon to address suffering. From a buddhist perspective, that starts with a deep understanding, beyond mere human intellect and conceptualization, of the interconnectedness of all life. That is what the Buddha discovered during his night of meditation.
Like him, we must get up and carry that profound, unshakeable wisdom and understanding into the world with a sacred vow to honor and protect all beings and to end all suffering.