This is the world that I live in:
• Port of Vancouver workers were recently on strike, worried that AI will take their jobs.
• Soldiers in Niger have seized power, forging the final link in the chain of Sahel countries where democracy and civil society have died.
• Barbenheimer is the buzz of popular media chatter.
• A 21-year-old from small-town Ontario has become TikTok’s most successful influencer, with 40 million followers. He’s so rich that his LA house rent is US$21,000+ per month. I can’t even imagine. It’s a head-scratcher.
• Greta Thunberg has been arrested again; the surface temperature of the ocean off Florida recently reached more than 37.8ºC; and tourists are fleeing as the Greek Island of Rhodes is burning up.
Insert the sound of a record needle skipping out of the groove with a screech.
Tourists? WTF. Why anybody is traveling anywhere on cruises, by aircraft, or ocean liner is beyond me. That’s a real head-scratcher. Ditto for my friends who own vacation homes and boats, or who travel to other continents “to see that art exhibition in Amsterdam,” and so on. When I talk to colleagues and see pictures of acquaintances in far-off enclaves of interesting and dedicated individuals, in person, I wonder why they couldn’t have achieved the same vibe online and deeply embedded in their own local communities? I haven’t figured that one out yet either.
• US citizens are flocking to southern cities with high climate-emergency risks—places where major insurance companies will no longer insure homes. Huh? That’s pretty counter-intuitive. What are they thinking they will do when the water runs out in Phoenix or Houston? etc., or when the floods come faster and fiercer every year?
• Governments? I find myself frequently appalled but decreasingly surprised each time I listen to the news. Add every other national government and many regional governments to mine in terms of ineptitude or dissimulation. The systemic failure to rise to the challenges of our time, indeed to muster anything but the energy to kick the can down the road, has been staggeringly deep.
• News reports of thousands of communications satellites around the planet providing internet services all under the control of not just one company, but one person: Elon Musk, an idiosyncratic but wildly successful individual, at least in business terms. The geopolitical implications are staggering. I won’t be around for all that long to see how it all turns out.
• I remember learning in kindergarten to leave a place better than you found it. I think that about a gazillion Buddhist books that I’ve read say the same thing. It’s amazing to think how many people don’t get that, until I realize that they don’t even care about my opinion.
• I live in a different kind of enclave. The walls are my own disinterest in samsara. I can do without the stories of how the stadium shook when Taylor Swift sang “Shake It Off” to her assembled tribespeople and followers. Ditto for stories about sports. Am I just an old coot ranting in his basement? Do I really want to know baseball statistics, pro-league finances, or how so-and-so did such-and-such and then is given the opportunity to opine with profundity on some aspect of the game or event. But I am subjected to them—and automobile advertisements—without end.
All of this craziness makes me weary. It’s a phase of life with a degree of undecipherability I have never encountered before. It wasn’t part of my lived experience growing up and into adulthood, and although I was able to cognitively juggle the concepts, I didn’t feel it viscerally. We used to worry about the folks affected by climate change . . . now those folks are us. We’ve had three tornados and a derecho here in our little locale in the past few years. I tread lightly and live with just trying to keep the plants in my yard alive. Now it’s visceral and I’m constantly aware of the need for a new civilizational narrative.
Each day, I’ve taken to reading a bit of a manual on the generation stage of the particular Tibetan tantra that speaks to me. It’s a book of 742 pages. I read a page or two out loud while my computer warms up each morning. I’m coming up on page 328. By the time you read this, I may have hit 350. There’s no rush. I suppose I’ll switch over to the completion stage on my deathbed, whether or not I like it. Meanwhile, I’m looking at osteoporosis and the beginnings of a dodgy heart, in addition to all of life’s other little indignities. New territory without a map. A head-scratcher.
• Major ocean currents are set to collapse by 2025, we are told. Oceans will probably be fished-out not long after, if not dead from ecosystem collapse as reefs die around the world or due to radioactive water being released from the corpse of Fukushima. Gulfstream collapse is to follow. The pavement is so hot you can get second-degree burns.
• Drought leaves millions in Uruguay without tap water fit for drinking.
• The Alberta premier commits to pumping more oil and gas, converting methane to hydrogen and burying the CO2, and going all in on LNG, saying that’s what we need to get to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.
If that doesn’t give you cognitive-dissonance whiplash, you are not like me. I suppose keeping Bernie Glassman Roshi’s tenets in mind is helpful: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, Taking Action.
I guess there is no certainty that mountains will once again be mountains. I’ll be left scratching my head for the rest of the journey. Heaven only knows what the bardo holds. Most of my dreams are of going someplace and encountering obstacles. I invariably wake up before reaching my destination. There are so many signs in the dreams that should tip me off that I’m dreaming, but I never rise to lucidity.
The Bodhisattva Vow inspires us to save all beings. But it would appear that folks aren’t just suffering, but most are also pretty much uninterested in what’s on offer from those bodhisattvas. It’s like the parable of the burning house in the Lotus Sutra.
It’s rare to encounter the Dharma, rarer still to encounter a qualified teacher, and even more rare to enter into serious practice, I’ve been told. Publishing Buddhist books is rather like scattering terma for folks to discover in years to come. The difference is that these treasures are open secrets, just lying around. About as valuable as Nansen’s dead cat in the age of TikTok.
Related features from BDG
A Future We Can Love: Susan Bauer-Wu Offers a Buddhist Perspective on the Climate Crisis
Exploring the Big Dilemmas in Susan Bauer-Wu’s A Future We Can Love
Things Are Awful, Things Are Getting Worse
The Future Is Canceled Until Further Notice
Green Shoots of Hope – Youth Climate Leaders in Asia and Africa
Pain, Purpose, and Parenting: Greta Thunberg and Joanna Macy on Personal Crises and Societal Solutions
Living a Life without Purpose