Peace is a stress-free state of security and calmness that comes when there’s no fighting or war, everything coexisting in perfect harmony and freedom. . . . When you feel at peace with yourself, you are content to be the person you are, flaws and everything. (Vocabulary.com)
During these first weeks of the new year and its continuing rollercoaster ride of global stressors, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has continued live-streaming from his residence in Dharamsala. Virtual teachings and conversations that permit tens of thousands of people from around the world to attend in real time. In these recent talks, His Holiness has covered the purpose of life, the Heart Sutra, and a conversation with Greta Thunberg. The latter was regarding the environment, climate feedback loops, and the hope that the world is being left in safer hands than those of previous generations.
The climate crisis was also the focus of a recent symposium hosted by Sakyadhita Spain. The guest speakers answered questions about what Buddhists can do, practically, to make a difference. To many of us, the suggestions may seem obvious; indeed, many of us may have been living in these practical ways for most of our lives. Here in the West, the counterculture revolution of the 1960s was possibly the most apparent surge of awareness of our impact on the planet, each other, and ourselves. And yet, for all the flowers in our hair and intimate communes with nature promising better things to come, here we are 60 years on. The unstoppable march of greed and insecurity has flattened so much in its path toward earthly dominance, and the private sanctum of moonlit skinny-dipping has given way to the self-selling of soft porn on social media.
But for some, the seedlings of the Western awakening of the 1960s continues to grow. Quietly, underground, maybe, but extending growing roots like tendrils, reaching out and connecting with other roots. And the seeds have been pushing upward through the earth and into the light. For some, the earth has been rich and fertile, for others it has been hard-baked and arid, but still, the swell of new life has kept growing.
In the face of the storms raging around the world, the West is experiencing an amuse-bouche compared with the long suffering of other countries. And coupled with COVID-19-related isolation, many are experiencing emotional crises. At times, it’s easy to fall into dark despair for humanity; for many of us to weep at the pain and suffering, the anger, and fractured relationships with those things that truly matter. After millennia of cruelty in the name of greed and of religion, it is easy for despondency to creep in; to feel isolated from hope.
So it is rare indeed for a religious leader to advocate a secular approach to peace and life in general—and one that celebrates quantum mechanics and neurology as enthusiastically as the Dalai Lama. A quantum world entangled with that of our fantastical brain, and how this cranial meat can be trained and tweaked to do the extraordinary.
My own voyage of academic discovery into this wondrous world started about 15 years ago, lighting me up like a firecracker. Since then, the upsurge of accessible information has been quite remarkable. His Holiness stands unique as a religious leader in his continued dialogue with research leaders and advocacy for scientific experiments over blind faith. And it would seem that the wisdom teachings of old have simply been re-languaged by the scientists of today, and they both fundamentally agree: nothing exists as it appears. So say quantum physicists, so say the Prajnaparamita Sutras.
The Dalai Lama is also unusual in his continued promulgation beyond any religious dogma of ahimsa (Skt. without causing harm) and karuna (Skt. compassion). He fervently reminds us that these are secular attributes. Religion plays no part in these qualities that should be practiced in our lives. This includes encouraging a plant-based diet, something that Buddhist teachers are (finally) starting to actively enjoin.
A few years ago I was on a Vajrayogini retreat in France. At the time of the tsok a sangha member became quite rude when she insisted I had eaten the meat. I had not done so. Whether you agree or not, it contravened my personal ethics. The following weekend, a guest Tibetan lama was giving a weekend retreat on the importance of not consuming animals. I smiled. I have been a vegetarian all my life. Shortly before my conception, my father had become a staunch vegan and animal rights campaigner. My mother was a vegetarian born of a matriarchal lineage that would have had generations of us burned at the stake. The spiritual embers were already in my DNA and they were fanned by the Tibetan geshes who lived with us during my formative years.
However, my young brain was never satisfied with blind faith and I always had questions. I still do. Although these days it is a finely navigated path treading between the best of new science and cherrypicked pseudoscience. But then maybe we all cherrypick just a little? So for personal indulgence, I have spent years scouring books and the internet to learn from enlightened speakers. Meditations, brain entrainment audios, cymatic frequencies, esoteric intrigues, deep history, herbs, nature . . . Nature.
I was listening to a podcast with the author of The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines That Divide Us. Nick Hayes. He made the valid points that walking in nature has been commoditized to become “acceptable” as a natural pastime. We are encouraged to pay to become a forest bathing teacher rather than simply walking in the woods. Outdoor festivals, once the benchmark of pagan life, are all too often possible only if one has the money to participate. Hayes argues that getting out in nature can help mental health beyond measure, and I agree. Yet, here in the UK at least, it feels as if we have been forcibly separated from nature. And we are all the worse for it.
Then something occurred to me: the growing number of views on videos that have anything to do with meditation, nature, well-being, spirituality, self-improvement, peace, paganism. The nature-based spiritual movement of druidry has grown beyond expectations in the last few short years. As have environmental activism, shamanism, plant medicine, herbal law, the law of attraction, mental magic, quantum mechanics, psychology, sociology, social welfare, animal welfare. Even those who do opt to practice forest bathing formally are nonetheless opting to commune with nature. Likewise, the tens of thousands who tuned in to listen to the Dalai Lama in dialogue with the irrepressible Greta.
It occurs to me that there is still hope. More than hope. Those roots run deep and wide, and the seeds have long sprouted into strong growth reaching ever skyward.
Have you ever seen a dandelion grow through the concrete? There may not be peace just yet, but clearly we are of many sprouting seeds.
Tilly Campbell-Allen (Dakini as Art)