Q: Venerable, I haven’t seen you saying anything about global warming!
A: Because I am a Buddhist monk.
Q: Buddhist monks shouldn’t be concerned for this problem, and other problems like it that affect all of us?
A: They already have the ultimate solution!
Q: Really! What is their solution to global warming?
Q: That will solve the problem of global warming?!
A: It will not solve the problem of global warming, but will solve that of your obsession with it.
Q: … But … but … global warming will still be coming?!
A: Maybe. What is sure though is that, Death, is certainly coming. You are worried about the possible advent of global warming, and nonchalant about the certain advent of death?
Q: But it is possible to do something about both problems right?
A: No, it isn’t possible.
Q: How so? The Buddha said …
A: The Buddha said that the more one becomes intent on the removal of circumstantial forms of suffering, the more one becomes susceptible to psychological forms of suffering.
Q: … um … I don’t get it!
A: The more you wish to be safe, the more you fear danger. The more you wish to be comfortable, the more you fear hardship. The more you wish to be happy, the more you fear suffering. The problem is not in external sources of danger, hardship, or suffering; the problem is in your fear of them, and in your wish to escape them.
Q: So we should stop avoiding circumstantial suffering; we should just sit there and endure it?
A: Avoid it if you can, but don’t fear it.
Q: So it’s okay to avoid global warming?
A: You can avoid a mosquito bite with a net, heat with a fan, backache by stretching, boredom by playing, hunger by eating, thirst by drinking, but you cannot avoid something that you yourself do not yet even experience; this would be like fear of ghosts; an obsession.
Q: But if I don’t do anything about it I will eventually experience it?
Q: So I have to do something about it.
A: Only if you are obsessed with it.
Q: It’s not that I’m obsessed with it it’s that it will …
A: If you weren’t you would not have even remembered it.
Q: How so?
A: Because so is dhammatā.
Q: What does that mean?
A: It is in the intrinsic nature of the mind to forget about unimportant or non-urgent things. This is precisely why you forget about, Death! Because to you, it is not important or urgent. That’s also why you here speak of the possible threat of global warming, but never, of the sure threat of Death.
Q: But global warming will kill us! Shouldn’t we try to avoid dying, to … to live?
A: Within reason.
Q: What do you mean “within reason”?
A: It is not reasonable to fast so as to avoid food poisoning, or to travel on foot so as to avoid a road accident. And though we know these dangers to be real, and know nothing of the reality of the danger of global warming, yet you think it reasonable to spend your time fighting it. This is what obsession is.
Q: So it’s unreasonable to guard against possible future dangers?
A: It is reasonable to take a coat in case it gets cold, or an umbrella in case it rains, but it is not reasonable to stay at home and never go out because tornadoes and earthquakes are hypothetically possible. This is what obsession is.
Q: Okay so let’s say that I stop thinking about global warming; what will happen then when it comes?
A: If it ever comes, only then will you experience it, and only then can you avoid it if possible.
Q: And if it wasn’t possible?
A: Then you will die.
Q: What the … ?
A: If this is the issue for you, then the problem is not global warming, a snake bite, tornadoes or earthquakes; the problem is your fear of all and every form of pain and suffering, and death, irrespective of how it happens.
Q: So instead of fighting this or that circumstantial source of suffering, I should work on my own emotional reactions to danger and suffering in general?
A: Such, is the teaching of Buddha.
Q: And what happens after that?
A: With training, you gradually transcend your own emotional reactions, and therewith, transcend your obsession with all and every dangerous or harmful object or stimulus. The bliss of such is indescribable.
Q: Is this the purpose of Buddhist practice?
A: Yes, adding to this the transcendence also of positive emotional reactions of liking and attachment, and enticing or attractive objects or stimuli, not just negative ones eliciting aversion and fear.
Q: … I can imagine this to be blissful, but what about other people?
A: In Theravada or early Buddhism, the psychological outcomes of this practice can only be experienced by those who undertake it themselves, it cannot be shared with or transferred to others anyhow.
Q: So I live in peace and bliss while others continue to suffer?
Q: How can I be at peace when others are still suffering?
A: Because you know that you cannot change their suffering on their behalf, just as you know that you cannot change global warming on humanity’s behalf, and that it is only an obsession. The object or stimulus “others” likewise ceases to exercise any reactionary emotional impact on your mind, neither positive nor negative.
Q: But these are not “objects” or “stimuli”; these are human beings! Isn’t this apathy?
A: The Buddha held that suffering is important for the spiritual development of human beings, and that without it, there cannot be any development of wisdom, gnosis, and deliverance. The severe antagonism and aversion to circumstantial forms of suffering, and vehement dedication to their immediate removal, is one of the most persistent ills, rather than virtues, of society, from a spiritual point of view. Apathy, along with “nihilism”, are common misconception about what the Buddha taught.
Q: How would you characterise this state of not caring about others then?!
A: Virāga, meaning dispassion. And I’d say that it is incredibly blissful! However it is possible to care about others, and even to experience feelings of goodwill or benevolence, compassion and kindness, with regard to them, only, without substantiating this care and these feelings with emotional reactions or developing obsessions or attachments with regard to them.
Q: But you are saying that concern for others can also be an obsession?
A: If it is emotional, yes. Then it would be identical in essence to the obsession with global warming!
Q: Venerable, I cannot live without concern for others and without helping others, NEVER.
A: Put together everything you think you cannot live without; there, is your prison cell.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: What you cannot live without is what your ego requires. It is just another obsession. That’s precisely why you say that you cannot live without it, because it is about you, it has nothing to do with altruism or “others”. Just as it is with global warming. You transcend it in the same way you transcend other emotional obsessions.
Q: How many obsessions there are in the mind then?
A: There is nothing in it, but obsessions! If it didn’t have obsessions, it wouldn’t exist. Existence itself, is dependent on the obsessions of the mind, and its continuation depends on their perpetuation.
Q: So when I transcend all my obsessions existence will cease?
A: Yes, mundane existence.
Q: And what will happen then?
A: No one, not even the Buddha, could tell, because this is not something that is comprehensible with our mundane and temporal minds, even if they are already liberated. The only sure thing, is that the consciousness never comes back, ever, to a temporal mundane world of dangers and fears, love and hate, attachment and separation, and endless suffering, restlessness, and loss. Because the mind that inclines to this and that, develops obsessions about this and that, has been wholly transcended.
Q: How do I know that all this is true, and not just another thing “the reality of which we know nothing” as you say about global warming?
A: Because if you practice correctly, you will see with your own eyes the gradual transcendence of all your emotional habits and mental obsessions, and you will experience the therapeutic and blissful impact of that gradual transcendence, and eventually you will discern that a certain final destination of ultimate bliss, when all has been transcended, exists. Just as you believe without doubt, that a train in which you are commuting, will surely reach its terminus, on the basis of its present and continually progressing and unhindered movement in a forward direction.
Q: I am interested in this path. I wish to pursue this path. I wish to try and see if what you say is true.
A: The training requires a certain measure of self-discipline and perseverance, as in all other forms of experiential practices: music, sports, etc.
Q: I’m up for it.
A: Will you not yearn and long to return to fighting global warming, and other such problems like it that affect all of us?!
A: Will you not yearn and long to help others? Will you not die without helping others?!
Q: Not for now; not until I have checked the truth and effectiveness of this path you describe in my own experience.
A: Very well then. So be it. Come. Shave your head there, put these white garments on, keep this alms bowl with you at all times, leave everything else behind, and let us go to meditate in this silent and secluded mountain.
[to be continued]