Tag: Shobogenzo

Revised Schematic


Self respect and the environmental crisis: a philosophical response

Two line abstract: This comparative study proposes that respect and self respect are identical, necessary and sufficient in response to the environmental crisis

Chapter One: Respect, Self Respect and the Environmental Crisis
A introduction and overview of main themes
(i) Respect and self respect as mirrors of one another
(ii) respect as a perspective that extends beyond the species
(iii) the implications of self respect as a response to the environmental crisis
B Introduction to the four fields that itersect at the mirror of respect/self respect
(i) dualism
a) introduction to dualism (dualism and the self, dualism and others)
b) dualism versus non-dualism: Zen, memes and non-memes
(ii) Soto Zen and Dōgen: respect, self-respect and ‘how to live’
a) comparing philosophies: how to live versus ‘what is it?’
b) moral philosophy versus pragmatism
(iii) The philosophical implications of evolutionary theory
a) life and the second law of theormodynamics
b) the myth of evolutionary morality
c) symbiogenesis and systems theory
(iv) Environmental philosophy
a) philosophical responses to the environmental crisis from the global North
b) the view from elsewhere: philosophical responses from the global South
c) inside the box: enculturated Nature
C respect and self respect at the intersection of the four fields
(i) respect and self respect as non moral and non dualistic
(ii) the relationship between respect, self respect and compassionate non-attachment in the work of Dōgen
(iii) respect as action and the spirit of self respect in evolutionary theory
(iv) respect, self respect and realisation: a particular understanding of agency in the environmental crisis

Chapter Two: a detailed overview of the history and literature at the intersection of the four fields
(i) dualism
a) the Greek divide
b) Judeo-Christian chronology
c) Descartes and the scientific method
d) the scientific method and the modern view
e) respect, self respect and dualism
(ii) the history, development and key ideas of Soto Zen:
a) the Vedas
b) Buddhism at its inception
c) Chan in China
d) Zen in Japan
e) respect, self-respect and Soto Zen
(iii) contextualising life: a chronology of the shifting perspective of evolutionary theory
a) Darwin, Wallace and the origin of the theory
b) evolutionary theory and the complexities of co-evolution
c) symbiogenisis and systems theory
d) physical systems and the activity of life: information, entropy and the second law
e) biodiversity and energy flows
f) human agency and rigid coherence: interfering with the flow
g) respect, self respect and reframing human agency
(iv) the chronological development of ideas in environmental philosophy
a) key figures, ideas and approaches in the nineteenth century
b) key figures, ideas and approaches in the twentieth century
c)shifting patterns in approach: an assessment of current theories
d)respect, self respect and a philosophy of the environment: freedom from the meme of ethics

Chapter Three: Context is Everything
A Idiosyncracies of history
(i) dualism and the dominance of the global North
(ii) Dōgen’s Zen and the delinkage from established patterns
(iii) evolutionary theory and the resistance to a decentred approach
(iv) the context of ethics as a response to the environmental crisis
B Shifting context
(i) respect and self respect in non-dualistic thinking
(ii) non-memes and paradoxical non-patterns in the flow of Soto Zen
(iii) respect, regard and reflection on agency in self-aware evolutionary consciousness
(iv) pragmatism and realisation in the biofeedback process: a motivation to compassionate, impartial effort in the environmental crisis

Chapter Four: integrating a response to the environmental crisis

A Non-dualistic response
(i) context
(ii) relationship
(iii)regard
B Selective Zen
(i) reflective rites
(ii) practice enlightenment
(iii) the effort of awareness
(iv) compassionate non-attachment
C Science and empiricism
(i) the historical method
(ii) information as exchange
(iii) entropy and energy
(iv) agency and observation.
D Environmental pragmatics
(i) discrimination
(ii) compassion in context
(iii) the scale of individual agency
(iv) cradle to cradle

Chapter Five: Acting naturally

A Non-dualism and Zen
(i) patterns
(ii) memes
(iii) compassionate non-attachment
B Zen and evolutionary theory
(i) agency
(ii) observation
(iii) going beyond cause and effect for a response
C evolution and human extravagance
(i) the activity of reflection
(ii) realisation in action
D Dualism and environmental pragmatics
(i) responding non-dualistically
(ii) realising potential
(iii) compassion

Like walking along a crumbling cliff


The thing that I keep coming back to is that self-respect and respect are two sides of the same coin, but also that respect and self-respect are attitudes that have evolved as survival tools. The comparison with Zen is because in some very important ways, Dogen’s ideas and images perfectly describe the attitude that comes into awareness and is realised when the perceiver is in a state of respect. Respect is, in fact, enlightenment. It’s as simple as that. It’s respect, not love, that we need, to deal with the ecological emergency. Respect is more impartial, and it’s possible to respect indifferent entities, like the mountains, the sea (or the ocean) and the weather, without feeling any kind of affection towards them. However, out of respect, compassion can emerge. If you respect, in the simplest sense of reflectively observe, the ways in which your entire activity is enmeshed in a system of causes and effects, none of which you have actual control over, you can begin to feel compassion emerge. It’s like watching yourself as though you were observing someone caught in some mythical tragedy, unable to do anything except obey the universal laws. The very act of watching allows compassion to emerge. You can respect the intricacy of the system of interrelationships, and you can see that these are systems, and not mechanisms, so there’s a fluidity, an unpredictability, about them. Yet there is no point at which your own activity becomes any less enmeshed when it is observed, unless in this strange sense that your observation itself creates effects and these eddy back through the system, and new patterns emerge. Compassion as a response creates more and more space for this emergence.

Respecting everything, and complete self-respect: well, that is realisation, that is the emergence of a whole new layer of possiblities. This is why respect is so important. Respect is the emergent, extravagant, ‘what if’, consciousness that creates the conditions for positive regard.

I still can’t see how to present all this material in a coherent argument and I would love some advice but it might interest the people who bother to take a look at this to know that, just as every PhD is, in some sense, a process in self-development as well as in the development of knowledge, so, this PhD is a specific effort to deal with a lack of self-respect. I know intimately how damaging a lack of self-respect is. I believe that I can show that even those who consider themselves to have great self-respect will ring hollow if their attitude to others, or to the wider ecology, doesn’t demonstrate the same level of regard.

All PhDs probably have that cartoon sense of walking along the edge of a crumbling cliff. You are looking for something new to say. The body of existing knowledge lies behind you, the unknown is spread before you. You are shoving the cliffline outwards, claiming more ground for knowledge. But much of what you have to say is instantly dismissable, and much that is left begins to look shakey and unsound when you step back a bit. What to do? Retreat to safer ground? How? This is the edge, the place where interesting things are happening, and your a knowledge junkie, looking for the next hit. But full of self-doubt. I can’t imagine I’m the first to have experienced this much uncertainty (in fact, I read Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity at 20 and was marked to wander the unsettled ways of questioning ever since. Ho Hum. Some of the ideas here came while I was out running. I might be able to grapple with some more after a yoga session. I’ll let you know.

Thesis outline: Reality tells us what we need to do: responding to the ecological emergency


There are a lot of us questioning current approaches to the ecological crisis. None, so far, have succeeded in altering the trajectory towards climate chaos, biodiversity destruction and mass extinction, pollution and other symptoms of the crisis.

My own view is that externalising the problem is the problem. This thesis is therefore an attempt to show how we might understand philosophy as a personal practice, what that practice might involve, and how we might combine Zen and the scientific method to understand what we realise through the activity of practice.

Practice in this context is the active process of self-reflection, along with an objective consideration of ourselves as natural, evolved beings. This process of observation creates a feedback loop that can involve compassionate non attachment emerging as a response to the realisation of respect, interdependently with self-respect.
There is no soul beyond activity, soul is animus, movement is all we are and the activity of observation is also movement, the movement into reflection.

Self respect is the activity of becoming compassionate for the state we are in. Self respect is all the agency we have. It is the capacity to realise interdependencies, to understand them, and for layers of feedback to emerge.

Emergent information flows shift the possibilities for responding. We can be motivated to act, without attachment to the outcome, in observing our interactions. This is all we can do: observe and see how observation changes things. Our activities, taking place with this awareness, incline us towards compassion: we are pitifully entangled. So is everything.

It is a huge effort to step back, observe and allow the cycles of matter and energy that make up the biodiverse ecology of which we are a part to flow freely. It will bring us no glory. We cannot control what it will change. Yet it is all we can do to reduce suffering. Reducing suffering is responding to the ecological emergency. It is also responding to ourselves.

Supervisory support


I worked for an organisation once that had sessions, periodically, that offered supervisory support. This was something both I and the supervisor dreaded, I’m sure (I’m sure I dreaded it) because I was subtly but manifestly not pulling the same line as the institution demanded. In other words, I had a particular idea of what might benefit the organisation, and since the organisation was service based, of what might benefit the people who used the organisation’s services (I won’t call them clients: they weren’t voluntarily availing of the service). Now, much about the organisation was good and admirable: the general ethos of concern and consideration brooked no argument. It was the subtle stuff that bothered me. Some of the subtle stuff was dealt with in the literature that each employee was required to read, stuff about how to talk to people, and how to think while interacting. But you can’t really tell people how to think, can you? It’s somewhat more intrinsic than that, isn’t it? Telling someone how to think if they don’t have what they call in Ireland a ‘gra’, or a heart, for it, is akin to the reeducation policies that operate when any extreme ideological governance takes control. I hasten to add that no violence was done to me. None at all. Except the grinding sense that I was inclined to go one way – towards less medication, less control, more holistic thinking, compost loos, organic beansprouts (I exaggerate, but you get the general gist) – while the organisation, for all their dedication to the principles of considerate care, was inclined, and indeed, felt itself forced, to go another (medication, health and safety issues involving heavy use of chemicals, sanitation, boundaries, distance).

Tomorrow I leave in preparation for the third meeting. since I transferred, with my supervisor. I’m very aware that writing this is writing in a public space, that anything and everything can be seen. That writing on the web is like writing postcards – one must imagine that anyone, benign or malevolent, has access. Therefore I will say very little about what I anticipate. Part of my preparation has been this uploading of different sections of work I’ve undertaken over the last couple of years as an attempt to organise what it is I think is worth preserving from the alteration in focus. Yet I do see parallels.

European Philosophy is a jungle to one ‘brought up’ in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. It offers no safe quarters. The temptation to resort to earlier positions of ridicule or contempt are exhausted, and one is thrust into the sunlit glade with nothing to defend one but a vague sense that all the boundaries have collapsed.

I am attempting to incorporate two bodies of work – one which is entirely new to me, the Shobogenzo, the Zen tradition of zazen – and yet, which is somewhat familiar, given that I have involved myself, informally and through the teaching of yoga, in a rough and ready study of the practice of observation as a core shift in perceptive inclusion.

The second, older (for me) tradition is that of environmental ethics. But it has been suggested that I work to excise the notion of ethics from the work entirely, using the ideas of evolutionary biology as well as the philosophical work of Hans Georg Moeller to show that taking an ethical stance involves exclusion, involves staking out an ideological territory, and one that will necessarily create opposition among those who don’t share the common ground. In many ways, I applaud this approach: I would love to believe that there is some way in which we can dissolve our ideological boundaries. Yet my more pragmatic inclination is to imagine that it is impossible to include every perspective on the burning boat that is our ecological crisis. We have to find some formula that will allow us to include only those activities that bring us a reasonable chance of response.

I’m all at sea. This is not an unfamiliar situation but it carries the same deep dread as those supervisory support meetings: I will arrive, supplicant, veiled witness, muffling myself with politesse, while the whirling gears of rational thought screech at the impossibility of encompassing the sense that I had made of things before with the demands of a new, somewhat empty, paradigm.

Wish me well.

Moving beyond the cultures of the global North: Zen


To understand ourselves and our potential to respond sufficiently intelligently so that the conscious decisions we make about how to live reflect our current understanding, we have to move beyond a dualistic account of ourselves as pitted against nature, at least in terms of our biology. Dealing with the interstice between our understanding of human agency and natural biodiversity requires that we focus instead on how we understand the relationship in cultural terms if we are to see whether alternatives are available. To do this, I will have to move beyond the cultures of the global North, and beyond dualism.

So far, then, I’ve attempted to describe how human agency both emerges from, and yet is firmly located within, nature, or, more accurately, natural biodiversity. I have attempted, too, to show that since decisions on how to live, while only gradually differentiating ourselves from the rest of natural biodiversity, nevertheless provide, through the medium of culture, a means of evaluating our decisions and responses. 

We can only decide what makes sense for humans, since humans are the kinds of things we are. Nevertheless, our (cultural) ability to reflect on our intricately interwoven Naturalness de-centralises the notion that only humans deserve consideration. It is precisely because we are human artifices that we have developed the ability to displace ourselves and see that we are part of a larger unit of interest – non-human Nature – that we can also respond to when considering what kind of life to lead.

In a sense, Taylor was subject to the limitations of his own time: more recent work on the interactions between organisms (Foulkes’ recent paper is a case in point) suggest that the DNA-identified boundaries of living entities are somewhat porous. Indeed, on close examination, it’s clear that “individuals” within the environment, while they have the status of entities in Taylor’s sense of having “good”s of their own, nevertheless also have deeply intricate and intimate relationships between them which require acknowledgment. Thus each living cell is itself consistent of not only one, but, as Grahame Parkes points out, several sub-parts, including mitochondria, whose evolutionary ancestry can be traced back to their independent existence as proto-bacteria. Part of the problem with individualist biocentrism is that it relies on a “human-sized” conception of what matters.

Humans and organisms at human scale are, to human eyes at least, quite evidently individual. No such inevitability exists at the microscopic or microbial level. If a non-anthropocentric approach is to be viable, it must be flexible enough to take into account the very small. It must also take into account the characteristic transience of our experience.

 Human agency requires an extravagant investment in imagination so that we can hold the dual conceptions both of human agency as a self-reflective awareness creating biofeedback systems, and the potential that this feedback offers in its empathetic application beyond the human. Individual living organisms don’t make good loci for conscious consideration. They are too transient, on the whole, and most are microscopic. If we are to include Nature within our sphere of consideration, then we can look for both a more contemporary understanding of non-human living entities that includes their relational character, and a more ancient one to compare it with, like the one painted in the metaphors and images of a particular view of Zen.

 

Agency and Responsibility: a shift in perspective


Is human agency, in some qualitative sense, different from the agency of other organisms? If it is, can we view the relationship between humans and other living systems from the perspective of agency? If we can, do we need to take more than one perspective, and also be prepared to view the relationship from the perspective of humans as living things, or even as simple elements (or relationships, energy flows, matter cycles) of a larger, more comprehensive whole (the universe, the planet, the ecosphere)?

Secondly, what kind of degree of agency might we, humans (or rather, persons), be said to have? How might we be said to be able to respond to the situation within which we find ourselves? We can wonder what we might be doing in three weeks’ time (and this seems a capacity unique to the species, or at least some members of it) and we feel as though we might be able to decide, to some degree, what we might do in three weeks time. However, can we really weigh up between plans? In anticipating, can we avoid?

Linked to this degree of agency is the notion that we have a certain amount of responsibility for our situation. If we have avoided the demise of our own species, for instance, it has been at the cost of biodiversity loss, pollution, species extinction, climate change and other human-induced changes to the biosphere. Yet much of this destruction has come about through either ignorance, or through an attitude which justified the exploitation of the environment as ‘other’.

What would it mean to respond from within a different framework to the one we now operate in? What would it mean to act in acknowledgement both of the constraints under which we operate (the realisation that natural laws apply to us just as firmly as they do to all other forms of existence) and of the ability we have to reflectively consider our situation, to the degree that this consideration itself emerges as a feedback process that influences which possibilities open as potential actions?

Paul Taylor’s thesis is a clear example of a fundamental quest for a re-examination1 of the origins of our attitudes. He addresses a major problem that continues to haunt the predominant cultural attitudes of the global North and, by extension, that dominates as an impetus for action globally: the vast majority of the values and beliefs held by human individuals still echo pre-Darwinian understandings of ourselves and our relationships with other living existence. Considering ourselves as agents whose agency lies in our self-awareness requires us radically to expand the framework of the scientific revolution, the ‘paradigm … of discrete, individual events obeying absolute, universal laws.’ (Alexander: 373)

Interestingly, the notion that we are agents in this way is, empirical evidence suggests, more enabling of that concept than the notion that there is no such thing as agency2. Moreover, accepting just this degree of freedom in action implies accepting a corresponding degree of responsibility for that action. The rational argument concludes that this limited level of choice – the choice to actively self-reflect – is free, and therefore that conscious awareness does allow for some deliberation over how to weigh up certain interests. If, in the past, we have, as a species, failed to take into account interests beyond those of our immediate human ‘clans’ or communities, it is because we have not been in a position to realise, or wake up to an awareness of, this degree of choice. Many of the myths that have dominated our cultural thinking have been precisely those that have, by accident or by design, described a different kind of freedom, one that applied, first, only to human activities vis-a-vis other humans, and second, one that required more than any individual could possibly give in terms of autonomy, since no individual is autonomous to the degree required by the former myths.

This work is worth doing precisely because the research suggests a re-examination of who or what is taken into account when interests are being weighed up. If the range of systems that demand our response is much broader than we had previously realised, and yet our own voluntary activity is constrained to self-reflection, or reflection on the process of conscious activity, then it might be argued that we have no freedom to do what needs to be done. However, a little effort will show that this cannot be the right conclusion: all the freedom that we require is contained in the activity of realisation, of self-reflection, of awareness of the state that we are in. It is precisely this activity that loosens the inevitability of our reactions and gives space in which are created other possibilities. Both a recognition of our interconnected interdependence, and an acknowledgement of the role of conscious activity in shaping our responses, is required for us to open up to the altered potential that exists within a meditative awareness. This can then form a highly comprehensive basis for a strategy to tackle our ecological emergency.

1A second problem is that those of us prepared to take Evolutionary Theory seriously are not necessarily in a majority. Even if a reasonable case is made for a change of attitude, those whose beliefs are informed by their faith will still outnumber those who might be prepared to consider a shift in perspective.

2See for instance Robert Kane, who makes a slightly different but nevertheless related point in his Chapter in Gary Watson’s Free Will: ‘Yet if you concentrate and solve the problem nonetheless, I think we can say that you did it and are responsible for doing it even though it was undetermined whether you would succeed. The indeterministic noise would have been an obstacle to your solving the problem which you nevertheless overcame by your effort.’ (Kane: 308) And Susan Wolf, in the same volume, argues that all that is needed for responsible agency is that our ‘deep self’ be ‘sane’ (see Wolf in Watson, Free Will: 382)

The Goulden Rule (arousing compassion for self, respect for natural others)


Natural biodiversity has, to date, been valued only to the extent that it provides a ‘resource service’ to humans, in other words, entirely instrumentally. However, a reflection on this view quickly allows us to understand that clusters of organisms act to achieve their own flourishing within naturally biodiverse systems and that this is entirely independent of whether or not humans value them. What, then, has valuing got to do with biodiversity?

We need to begin to develop a sense of intense curiosity about how the complex interplay of interests within naturally biodiverse systems plays out. In doing this we may, even if through the artifice of culture, come to a point where it becomes natural for our cultural understanding of nature to include an appreciation that it has its own rules of engagement that are not reliant upon human intervention in any sense. In face, deeper reflection still will show, on the contrary, that the whole edifice of human consciousness and human understanding is dependent on the functioning of biodiverse clusters of other organisms, and not the other way around.

Ronnie Hawkins commented that there is an unhealthy dependency within current predominant cultural forces in the centres of power, mainly in the global ‘North’, on ‘our left-hemispheric specialization in the abstract and the linguistic, and the signs of right-hemisphere disease (or atrophy?): neglect of a large part of perceptual space (we can plainly see our human takeover of the planet, but we look away from it), anosognosia (we deny that there’s a problem at all), and confabulation (let’s talk about the stock market!)”.

Every living organism lives as though the world centred, if not on itself, at least on its species. One fundamental difference between the human condition and that of other clusters of organisms, then, is that human are extravagant, in the original Latin sense of having wandered from the path of a pursuit of our own needs, to pursuing potential needs, or experimenting with what could become needs, with what are, essentially, ‘wants’ (again, I’m reminded of Larkin: this extravagance is not, in itself, either good or bad. It is simply a matter of fact. Larkin wrote a poem called, Wants which contains the line, ‘Beyond all this, the wish to be alone.’ Quite apart from the wonderful rhythm of the line, the essence of what it expresses is the tension that is brought about by being in one situation, and having the urge to occupy another space (solitude, in this case). This tension is itself a kind of dualism, an awareness of there being other possibilities, and a natural curiosity, developing into a yearning, to be elsewhere.

Paradoxically, it is this very ability to occupy two spaces at once – the present and the conditional, the potential, that gives us the opportunity to practice just those activities that have allowed us to come to exploit or dominate other species. Wendell Berry gives the example of the restraint required when waiting for crops to ripen. This, in turn, gave us myths and legends to explain our place in the world (think, for instance, of the story of Persephone and Ceres as an explanation of winter, and also of the necessity of restraint: what if she had eaten twelve pomegranate pips?) It is the tension between being, as John O’Donohue describes it, and longing to be, or, be-longing, the longing to be a part of a bigger whole. We cannot join this larger unity because we ate the fruit of knowledge, we tell ourselves. The gap between this existence and the tension pulling us towards some unknown future that we can, nevertheless imagine (dream about, or dread) is the emergency: the stem of our ecological crisis. Emergent consciousness has created a distance from which to view the place we occupy in space but that very distance gives us a sense of alienation. We are strangers trapped forever in the possibility that there is something ‘other’ about ourselves. We have called this something a soul to give it an identity, or a mind because we cannot really understand how consciousness could occupy the same space as the physical realm we can quite clearly grasp, and this has allowed us the space to segregate our set of responsibilities, elevating the spirit and denigrating the flesh.

Now, however, it is time to deal with the emergency for what it is, a chimera, a ghost that is not alien at all, but simply the projected emergence of electrico-chemical activity brought about as a result of the kind of response to the web of conditions and relations we have evolved into. The closest practices that this practice parallels is the observational techniques used by Zen practitioners, specifically those described by Dogen Zenji when writing about the practice-enlightenment that comes about in sitting meditation.

What this practice allows is a space in which we can observe the relationship between perceptions and actions. We could call this, with Wendell Berry, “the middle ground” (after all, Buddhism is often called, “the middle way”). Berry outlines six elements that are realised when we take this reflective attitude:

  • We are tiny in relation to the wilderness in which we live.

Zen, paradoxically, by the process of observing the nature of the boundaries between entities and considering them until they dissolve into relationships, concludes that we are not tiny at all: or rather, we are so tiny, that we do not have any meaningful identity at all, except as points of perception that shift and fluctuate in an ocean of arising and dissolving connections. So we are neither tiny, nor huge. We are simply froth on the surface, soon to be reabsorbed;

  • This wilderness is the universe. We depend on it, yet it will kill us at some point.

Yet this wilderness does not exist as a separate realm from us, as points of perception. We are involved in it completely and it is inside us as well as around us (the biomass of microorganisms that coexist within us make up more mass than the DNA of our nuclei which we consider to be the blueprint for our separate selves). It is true that we have a continuum of identity in this regard. I can only pass on my own DNA, or some of it, to another generation: yet the virally derived ancestral RNA that also occupies my genes shapes the primate-derived expression, and so even in this sense, I am not fully separable as a primate, and nor are my offspring, physical or, more complicatedly, the words or art that might postdate me. Can it kill me, then? Undoubtedly, this point of perception, mobile as it is during the course of my biological life, will disappear at the point of death (or as near as makes no difference, I hope). In that sense, I will die. What will kill me is the necessity for energy to disappate, a process that I am a part of as much as any other element in existence. So, yes, this point of view will disappear and the clusters of organisms that located, albeit in shimmering dynamism, never all the same cluster, and never in one place for more than a few microseconds, will fall apart. This point of perception will never exist as a continuum again. This is death, no doubt, and it is brought about by the unfolding of the universe, and so yes, the wilderness will kill me. But I hope that this rather more complex explanation shows that this is not a simple, “them and us” statement. There is more interchange than that. And Zen reflection gives us images and ideas through which we can conceive of the interchange centred on emptiness. The wilderness will also die, in the sense that all energy will eventually dissapate. Nothing about the universe is permanent. This does not create immortality for ourselves but it creates a more integrated sense of the unfolding as being a more intimate affair than if it were just about a struggle to accept death.

  • We cannot solve the ‘problem’ of our endangered state. It does not have a solution.

The acceptance of death is an enormous task. We are inclined to resist it as a matter of biological fact. Everything about it repels us. Zen practice is entirely engaged in reflecting on this repulsion, the urge to move away from its consideration. By gently pulling ourselves back to the centre of its awareness, we change the quality of our relationship with it: it becomes suitable matter for reflection. The whole illusion that we are permanent has become so pervasive that we have suppressed an engagement with acknowledgment of mortality. It is the most vital and vitalising force we can harness: the fear that threatens to overwhelm us is the very impetus that will drive us towards a more integrated relationship with ourselves and all around us while we have a point of perception.

  • But we can live in harmony, more or less, with our native wilderness. We cannot achieve this harmony simply or easily but it can become, indeed it is, our life’s work.

This follows, too, from Zen practice: there is no nihilism in the contemplation of death. Rather, it is the motivating factor that shows where and how the realm of action is defined. There is only this uncertain moment. No security for any kind of future. Only this space and place in which we can engage with whatever we can do to make the best of what there is. Reflecting on the kind of activity that is available to us within this space, we may come across the insight that there is little we could have done about the point that took us to where we are now. If we consider the image of emergence again, we can imagine ourselves as sleeping creatures, waking to consciousness, but not freed, by consciousness, from the chains of activity, the electro-chemical, the organic, reactions that are bound to operate according to natural laws and the chance encounters that send us on various tangents from the central aim: to keep away death as long as possible. We are not free in any traditional sense, then. That, fortunately or unfortunately, was an illusion (and this is another reason why an ethical approach demands too much of us: we simply don’t have that much freedom). Yet, as Zen itself has illustrated and as countless practitioners have experienced, the very act of reflection itself creates another layer of emergent possibility. The emergency holds within itself the potential for another layer of reflective emergence: the emergence of observation of the very processes that are acknowledged to be inevitable are loosened when we realise that the very act of observation itself creates space for possible responses to open in alternative ways. This process requires huge effort. It is fragile: there are more processes threatening to pull us back into strongly conditioned reactions than there are processes that support our experimenting with alternative responses. Yet these possibilities open with the realisation that reflection sheds light on our reactions to date, showing us how the chains of cause and effect have interacted. It is a fragile tool. Push observational effort too hard and it collapses back into frustration, envy, fear or any other conditioned realm. Fail to practice and the very possibilities are never given space for generation. But find that “middle ground”, and create a consistent effort, and the glimmerings of potential begin to appear.

  • It is not possible for humans to intend their own good specifically or exclusively: we cannot intend our own good, in the long run, without intending the good of the place

Berry seems in perfect accord with the Zen approach this time. Except that in Zen, it is not “good” that is intended. Compassion arises as a response to the realisation of the conditions we find ourselves in. Meditation on our condition develops the awareness that we are an element of biodiversity, just as biodiversity itself is an element of the energetic unfolding of the universe. Its unfolding is our unfolding. Recognising that we are a subsidiary of it is the agent’s step we must take in order to fulfil our own understanding, and in order to develop the impetus to act with enough richness of intent for the larger wholes: biodiversity, the ecology, Nature, community.

  • ‘To use or not to use nature is not a choice that is available to us; we can live only at the expense of other lives. Our choice has rather to do with how and how much to use. This is not a choice that can be decided satisfactorily in principle or in theory; it is a choice intransigently practical. That is, it must be worked out in local practice because, by necessity, the practice will vary somewhat from one locality to another. There is, thus, no practical way that we can intend the good of the world. Practice can only be local’.

The point that Berry makes here is that it is impossible to live without using energy. We are ourselves energetic processes and the requirement for our continuance is that we take in energy. However, the Zen practice of reflecting on cause and effect, of seeing the karmic chains of activity within which we are bound loosening as we watch them open into potentials, possibilities, shows that there are alternatives in how we act on this knowledge. We must eat, but even when the push towards utility is strong, reflection on our intricately bound relationships with what we eat can move us to consider the process of killing and eating as a practice of respect. Dogen writes of respecting even the tools used for eating. The food itself is not sacred in any religious sense, in the sense that it is imbued with any magical ‘otherworldly’ spirit. But it is as caught in the karmic web as we are ourselves, and this enlightened view arouses compassion. We can create the potential for compassion in how we grow and source and kill and prepare the food we eat, and we can extend this to how we relate to all our relationships.

Something else needs mentioning here: as I said above, the push to reduce potentials towards a single option is strong. One of the most severe constraints is judgment. However, there are many serious conditional constraints, for very many people, including hunger and extreme poverty. When these conditions constrain, judgments harden the options into narrower and narrower possibilities. As Caroline Lucas said, we have to find solutions individually and locally, and on a “case by case basis”. Again, without the prejudgments of ethical dictates, this is a more flexible, more fluid attitude. The effort required is all the effort we can give, no more or less. While this is not clear, in the sense that a rule is clear, nevertheless, it is very particular to our own conditions. The Golden Rule does not apply since your condition and mine are never parallel. Nevertheless the impetus remains to do as much as possible to create an enlarged frame of reference, as often as possible, and with a commitment to continue to practice the reflective, meditative state that creates the space for potential to open. We can adjust our activities as the balance shifts. Practice-enlightenment puts us in a position to realise our activities within the interconnections that contain and create us, using the lodestone of respect.

  • ‘If there is no escape from the human use of nature, then human good cannot be simply synonymous with natural good.’

Neither human good nor natural good are ideals we can strive towards. Instead, practice-enlightenment extravagantly enlarges the space within which we can imagine ways of living that allow us to encompass the human within the natural world, as both unfold.

We may need to work to repair relationships. In particular, there are biodiverse ecosystems that require our respect and active reparation even if our reliance as a species on their continuance is not clear. Biodiversity itself is part of the condition of our existence and any instance of it, particularly where it has evolved independently of human interference, indicates that we are ignorant of our connections and relationships, and so ought to pay particular attention to respecting it.

We and it – wilderness, nature, the other, the community – are not separate, nor are we entirely separable. Our systems depend upon and nuture other systems. An appreciation of our naturalness is a necessary part of any cultivation of the necessary attitude towards the environment which will allow us to emerge from this emergency mature enough to take responsibility for our role in the demise of natural biodiversity.

Fundamentally, as Stephen Jay Gould recognises, what we need to arouse in ourselves is a sense of compassion, but for our own state, and also for the relational state we are in with other species, and finally, for the fragile state in which the biodiverse systems are that have been affected by our impact:

Yet I also appreciate that we cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well—for we will not fight to save what we do not love (but only appreciate in some abstract sense). So let them all continue—the films, the books, the television programs, the zoos, the little half acre of ecological preserve in any community, the primary school lessons, the museum demonstrations, even […] the 6:00 A.M. bird walks. Let them continue and expand because we must have visceral contact in order to love. We really must make room for nature in our hearts.

(S. J. Gould, Unenchanted Evening: 40).

I disagree with Gould about the Golden Rule, and I disagree that all depictions of nature, sentimentalised, anthropomorphised, treated with pornographic intimacy, on television programmes and in films, is either beneficial or justifiable or serves to create room for nature in human hearts that experience nature so vicariously. Yet the general point still stands: some sense of close connection of what we live within – the extraordinary abilities of plant roots to source nutrition in the soil, the lives of cells, the migratory patterns of birds – is the only impetus strong enough to motivate a change of heart. To hope that this could develop among human beings who are struggling for justice, against poverty, in slum conditions, where escapism through addiction or violence is the norm, may seem to be extraordinarily unrealistic. Yet, as I will propose below, the human animal is strongly predisposed to develop the capacity for love, of self or other, human and non-human. It is on this predisposition that the emergence from the ecological emergency can gain a foothold, given half a chance.