“Problems cannot be solved with the same consciousness that created the problems.” – Albert Einstein
Zen teaches us to release grasping, to live life with a metaphorical open-hand. Of course it is also speaking of an open-mind, a non-grasping-mind. Unfortunately, the truth is that we live with grasping hands and minds, that is, hands and minds that are always trying to grasp on to and close around what will complete the experience of life for us because our society and our religions have taught us that we are not enough and haven’t the capacity to be enough. Because of this, we are caught, trapped, living in a limited sense of who we are and what is possible. We are always trying to close our hand and our mind around “things,” material and conceptual, and we are always looking for a material and conceptual amount that will be enough, but there never is an amount that satisfies. So we mindlessly grasp for more and more and more. Buddhism identifies this as “egoic delusion” and the cause of human suffering.
We believe that if we can get some hypothetical amount from Life that will be what we need and want, closing our hand and mind around it, we will be enough, we will be OK, but this hypothetical amount is limitless, so we are never OK. We believe in this grasping and acquiring approach to life because our culture teaches us to believe that form – objects and ideas, even very abstract ideas such as religion, politics, economics, nations and class structures – are all that exist. We are unable to understand that a far richer life becomes available when we open our hands and minds to the unlimited possibility of a life of infinite connection, within which occurs the limited forms of our material existence. What we must realize is that we are much more than our bodies, our minds, and our circumstances. We must realize that, likewise, the extensions and expansions of our hands and minds that are our families, associations, societies, institutions and their products will not fulfill us. Even our closest relationships, which while having the potential to bring us closer to fulfillment, still leave us unsatisfied when they are modeled on this culture of expectation, acquisition and possession.
We can only be fulfilled by realizing we are simultaneously this individual human-being with its affiliations, and we are the great organism that is humanity, and the great organism that is this planet, and ultimately, the infinite Universe manifesting into the form of a human-being that has hands, a mind, affiliations and context for the purpose of engaging the finite world existing within the infinite complex oneness of the Universe. This is the non-dualistic consciousness that can bring harmony in our material existence and a vast mental and spiritual peace that realizes the truth of our multidimensional existence. This is the consciousness of quantum unity that Einstein was suggesting as needed to address the problems facing humanity that have been created by a human society constructed on the consciousness of separateness. We must realize that we are this infinite complex oneness manifested finitely. To have a long, quality future, humanity must come to this realization.
Another way of expressing this concept is found in an important article/interview by Naomi Klein in the spring edition of Yes! magazine, entitled Dancing the World into Being. In this piece, she interviews writer, spoken-word-artist, and indigenous activist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who speaks of the colonialist consciousness that has ruled over the Americas and most of the world for the last 400 years she calls “extractivism,” and this consciousness views all that is in and of the world as resources for extraction to make more wealth. “Colonialism and capitalism are based on extracting and assimilating,” says Simpson. Among her points is that everything of the indigenous American world has been and continues to be extracted and assimilated. There is no true valuing or experiencing of the ecology that was the Native American world, rather, only parts of it are extracted as resources and assimilated for whatever value they may have to the dominant culture, and so what true value there is in its wisdom for today’s world cannot be fully appreciated or applied.
She goes on to say “the act of extraction removes all relationships that give whatever is being extracted meaning. Extracting is taking. Actually extracting is stealing – it is taking without consent, without thought, care or even knowledge of the impacts that extraction has on the other living things in that environment.” She makes the point quite clearly of how devastating this mindset has been on indigenous peoples, on the Earth’s plant and animal life and on the land we inhabit, but even more, how devastating this mindset is for all of modern society, bringing us to the brink of collapse, and we are unable to sufficiently escape its grip, to do anything meaningful about this coming apocalypse because our limited consciousness keeps us blind and in denial.
As an alternative, she recommends the consciousness of the native peoples before assimilation. She recommends the consciousness of “the seventh generation,” the long view into the future that holds responsibility for decisions as they will affect seven generations. Short-term exploitative profit can never be an acceptable basis for decision-making from this consciousness. She recommends
“responsibility… Because I think when people extract things, they’re taking and running and they’re using it just for their own good. What’s missing is the responsibility. If you’re not developing relationships (with people, the land, the animal and plant life, the very Earth that sustains you) you’re not giving back… We’re talking about… a resurgence of indigenous political thought… a concept that’s very fundamental to (indigenous) society called mino bimaadiziwin. It often gets translated as ‘the good life,’ but the deeper kind of cultural, conceptual meaning… translated as ‘continuous rebirth’… the purpose of life then is this continuous rebirth, it’s to promote life… how to interact with each other and family, how to interact with your children, how to interact with the land… how those communities and how those nations should also interact… You don’t develop as much as Mother Earth can handle. For us it’s the opposite. You think about how much you can give up to promote more life.”
Leanne Simpson is a voice channeled from a lost past speaking to us in the present about our future, and about the choices we have for the quality of our present and our future. She is talking about a consciousness that sees the truth of human existence on this limited planet we share with all communities and nations, including the communities of plant and animal, even mineral life. It is a consciousness of open-hand, one that emphasizes giving rather than taking as the best value system for humans and their societies. She is absolutely talking about a consciousness that can contribute much to the solving of our problems.
We must realize an openness of mind, hand and heart such as America’s indigenous peoples lived within – and that modern Buddhism speaks for today. We must realize that what we are is infinitely intelligent awareness, the non-form dimension of experience that is not subject to the conditions or conditioning of the consciousness that created our problems. We must realize that we are that which holds the infinite complex oneness in vast openness and allows us to see the world as it actually is, a vast interconnected and interdependent life-form that we are within, and that we are that vast openness. We are awareness that is living with the limited forms of this body, this mind and this world, and they are beautiful when we see the truth of “the good life” as expressed in open minds and hands that believe absolutely in giving so as to promote more life. In this meditation on Life, all questions lead to the next question, and the infinite unfolding of the question becomes the living mystery that is the answer. Here, we are enough, we are complete, we are expressions of The Infinite, and from the perspective of Infinity, all that has to do with the finite becomes very clear.
Indigenous peoples understood this, as they lived a form of continuous meditation in complete harmony with Nature, “dreaming” the finite and the infinite together seamlessly. Life is Life, is who we are, and our purpose is the celebration and sharing of Life, looking to Life to guide us in our lives. We must open our minds and our hands. This is what America’s indigenous people did for tens of centuries, and it is what is needed so that humanity can have a future of tens of centuries as one people on one Earth in a “beautiful life” focused on giving and sharing, “promoting more life” rather than extracting and assimilating ourselves and this planet to death. We do not have to return to the forests or give up the use of technology; we just have to turn our technology towards truly understanding, protecting, honoring and giving back to Nature rather than always extracting from it and assimilating it into a consciousness of exploitation that promises fulfillment but can never deliver, only take.