“If we are unable to create a new path by which to discover our true nature, the human race may be condemned to disappear. Never in history have we had to face such potentially calamitous dangers… The economic, political, and military systems we have established have turned against us and imposed themselves on us, and we have become increasingly ‘dehumanized.’” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Just consider what Thich Nhat Hanh is saying – “If we are unable to create a new path by which to discover our true nature, the human race may be condemned to disappear.” – Can you sit with that statement for a few moments?
We may wonder whether this man a hysterical prophet-of-doom. Hey, those have been around forever, and we’re pretty much OK. Aren’t we? The sky isn’t falling in. Or is it? For those of you who have read Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings, you know this person may be as sane as it gets. This Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Vietnamese Buddhist monk is telling us that our social systems are completely failing us, and the continuation of human civilization with any quality of existence requires our reclaiming the institutions of our society and redirecting them toward the rediscovery of what it truly is to be human. He is not saying it would be a good thing to have happen. He is saying it is the necessary thing if humanity is to avoid catastrophe. And he’s right, and if anyone is insane, it has to be the vast majority of our society that behaves as if Thich Nhat Hanh’s warning is not something to take with urgent seriousness, for by no stretch of the imagination are we OK. Our scientists have been telling us for years we’re headed for a cliff, for unimaginable social dislocation and environmental destruction. Does that sound like we’re OK? It sounds more like the sky IS falling in, which with the increase in floods and cataclysmic hurricanes that are occurring, it does seem so. Ask the people of the Bahamas.
As I write this, a category 5 hurricane has devastated the Bahamas with significant loss of life and has skirted the coast of the U.S., bringing serious and very costly flooding – this just one of the mounting number of freakishly record-setting violent acts of a rebelling Nature the world is experiencing. It would seem that humanity is at a dead-end and Thich Nhat Hanh is telling us we have to backtrack, to find a new path that leads us back to what is essential in us. The artificiality of this culture has taken us as far as it can; it has taken us to where we are in grave danger of being completely lost, of losing what is true and human in us. He’s telling us we have to get in touch with our humanity, and when he uses the Buddhist term “true nature” what he is of course saying is we have to get in touch with Nature, for we seem to have forgotten the most important insight of all: we ARE Nature.
In America’s political world, the 2020 election is also bringing a hurricane of some sort, as a choice between two starkly different visions of America will be made. Whatever happens, America is at a defining moment. The America of only a decade ago is gone. We will either decide to stay on the course that brings category 5 hurricanes and the radical degradation of democracy the current administration has brought or go in a completely new direction with a vision for building a new society that honors all persons and all life, including the environment. We have to choose dystopia or utopia, muddling along will not do. One leads to death, the other life. This is the historic moment we are in.
As evidence of the watershed nature of what is before the American people, the candidates running for the Democratic nomination to the presidency all seem to share the sense of urgency for environmental policies and expansion of economic democracy that only a couple years ago were marginalized as radical. Various candidates have put forward plans described in heroic language such as an “environmental moon-shot,” “environmental Marshall Plan,” and “Green New Deal.” Polls show that a majority of Americans believe that global warming is a major threat, the only question is are they ready to actually make the changes that will be required? For even if they are very good changes, even necessary changes, changes that will improve quality of life for everyone – people just don’t like changing.
On the other side, appealing to misguided nostalgia and the tendency to inertia, playing upon fear and mistrust, Donald Trump and the Republicans are busy dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency while greenlighting fracking and oil-drilling, calling the warnings from the science community a hoax, as they simultaneously dismantle our democracy. They are determined to stay the course of corporate profits from an out-of-control consumer economy and the privilege of the wealthy over human and environmental welfare. This is the nature of the division in political and social vision that this country is stumbling through while that cliff is getting closer and closer.
As this column began with a quote from one of the great spiritual leaders and consciousness teachers of the modern era, what he is clearly calling for is not just a political movement, but rather a huge leap in collective consciousness for our society. Thich Nhat Hanh has always been political; he understands that politics is only the means of implementing social vision and ideas, and that this change in collective direction is as great an idea as was the notion of democracy upon which this nation was founded out of the 18th century era of divine-right aristocracy and monarchy. While the political upheaval and military action that went into implementing that idea was called the American Revolution, it was actually a momentous act of evolution. It required people thinking in ways they had never thought before, and so too, this call is for another momentous act of evolution, of thinking in ways we have not thought before. Just as that (r)evolution was born out of what was called The Age of Enlightenment, when reason and humanism were elevated as guides for human political conduct, a New Age of Enlightenment is called for where again, reason and humanism, now fortified with both spiritual and scientific understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, is necessary.
Many are beginning to realize that the notions of democracy and justice born in the American Revolution MUST be extended to all persons and, very importantly, all life, if we are, any of us, to have a measure of security, prosperity, peace and stability going into the long future. We must begin to truly include within the idea enshrined in our Constitution of “We the people” written at a time when the evolution of society could only include property owning white males in that definition, that all people must be included. It must, in fact, be expanded to even include the animal world and all of Nature. And it will take the same kind of courage and vision that created this nation out of a world that had never seen its like before, for the world that is now necessary has also never been seen before.
A very literal “New Age” is needed. Not the sweet, syrupy idea of peace and love, esoteric religious practices, flowing music, clothing, and perhaps the existence of benevolent alien-beings that has been called “New Age.” This requires a major evolutionary step forward for humanity actualized in the realization of this Earth being not just a great resource for human consumption, but The Garden from which all life emerges and depends for sustenance, not only of belly, but of soul, much like our aboriginal ancestors believed and lived. This is the evolutionary step of harmonizing the ancient notion of our being OF Nature and kin with all Life WITHIN Nature held by the ancients with the most forward looking technology of the most advanced futurists. And for this evolution to occur, compassion is the essential ingredient for the politics that can get us into the next human era, for a continuation of the politics of greed and self-interest practiced presently will close the door on there being a next era for humanity that has any true quality of life. With wisdom and compassion we can evolve human society; without it, we are certain to devolve into a very dark time.
We MUST find our way back to The Garden, but now a garden that is understood as Nature tended lovingly and reverently through merging human spirituality and technology. We need not abandon our technologies, but realize all technology that is assaultive of the Natural world is “sinful” – missing the mark of humanity’s purpose in this Universe as witness and co-creator of the magnificent Natural Universe. We must find our way back to the Garden and bring our technology into its celebration and protection, and in doing so, finally begin to realize and celebrate our true human nature, for we are actually, as the bumper sticker declares: One People, One Planet, One Future. There is no other sane choice.