Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the ninth chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion on Sunday July 26th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Reading notes: HHK Interconnected Book (Module 3 – Living the Connection)

Chapter 9: Sharing Resources

So far: inner qualities of interdependence necessary for sustainability and compassion.

Next: directing these inner resources requires freeing ourselves from deeply held views and habits.

Central problem: comparing and competing (including the belief that these are beneficial for progress).

But: not the only option.

Sharing: 

Comparison and competition are counterproductive – aimed at increasing our portion of resources.

Need to shift our paradigm to relating to others (not independent with boundaries).

From an individual perspective, sharing sounds like giving up our freedom and resources without any personal advantage. We see others’ gain as our loss.

Serious world problems (refugee crisis, world hunger, environmental destruction) are compounded by our reluctance to share resources.

Alternative view based on interdependence and shift our paradigm:

Inner resources increase in the context of sharing – happiness is unlimited and renewable and increases when it is shared. Realizing this changes everything.

Rethinking Competition

Competition: valued, encouraged, almost required (economic, education, etc).

Positive results in terms of survival and material development.

But: disadvantages

  1. Comparing ourselves to others

  2. No final finish line to cross (endless)

  3. Life becomes an endless race.

  4. Leads to resentment, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction

  5. My addition: self-judgment

Problem: does not help with the pursuit of happiness.

Option: take a more thoughtful approach to setting values in our life

Common aim: happiness and freedom from suffering – this common goal provides a foundation for universal equality. Until this goal is reached, everyone is a valid object for compassion and deserving of conditions to flourish.

Completion –> winners and losers, but nobody actually wins.

Tapping Inner Resources

We tend to engage in an unthinking rush to upgrade (education, jobs, living space, finance, possessions etc)

This unthinking rush also feeds consumer culture.

Comparing: better to compare ourselves from where we came from or with those below or behind us in competitive schemes. Stop comparing with those above and ahead. Look back at the progress we have made. This helps us let go of dissatisfaction and instead experience contentment.

Example: comparing our cell phone with an earlier model instead of with the latest.

Teach ourselves to be satisfied with what we have and who we are.

People tend to under-rate themselves in terms of beauty (more of the compare world)

Misperception; also beauty lies within; beauty concerns our connectedness

We have all that we need and more.

Find an Inner Compass

It is a challenge to turn ourselves away from our habit of determining our worth by comparing.

Consumer culture promotes – must have X item to maintain our status gauging our personal worth on the basis of external and materialistic terms devalues inner qualities (so important).

Counter: cultivate our own inner standards; generate clarity about where our true worth lies and confidence in our ability to measure how we are doing.

Also: cultivate satisfaction – recognize our value.

Contentment is important; also courage to reorient ourselves.

Why courage? We are pulled by external social forces and pushed by our own greed and dissatisfaction – these reinforce each other and lead us back to old habits (social status and consumer goods).

Hard to change direction.

Must be decisive – ground ourselves in satisfaction and stay mindful of our true aim make lasting shifts for ourselves and later for communities.

Blind Faith

Consumer lifestyle relies on non-renewable natural resources. We assume science will find other resources to use when these run out. We take this approach rather than reducing our use of resources.

When premodern folks follow religions without question, we criticize that as blind faith and superstition.

But we do the same with technology and science. We follow with blind faith. Don’t even ask who funded the study? We don’t ask why research explored one question rather than another. We imagine that science is presenting objective truth.  We tend to blindly believe that science and technology have the power to protect us from the consequences of our own actions we continue the same patterns of consumption.

But: many scientists have alerted us to climate change, peak oil, species extinction, etc.

Problem: We believe when we are told what we want to hear – that our way of life can last forever. We believe in automatic happy endings even when inconsistent with fact. We fail to do what we actually need to do to bring about happy endings.

We ignore the environmental damage of continuing to rely on nonrenewable resources even though sustainable options are available.

Consumers, suppliers, citizens, scientists, and policymakers all play a role. We can all apply intelligence and question the viability of continuing our approach unchecked recognition that our consumptions patterns are leading in a dangerous direction courage to put on the brakes and change course (reducing consumption of nonrenewable resources).

Politicians who see this don’t even end up on the ticket. Unpopular.

Important to move in the direction of making reduced consumption of renewable resources popular.

Citizens: need to express skepticism.

Scientists: need to analyze the problem and create options.

Corporate and political: need to make these options available.

Consumers: Contribute by using options offered, even when not the easiest to adopt.

Consumers: Make individual changes and indicate that they want and need change on a collective level.

Challenging to modify our individual patterns of behavior, but if we are serious about protecting the planet’s resources courage to change.

Resources are Limited

Important to educate ourselves about the reality that we are interdependent individuals, inseparable from that reality – everything is interconnected.

The world is consuming as if natural resources will continue in an endless flow. Not true. Natural limits.

All arises from causes and conditions – when those causes and conditions no longer come together – no more arising.

Also: each cause and condition is dependent on its own set of causes and conditions. The web of interdependence links everyone and everything – therefore when one thing changes, everything shifts.

Changes – often too subtle to notice, but happening all the time. Our nonrenewable resources are dwindling with every use. The natural resources will run out completely at some point. Too late to moderate consumption to fit with what is available.

Our desire for consumption has no natural limit. Limits must be self-imposed.

We know this – why don’t we do it?

  1. No emotional awareness of interdependence (conceptual only)

  2. We do not feel or act as if we are interconnected. We act as if our actions are disconnected.

  3. Bombarded by unrealistic promises (media, marketing) that we can live in isolation from consequences.

  4. We don’t step back and think for ourselves.

What to do?

Slow down, relax our minds, and think deeply about how we are living in an interdependent world.

Ask ourselves – “Are our attitudes and behavior consistent with that reality?”

Find within the infinite sharable inner resources motivation we need to be able to share our limited external resources.

Building a Longer Table

Especially important for countries to contemplate if they consume resources disproportionate to their number.

Example: 5% of the world lives in the US, but we consume 30% of the resources used annually worldwide.

It is not our birthright to grab this large a portion of resources for our use. The world’s resources belong to the world collectively.

Also: these resources are not the property of this generation.

We must see ourselves as stewards (rather than owners) to protect these precious resources for generations to come.

We behave as though we are alone in drawing resources. Wealthy nations hoard and waste. No matter how rich and powerful we are, when the resources run out, there won’t be any left for us.

When we have so much good time to consider whether others don’t have enough. Good time to consider whether our use of resources comes at the expense of others.

Saying: If you have abundance, consider building a longer table.

Our wealth and excess can remind us that others are hungry or impoverished. We can be inspired to do something about that fact.

Global Production of Inequality

Globalization has allowed powerful countries to keep others away from their resources and at the same time secure commercial and political interests outside their own borders.

This is far from reflecting fundamental human equality.

Multinational Corporations:

  1. Seek new markets to sell their products at a good profit.

  2. Seek poor countries where cost of production is low (factories and buildings made of substandard materials, cutting corners on health and safety). This is possible because people are poor and desperate enough to work without demanding better conditions.

  3. The prices we pay are the result of these substandard low cost working conditions.

When we purchase consumer goods, we contribute to these conditions. Even if we grow our own food and make our own clothes, we still are dependent on the world – not innocent bystanders.

Water: A Universal Resource

Seems not to have limits.

Source of life.

No human race without it.

Equality in terms of need.

Access depends on circumstances.

All areas of the world use water. Arid areas pipe it in from other locations. Gardens and lawns mean we use more than our equal share.

Communities with ample resources may go through life without noticing that elsewhere people are dying for lack of clean drinking water.

Nations – same attitude issue – act as if something we have entitles us to squander it.

We are blind to the sameness of our needs.

Important – draw on inner resources to feel connected to others who share the same needs, but don’t have access.

Our resources are not ours alone to use or waste. Access does not mean entitlement to treat them as our exclusive possession.

Resources of the earth are common wealth. No reason to think water belongs to some but not others. Thirst is felt equality; bodies depend equally on clean water. The water belongs to all beings.

Awareness of interdependence recognition of the precious nature of scarce resources and inspires us to take extra care (consider what we are growing and how we are using water).

Living Breathing Planet

Forests are disappearing; fossil fuels are running out; earth’s drinkable water is diminishing.

We know this, but knowledge is not changing our behavior.

Need to learn to feel how very precious and rare our resources are – shift from mind to heart.

Helpful to think of resources as living beings personal connection. See them as sacred respect and motivation to care for them.

Question: Are trees and other living things appropriate objects for compassion?

HHK: even if they do not have an actual feeling of suffering, they yearn to survive. Trees seek out nutrients and sunlight and adapt to overcome adverse conditions. Plants seeks favorable conditions and protect themselves. They display a desire to live. We need to respect that.

We share that yearning to live with plants. Recognizing that can lead us to behave differently when we make use of the planet’s forest and other living things.

Scaling Up

Once we adopt a view of stewardship – how can we change course and live more compassionately and sustainably on this planet?

Huge challenge. So much sets us mindlessly moving in a reckless direction.

The future is being created by the causes and conditions we generate today. If we change our conduct today, we change the future.

Limiting consumption: Useless because we are such a small drop in a large ocean?

Consider: is this just an excuse to avoid changing our habits?

Waiting for someone else to take the first step just leaves us stuck in the same place.

Not helpful to delegate to those in power. This is not how interdependence operates.

Powerful can only bring change in conjunction with others. A Leader’s decision does not help without others participating.

Hearing about a local community project or reading about the suffering of children in another community might be the condition to motivate a leader (or others) to take up a cause.

Once leaders act – they need backing and support to counter the powerful interests against action. They need something to point to in order to establish there is a move for action that cannot be denied.

Each of us bears responsibility and has the opportunity to bring about needed changes – to identify, to inspire, to implement.

One role we play – consumers.

Consumers use energy – collective action amplifies effects.

We can send a message through our actions as consumers – expressing what we want and what we are willing to pay for it. As consumers we can change what is produced. They depend on us. If we change our behavior, they will change.

Our inner resources can provide the motivation to make consumer changes. Habits can be reshaped with discernment, empathy, compassion, generosity, responsibility and commitment. We can draw on these to shift to productive, sustainable practice, ending our current cycles of harm (to people, animals, and the natural world).

Replace greed with contentment and moderation.  Replace competition with sharing and compassion.

These are not idealistic shifts – they are fact-based and pragmatic.

If we approach the world’s supply of raw goods with a spirit of sharing and a sense of contentment and can appreciate what we do have, the earth’s limited external resources would be matched by the appropriate inner attitudes. This is an approach based on reality.

We can liberate ourselves from greed and dissatisfaction freedom to consciously embrace opportunities to share.

We can be different and equals, sharing resources and creating shared beauty.

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