His Last Lesson

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Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, died in January 2022. My friend, Beth, gifted me his last book, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet. How fitting his last lesson for humanity is how we can unite to save the planet. 

According to Thich Nhat Hahn, the planet’s fate depends on our actions now. “In our time of globalization, harmony will be impossible without some kind of shared values or ‘global ethic.'” This new way of living is about transforming our habits and remaining focused on how we want to live in the world. It’s a world of collective consciousness that looks out for everything and everyone. 

Buddhists speak of four kinds of nutriments that sustain us: edible food, our senses, food of purpose, and food of consciousness. It’s the belief that our thoughts and everything we take in physically and mentally have a tangible impact on the world. Dropping a pebble into a pond, ripples spread out, and in some small way, the pond is never the same again, for better or worse.

Edible nutrients: More than a third of raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in the United States are used in animal production. We preserve water, reduce pollution, prevent deforestation, and protect wildlife from extinction by eating less meat. (As more forests are cleared around the globe, the more likely new pandemics will emerge from the creatures that live within them.)

Our senses: Everything you watch, read, and listen to are sense nutriments. How do you feel after watching films or series with violence? Compare those feeling to watching a sunset. Which does the mind and body good? With sophisticated algorithms stacked against us, a morphine drip enticing us to watch the next episode, this habit of  savagery and all forms of violence is a tough habit to break.

“… instead of using the insights of science and technology to save the planet, the market is using technology to satisfy our desires and exploit the Earth further.”  

Thich Nhat Hahn

Nutriments of self-discipline and purpose: We must increase our self-control and compassion. What can we contribute as individuals or groups for social justice causes and save the planet? My friend, Becky, finds and sets up barriers to protect turtle eggs. At times she’ll lament she’s tired of getting up before sunrise, but not doing it is out of the question. My sister, Jórunn, knits children’s hats and mittens and donates them to the Red Cross to distribute. They are such small acts, but they are big things for the baby turtles and children in Ukraine and Siberia whose heads and hands are kept warm. Millions of small acts of kindness move the needle towards the compassionate path. 

Consciousness: Our state of mind is the sum of our past actions and experiences. Awareness of the nutriments that nurture us recognizes the harm our lifestyles cause to ourselves and the planet. Humanity’s karma (destiny) improves as we move forward with the interest of all living things in mind. 

A Zen story about a man on a horse running at breakneck speed. His friend calls out to him, “Where are you going?” The man shouts back, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.” Today, the horse galloping out of control represents our lifestyles, moving us closer to a cliff’s edge.

Thich Nhat Hahn’s last message is to stop our aggression towards Mother Earth and each other. Millions of people don’t believe scientists’ conclusions, that humans contribute to climate change. Science doesn’t claim to be the eternal truth. Science is about finding the truth. When science changes its opinion, it didn’t lie. It learned more.

Sources:

From the pasture to plates: https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/facts-on-animal-farming-and-the-environment/

Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, Thich Nhat Hahn

Deforestation is leading to more infectious diseases in humans: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/deforestation-leading-to-more-infectious-diseases-in-humans

How to protect birds: https://www.nwf.org/en/Magazines/National-Wildlife/2010/Help-Migratory-Birds

Bird glass collision: http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/glass.html

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