My Land

I look out my window and I see “my land,” three acres of mixed forest on a small lake in Wisconsin.  But is it, “my land?”  My wife and I have “owned” it for twenty years and before that it was Mr. Richie’s land and before that, well I’d have to look at the deed.  It’s what conveys the illusion of “ownership.” And not long from now it will be someone else’s land, if we keep to this legal fiction.  But for 12,000 years it “belonged” to indigenous people who hunted and fished and camped here, and we’ve no reason not to believe that some of them are buried here.  Sacred land.  And of course, it “belongs” even now to the bears, white tail deer, fox, rabbit, turtles, squirrels, a whole array of woodland birds, hognose snakes, chipmunks, eagles, crows and ravens, frogs, and many others who come by foraging, to say nothing of the millions of soil organisms going about the dark work of breaking down the leaves and pine needles and turning them to soil.

The Buddha said “The words ‘I’ and ‘mine’ do not occur to a wise man.” He also said: “Paradoxical though it may seem, there is a path to walk on, but there is no traveller; there are deeds being done, but there is no doer, there is a blowing of the air but there is no wind that does the blowing. All thought of self is an error. . . .”  In plainer words—there is no such thing as an isolated, individual.  We are all dependent on one another for our very physical, to say nothing of our mental existence.  These trees are producing some of the oxygen that keeps me alive with every breath.  The comparable Hindu teaching is: “The Greater Self in all beings and all beings in the Greater Self.”

We don’t even “own” our own bodies for very long and they, like everything else, is continually shifting and changing.  So we have two of the great truths of Buddhism and Hinduism: impermanence, and dependent arising.  Meaning what for my perception of “my land”?  It’s not.  It’s not that “I” am only here for a short while, but that “we” are, companions in a community that the world of Mara, the world of fearful materialistic possessiveness, defines with imaginary lines on a map.  Meaning that the well-being of all of us is tied up with what we all do, and that this fluid and fairly boundary-less “I” person need to take their well-being into consideration and act as just one member of this community that stretches so far beyond the boundaries of “my” land.  And if we all wake up to this reality, then all will be well.

 

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Asking the RIGHT QUESTION About The Environment

There are lots of right questions.  For example:

  • “How fast is the extinction rate proceeding?”
  • “Can the polar bears survive?
  • “How much CO2 is in the atmosphere now?”
  • “Why are so many toxic dumps sited by people of color?
  • “Who’s responsible for the pollution?”
  • “Are the coral reefs dying?”
  • “Why should anybody care of the insect populations are crashing?”
  • “How is the border wall damaging wildlife and biological diversity?”

 

And on and on.

 

These are perfectly good questions but they each give only a fragment of the whole picture. But what is THE RIGHT QUESTION?

 

If we are going to understand what’s happening, where we are in history of the Earth, and what to do about it, we need a much bigger question, a compound question that will help us ferret out what’s happening, how serious it is, who is responsible, who is harmed, and how it all interrelates or fits together. etc.  I suggest the following.  It’s not very elegant—won’t win any prizes for poetry, but here it is.

 

The Biosocial Question

Who determines what is done to nature, according to what beliefs and values, by whom, using what technologies at what rates, with what impacts on the planet and on society, and with what costs and benefits for whom?

 

What a mouthful!  But this analytical tool will reveal the state of the planet and civilization, showing us where we have gone wrong, who’s responsible, what we’ve done right and what we need to do now to avoid the impending collision between humanity and nature.  In short, we need a systems analysis approach since we are dealing with highly complex and interrelated biological, physical and social systems.  Put more simply, this ugly construction will tell us who we are, where we are, how we got here, and how to get out of here.