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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Buddhism and permaculture

Just doing a little thinking out loud, 'k? If it wanders all over the map, that's an indicator of my present internal condition. We all have our journeys.

Interest: first principles. 

Subsistence. Now that we are here, we must eat, drink, breathe the air, find shelter, and sometimes move from place to place. As cleaner air, water, food and shelter are more beneficial than air, water, food and shelter that cause cancer or destabilize the climate, it is not enough to seek these things but to seek them "rightly." (Let me know if there is a better word for that.) Hence homesteading, small farming, smallholding, organic agriculture, family farming, subsistence farming, handicraft, localism, walking are to be generally preferred over industrialization and industrialized transport when and where possible. So I explore the appropriately scaled skill set and techniques, seeking the cleaner results.

Compassion. We're not the only ones who need these things. There is a context. How we give directly impacts how we receive. For now, I will identify compassion with ethics and provisionally think of ethics as the honoring of contracts. It may be our diverse philosophies, religions, sciences, knowledges are an ongoing conversation about what contracts are in force. Not all of these, at all times, are all that helpful. Religious warfare may be the most extreme example of an unenlightening conversation. 

To be rejected after long consideration: overemphasis on self as in the phrase "self-sufficiency." Libertarianism can lead to the honoring of fewer contracts than is good for either the individual or the community.

To be rejected, also after long consideration: religiosity as evinced by Judeo-Christian-Muslim and also New Age pietisms (here I mean not the Pietist movement in Protestantism but the emphasis on emotional response to "higher" beings and the expectation sometimes inculcated that such emotion will somehow obtain for us [or others] food, drink and shelter). Emotionalism is an adaptive behavior, but in and of itself it does not fulfill contracts. We forget this when we invest "compassion" with a burden of "passion." Example: if I see someone hungry on television, and say, "how terrible," I may feel as though I have done something to alleviate their hunger. But I have not. How we give impacts how we receive. Hence identification of "compassion": with "ethics" -- it is an attempt to clear my head for this exercise concerning Permaculture and Zen.

Following David Holmgren's formulation, I note that permaculture principles spring from ethics. "care for the earth, care for people, and fair share." 

This is the compassion component.

These are the principles, edited for brevity: 
  1. Observe and Interact. By taking the time to engage with nature we can design relevant solutions.
  2. Catch and Store Energy. Developing systems to collect resources when abundant, we can use them in need.
  3. Obtain a yield – Ensure that you are getting useful rewards from your work.
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – Efficient or resilient systems require noting and correcting inefficient or nonresilient practices.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – as opposed to non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not.” 
  7. Design From Patterns to Details – Observe patterns in nature and society. Test their appropriateness broadly, rather than losing yourself in detail.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop, creating efficiencies and resiliences.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – Small is beautiful.
  10. Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” -- be resilient.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.
This is the subsistence component, but if we are paying attention, it's really just a breakdown of compassion into actions -- the honoring of contracts with our surroundings.

Buddhism is of interest to me because it codifies and ritualizes compassion and, while, like anything we do, it is shot through with accreted pietisms, can function unusually well without them.

First, there are the four noble truths. These concern a condition in which we find ourselves, of being "not right." The word for this in Pali, dukka, originated in a term which could be used to describe an axle not fixed properly to the center of a wheel -- off-center -- causing the cart to jounce along badly and eventually to fall apart. It's often translated, perhaps a bit misleadingly, as suffering.

So, (here I take liberties based on the preceding discussion) the truths may be expressed:  1. Things are not quite right (between us and the universe, say): off-center. 2. This results from selfishness, the not honoring of our contracts. 3. Giving up selfishness restores the center and our usefulness in terms of honoring our contracts. 4. Here is how we fix that: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

These items in the fourth truth, traditionally known as the eightfold holy way, comprise the compassion element of our subsistence-compassion continuum. First we recognize we're out of sync/not honoring our contracts (it's also true that contracts with us are not being honored by others, but I think we interfere with our own fix if we concentrate our thoughts and feelings on that: see under resentment). Second, we clear away motivations that can lead us even further astray (see "resentment," above). Third, we cease offering the world excuses and advice that can lead others even further astray. Fourth, we begin to choose among our options on the basis of foreseeable consequences to others: honor such contracts as honor compassion. Fifth, earn our subsistence in a manner consistent with all the foregoing. Sixth, none of this can be successfully undertaken in a half-hearted manner. The "couch potato" may break at least twenty-five contracts just eating those chips in front of the television. Seventh, you are as you think. To see a contract right in front of you that needs honoring requires some self-discipline. Eighth, about that self-discipline. It takes practice. No time like the present.

To get in enough practice to make all this happen, Buddha recommended a brotherhood (and here is where I get twitchy) of men (yes, men, not women) who reject the contracts that interfere with "right-doing." He called it the Sangha, from a word meaning, "a gathering." So, suddenly there was an in-group that could be defined against an out-group; I suppose it was inevitable that struggles of various kinds, including power struggles, in which dukka was very evident would take place over the succeeding centuries.

Perhaps fortunately for me, Buddha's foster mother saw a problem with this boys' club and, after five years and with the persistent visionary help of a trusted disciple, Ananda, Buddha proclaimed there could be a women's club as well (I'm aware of my tone here, but gee whiz!) so there are now an order of bhikku-sangha (boys club) and bhikkuni-sangha (girls club). And here it is some 2500 plus years later, and there is still some controversy (among the various flavors of boys' clubs) as to whether Buddha was in his right mind when caving to Ananda and Mahaprajapati. All I'm going to say about this right now is, guys, think about honoring the contract, it'll do ya'll some good).

So there is a way to practice the concentration ... that will clarify the mind ... that will guide the effort to attain a compassionate livelihood ... exemplifying speech, intention and view ... toward the honoring of our contracts.

In Zen (finally she comes to that part of her title) there is some emphasis on meditation, zazen, sitting cross-legged and maybe a bit cross-eyed, which is "right concentration." Emptying the mind of everything in order to come to realization. And that's what many of us think of when we think of Zen, from Middle Chinese 禪 Dzyen, from Sanskrit Dhyana and, sure, I could talk about that (concentration came at the end of the lists because you can't get on the team without practicing the game -- as the coaches say, practice, practice practice).

But, umm, not going to. Other than to note that, other things being equal, which they are not at present, I might easily vanish into the Soto Zen bhikkuni-sangha somewhere. There's certainly a yearning. I will admit that I have an anxiety around that. I'm, as I turned out, a transwoman. Would they have me? (I'm in the process of asking for clarification on that.)

But meanwhile I'm just a simple homesteader, 'k? And maybe you are, or are planning to be, something of the sort. There are relatively few examples of right livelihood in our increasingly dukka world. But surely those that provide as cleanly services (without excess pollution, heat-trapping gases, poison, anger, and greed) -- food, air, water, shelter and transportation pertinent to the world's needs, as they are able -- are those doing right livelihood. Farmer's market retail, say. Solar installer. Cargo bicycle delivery person. Personal trainer. Organic wholesaler.


Today's meditation is on whether there is or can be a fruitful intersection between Buddhism (as it might be described by a Zen adherent) and Permaculture.

(Of course, Risa, didn't you google "permaculture" with "buddhist" on your way in here? Mmm-hmm, and got lots of answers, but I'm looking for the path through this that fits my feet.)

Note all the capital letters. There is a danger of pietism here, but I hope I am simply denoting that these may be regarded as whole systems.

The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Way.

Twelve Permaculture Principles informed by Three Ethics. 

"Care for the earth, care for people and fair share" strikes me as consistent with the Four Truths. The twelve principles, to my mind, are elucidations of "right mindfulness" toward "right livelihood."

Having washed my bowl, I dress for work, invite the farm bell to express my gratitude for another day, and walk to the potting shed for a flat of kale to set out in the gardens.

Mindfully, I hope. 


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