Among the many Buddhist places that you were able to discover when writing your book On Earth as in Heaven, which ones stood out to you the most?
The Karma Ling Institute was really important to me, especially through its location in the heart of a wild nature, withdrawn on the heights of the mountains. Over there, it's a bit like Tibet, with the snow-capped peaks that point in the distance, the large forest massifs and the wild fauna, which give it its eremitic vocation, its isolation. I went there often to take lessons, and I was well nourished there, especially in what Buddhism had to tell me about ecology and my relationship to the world. On the other hand, I discovered that it is in the practice of full presence – which is a pillar of the teaching at Karma Ling – that I manage to live most intensely this dimension of interdependence with nature. In the Christian tradition from which I come, this would be called “communion”. Then I discovered other places like the Plum Village, from the Vietnamese Zen Buddhism tradition, which has also been precious for the anchoring it offers in mindfluness or full presence, at the heart of their lives and all their activities.
Why is mindfulness so valuable to you today?
Full presence is a posture, a state of being in the world that allows you to experience a fair relationship with the living, both around you, but also inside yourself, and to experience it in the concrete the totality of his being, both body, heart, soul and spirit. For me, this experience goes beyond all the conceptual things that can be said about the living. The experience of sitting, of silence or even of contemplative walking, as proposed by Thich Nhat Hanh, were complete, integral experiences.
It was at Karma Ling, about fifteen years ago, that your idea of working around eco-spirituality was born. Since then, how has Buddhism nourished your daily ecological commitment?
There are several valuable notions and experiences that I retain. First of all, this notion of interdependence, which was a fundamental confirmation of the intuition that everything is connected, and which corresponds to Pope Francis' “Everything is linked”. The understanding of interdependence means that nothing living in the universe exists independently, but rather all constituent phenomena are governed by a subtle relationship that forms the web of life. The second dimension is that of compassion, in the broad sense of the term, which is both an empathy with the world and a deep respect for the living, but also a process specific to life. Compassion is not just an external quality, but a vital principle, in the sense that it underlies life. The notion of compassion also carries with it the whole dimension of “ahimsa”, a concept that is both Buddhist and Hindu, which goes beyond the idea of non-violence to enter into that of non-harm. Not only do we do no harm and we do not harm the Earth and the living, but in addition, we actively take care of them, we protect them. It goes much further than the passive aspect generally attributed to non-violence. Through the notion of ahimsa, we take on an active role as guardians of the Earth. It also means that we are an integral part of life and co-responsible. And there is the dimension of fundamental unity, another essential dimension of Buddhism. This posture rooted in non-duality spoke to me a lot. It is experienced in the practice of meditation of full presence… These practices of interiority can bring a lot to our time, because they allow us to be in relation with ourselves while being intimately connected to the world.
You do not deprive yourself of a certain critical eye, however, since you write that “it is not because these places are Buddhist that they are necessarily ecological”. What is your assessment of the situation?
There are indeed a number of Buddhist monasteries where nothing has yet been done for ecology, where the food offered is not respectful, where no sorting is done, where concern for the Earth and the living background… But it is the same observation for spiritual centers of other traditions and in other environments. My intuition is that each great tradition or each great wisdom has spiritual foundations inducing an ecological commitment. Just as every good Christian should be green – because if there is indeed a religion of the incarnation, it is Christianity! –, any Buddhist, immersed in the notions of interdependence and compassion, should be a bit green! In reality, very few places really embody this dimension of concrete ecology, because there is a real prioritization of “work on oneself”. Which is legitimate, but shouldn't be exclusive. My survey shows that the spiritual posture has not yet totally rubbed off on the commitment to the world. Most of the places mentioned in my book are in search of balance and coherence, a bit like what is happening in our society. After all, these places are only microcosms of our world. These communities often live in concentration the major questions that cross our society. The challenge is to understand the mechanisms that underlie the transformations to allow us to initiate a real ecospiritual transition.
Conversely, do you have the impression that the new movements committed to ecology, in particular the youth movements in the wake of Greta Thunberg, such as Youth for Climate, integrate this spiritual dimension into their approach?
For me, what these young people are doing is spiritual, even if it is not qualified as such. Standing up to defend the living is a deeply spiritual act. It is true that there persists a distrust of the spiritual in activist and militant circles. It is a fear that can be linked to the seizure of power that monotheistic religions were able to exercise in the past. Often, among young people, there is no conscious distinction between spirituality and religion; everything goes in the same bag… and often goes down the drain. We really need to clear up this confusion and remember that spirituality is nothing other than nourishing the breath of life that everyone carries within themselves, in the service of a life greater than themselves. But, all the same, I am optimistic, I think that these circles are in the process of opening up to this spiritual dimension. There is a real quest for interiority and meaning. Everyone feels that all these fights and all these mobilizations, it uses energy and it does not advance much... The people registered in these movements begin to think that there is perhaps something else , which they don't necessarily know how to name, other dimensions alongside simple action.
My survey shows that the spiritual posture has not yet totally rubbed off on the commitment to the world.
Currently, for example, we see the emergence of meditation groups, such as withinExtinction rebellion For example. In other circles, we also see the development of the Work that Connects tool, set up by Joanna Macy. More than a simple methodology, the Work that Connects is a posture that allows to enter into empathy and intimate resonance with the world. It offers us the possibility of welcoming our emotions and “composting” them in a collective context of solidarity and benevolence. It allows us to reconnect with our deep desire to work for life, in consciousness and lucidity. In this, Joanna Macy creates relevant tools for our changing world. It calls us to become “Warriors of Shambhala”, equipped with the two weapons of compassion and understanding of the interdependence of all phenomena – it is a posture that joins Buddhist teachings. And the resulting action can undoubtedly be seen as a form of spiritual engagement.
Check out part 1 of this interview:
> Ecospirituality: the future of the world is here and now