Posted inOther Teachings

Healing Ecology: Discovering Our Collective Place in the World, by David R Loy, Part 3 of 3

June 18, 2016

When we meditate, for example, we are not transforming ourselves. We are being transformed. Quiet, focused concentration enables something else to work in us and through us, something other than one’s usual ego-self.


Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of Discovering our Collective Place in the World.

This brings us to the second implication mentioned earlier: our collective response to this collective dukkha is just making things worse. First, let’s remember how things go wrong individually. We usually respond to the delusion of a separate self by trying to make that sense of self more real—which doesn’t work and can’t work, since there is no such self that can be isolated from its relationships with others. Since we don’t realize this, we tend to get caught up in vicious circles. I never have enough money or power; I’m never famous enough, attractive enough.

When we think about our collective response from this perspective, I think the motivation becomes clear. Lacking the security that comes from knowing one’s place and role in the cosmos, we have been trying to create our own security. Technology, in particular, is our collective attempt to control the conditions of our existence on this earth. We have been trying to remold the earth so that it is completely adapted to serve our purposes, until everything becomes subject to our will, a “resource” that we can use. Ironically, though, this hasn’t been providing the sense of security and meaning that we seek. We have become more anxious, not less. That’s because technology can be a great means, but in itself it’s a poor goal.

Sooner or later, one way or another, we will bump up against the limits of this compulsive but doomed project of endless growth. Since our increasing reliance on technology as the solution to life’s problems is itself a large part of the problem, the ecological crisis does not call for a primarily technological response. Dependence on sophisticated, ever more powerful technologies tends to aggravate our sense of separation from the natural world, whereas any successful solution must involve accepting that we are part of the natural world. That, of course, also means embracing our responsibility for the well-being of the biosphere, because its well-being ultimately cannot be distinguished from our own well-being.

The solution does not lie in “returning to nature.” We cannot return to nature, because we have never left it. That way of describing the natural world is dualistic; it dichotomizes between us and where we are located. The environment is not merely the place where we live and act, for the biosphere is the ground from which and within which we arise. The earth is not only our home, it is our mother. In fact, our relationship is even more intimate, because we can never cut the umbilical cord. The air in my lungs, like the water and food that pass through my mouth, is part of a great system that does not stop with me but continually circulates through me. My life is a dissipative process that depends upon and contributes to that never-ending circulation. Eventually I too will be food for worms.

Any genuine solution to the ecological crisis must involve something more than technological improvements. If the root of the problem is spiritual, the solution must also have a spiritual dimension. And again, this does not mean a return to premodern religious conviction, which is impossible for us today. Buddhism shows another way, which de-emphasizes the role of dogma and ritual. The Buddhist approach is quite pragmatic. The goal of the Buddhist path is wisdom in service of personal and social transformation.

When we meditate, for example, we are not transforming ourselves. We are being transformed. Quiet, focused concentration enables something else to work in us and through us, something other than one’s usual ego-self.

This opens us up and liberates a deeper grounding within ourselves. Our lack of self is what enables this process; it frees us from the compulsion to secure ourselves within the world. We do not need to become more real by becoming wealthy, or famous, or powerful, or beautiful. We are able to realize our nonduality with the world because we are freed from such fixations.

Although living beings are numberless, the bodhisattva vows to save them all. He or she assumes the grandest possible role, on a path that can never come to an end. Although such a commitment is not compulsory, it follows naturally from realizing that none of those beings is separate from oneself. We discover the meaning we seek in the ongoing, long-term task of repairing the rupture between us and Mother Earth, our natural ground. That healing will transform us as much as the biosphere.


Originally published as Healing Ecology: Discovering Our Collective Place in the World in One Earth Sangha, May 2015.

David R. Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo kyodan tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism. His books include A Great Awakening: Buddhist Social Theory and The World is Made of Stories. This article was adapted from Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution by David R. Loy © 2008. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Images: Dzogchen and Addicted, by Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND 2.0, from

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