I tend to write here from a secular point of view. But taking advantage of the launch of a campaign to engage more spiritual traditions in environmental mobilization, I will bring here a more “spiritual” theme.
The Faith in the Climate initiative launched this week guides of “Climate Change Reflections for Religious Communities” (there is a contribution of mine in the Buddhist section). It may seem that one thing has nothing to do with the other, especially when we see so many eminent, supposedly “religious” people committing exactly the opposite of what their religion teaches. Even so, I believe that any form of spirituality, including secular approaches, should be deeply linked to loving care not just for human beings, but for all of life.
The very fact that many religions today openly grow up with a materialistic message—promising riches, power, and everything else—demonstrates a certain ethical bankruptcy.
Thus, among the growing share of non-believers, an inflamed and instantaneous rejection of large religious institutions is common. As this is largely due to these people who end up destroying the reputation of their religion, I understand and even sympathize in a way with this dissatisfaction – although I also don’t come close to being an example for the tradition I represent.
The problem is that often, as the Americans say, “when you throw away the water from the basin that bathed the baby, the baby goes with it”. By rejecting religions and the evil that some of the adepts practice, what is good ends up going with it: human values such as compassion and care that, in fact, have nothing religious and, in theory, should be at the base of these traditions.
That’s why I don’t find any attempt at religious conversion or expansionism productive, including the more subtle ones that suggest a kind of philosophical or ethical supremacy. I believe that the widespread dissemination of a completely secular spirituality or ethics, based on altruism and the recognition of the greater life that unites us, does have the potential to transform the world.
It is worth stopping to think about what spirituality means. The word “spiritual” in origin refers to an immaterial principle, as opposed to matter. But in practice, a person we consider “materialist” is not simply someone who believes in matter as the absolute principle of existence, but someone who pursues only material goals, that is, finite and transitory goods. In opposition to this, a “spiritual” person is one who is guided mainly by principles that are not restricted to his passing desires, by values that transcend individual existence, without necessarily denying it.
Thus, spirituality can be peacefully experienced without any kind of supernatural belief — and often this ends up being more genuine, due to the ossification of the great traditions. For example, we can say that life itself already has an inherent and immediate spiritual dimension, as it simultaneously involves transcendent principles (it is greater than each of us, we are only limited expressions of it) and immanent principles (it is right here and now, in this body , in this mind).
This understanding is quite obvious when we consider the planet’s biosphere. The deep recognition of how we are an integral part of the natural world — even though there are still no definitive answers to what life is — is enough for a complete spirituality, as it includes ethical values in relation to everything that lives, there is communion and union. with a less relative and more absolute reality, and that brings the peace of an existence with meaning and purpose.
It is at times like the present, when our societies are threatening to crumble due to the destruction of the environment, that our deep natural roots are exposed, and there is much greater potential for awakening. Anyone who didn’t used to consider questions like these ends up doing so. The more people awakened in this sense, the greater the chance of adequately dealing with this unprecedented existential crisis.
Perhaps the main obstacle to this awakening is not the fact that many people do not see beyond the most immediate and individual goals — and many cannot, due to inequality and exploitation. But there is already a widespread and deeply rooted value system that goes in the exact opposite direction of this more integrated vision. This system says: we are isolated beings, the individual will is supreme, anything goes in its name, our nature is selfish, life is a competition, for instant satisfaction and pleasure, etc.
And this even translates into spiritual beliefs, like the ideas about the supremacy of the human soul, that other living beings have no soul, we were made in the image of God, we are masters of nature.
Even people more inclined to science fall into this supremacism, considering that the human being is the evolutionary apex, being the exclusive owners of consciousness, our genes are selfish, or that the cosmos awakens to itself in human consciousness (that is, we are the center of universe!).
The same goes for politics and economics. Have you ever stopped to think about what statements like the following mean? “Capitalism is the only viable system. The more you privatize, the better. Inequality is inevitable because human beings are unequal by nature. Market forces organize the economy efficiently because they are natural.”
So it’s not that we are blind to the fact that there is a vast interdependent natural web—of which we are mere links—out of sheer ignorance. This is too obvious not to be noticed. The obstacle is that there is this supremacist belief that ramifies and spreads on all levels, leading in the exact opposite direction of the deepest reality. As long as it is not neutralized — and the current system is not identified for what it is: a very dangerous false idea — we will remain blind.
My utopia in spiritual terms is a world in which there are no more “spiritual people”, in the sense that seeing or seeking reality as it is should not be something exceptional, which needs to be classified as an exotic interest. This should be a natural and universal process. Likewise, there would be no “environmentalists” and “ecologists”. Isn’t it strange that reading the news we find phrases like the following?
“Environmentalists claim that this bill is an invasion of indigenous lands and their own right to exist.”
In other words, “environmentalists” are part of that anomalous group of beings who care about things like nature, native peoples, the air we breathe, the environment we live in. It’s like this is unnatural! In this view, the normal and natural thing is to destroy and exploit.
It may seem that I am defending that view, widespread in spiritual circles, that to correct our catastrophic course, it is enough to look around, unite with nature, meditate, etc. No, I don’t believe it. Especially in dangerous times like today. What I think is that genuine world transformation necessarily involves regeneration or decolonization of the way we think and exist, just as genuine spirituality—or concern for a greater good—necessarily involves acting on the great evils we create.