From Her Body Sprang the Greatest Wealth, Part 2

Posted by – August 24, 2015
Categories: Ecology & Sustainability Guest Post Society & Politics Spirituality & Religion

Guest Post by Thanissara

While our climate crisis is catalyzing a social, economic, and energy revolution, we will only repeat old paradigms of exploitation unless we understand that our crisis is rooted in a dualistic consciousness. The consciousness that is wedded to “subject” in relationship to “object,” while fundamental to our everyday experience, veils the truth of our selves as woven within a seamless whole, where the plurality we perceive is only an appearance; it is not real.[1] According to the Buddha, our experience of the objective world arises from within the mind itself, and is dependent on attention. The fundamental nature of attention is conscious awareness. Wherever we direct attention, it is there that our experience of the “world” happens. In the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, which is an open, non-judgmental awareness that is empathetic and curious, attention is directed to body, feeling and sensation, mind states, and phenomena. Under investigation, as the Buddha pointed out, both “self” and “world” are seen as a co-arising dynamic that is mutually shaping and informing of each other. When we glimpse this subtle level of our experience, we begin to understand that the self and the world are reflections of each other. What then does it say about us, when the world around reflects the projections of our minds?

Siddhartha Gautama became known as the Buddha after his enlightenment; it is this word that best describes the essential nature of awakening, its etymology being buddhi or “to know.” Pure knowing has a quality that is present, curious, inquiring, and perceptive. This is an intelligence and clarity that is less concerned with objectifying the world as something to be controlled and owned, and more focused on coursing the depths of the mystery (as stated in the Heart Sutra), where the world and its “objects” dissolve into profound subjectivity. It is here that the intimacy of all things is revealed. Things are “known,” but not as objects. They are known as part of an undifferentiated subjectivity.

The iconic line of the Heart Sutra, form is emptiness, emptiness is form, inducts us into the deepest mystery of consciousness and matter. In reality they are not separate. There is no objective world without the subject. Who that “subject” is is the ultimate mystery. A mere glimpse of that adamantine “I Am That” burns up eons of ignorance, and in an instant we are delivered from craving.[2] This revelation is the opposite of splitting the atom, which led to the most destructive power ever unleashed. Instead all things merge within atomic consciousness, which cannot be further divided, as it has no location in time or space, and no boundaries. In Buddhist understanding the fundamental nature of mind is this very same undivided consciousness.

Seeing the falseness of our separate, hyper-individualized perspective orientates us within the inner shifts that can support the outer revolution we now need to ensure a sustainable future. Our climate crisis is accelerating us into a paradigm shift we now have to undertake. It is a journey that has the potential to bring us back home on every level. Inwardly, we listen into the intuitively intelligent awareness, present within the kaleidoscope of the phenomena. Here we meet what is longed for, our own intimate heart. When we touch our true heart, the world is transformed and the search for what is lost ends. We no longer endlessly consume the Earth to fill up our inner desolation. Instead we know our true worth. We enter our authentic being, which can both balance inner peace with the imperative to engage.

The Heart Sutra encourages a leap, a radical shift. We are to relinquish all that is false, all dream thinking, and leap beyond the walls of the mind. We are instructed to place our trust in our aware, undivided heart that awaits our return. It is this heart that will save us, because it brings us back to being truly human, sensitive, ethical, and responsive. We don’t have to become a disembodied, fractured, addicted, and crazed machine that compensates the desperate ache of our inner void through endless consumption, a consumption that bequeaths a wasteland in its wake like what is happening in Greece. A country decimated by a predator-driven austerity drive is the possible future for much of the world under the auspices of oligarchic capitalism, of which Chris Hedges offers a scathing assessment:

The Greeks and the U.S. working poor endure the same deprivations because they are being assaulted by the same system—corporate capitalism. There are no internal constraints on corporate capitalism. And the few external constraints that existed have been removed. Corporate capitalism, manipulating the world’s most powerful financial institutions … does what it is designed to do: It turns everything, including human beings and the natural world, into commodities to be exploited until exhaustion or collapse.[3]

In response to what is widely considered a fiercely grueling reaction to Greek debt by its debtors, which will likely turn it to a beggar state, French economist Piketty calls for a “conference on all Europe’s debt.”[4] What we really need, however, is a conference on global debt. We need to ask what debt is really owed, and to whom. If we consider the foundations of our current capitalist wealth, then, as African American artist Nona Faustine demonstrates, we are indebted far beyond our current European crisis. Our wealth is “From Her Body;” that is, the bodies, blood, sweat, and tears of millions of enslaved, indentured, and murdered bodies, and from the body of our magnificent and abundant Earth. An earth that can no longer sustain and support the increasingly extreme demands we place upon her. Those who now profit most from oligarchic capitalism, through the extraction of the earth’s resources, semi-slave labor, and exploitation of the working classes, are the most indebted. With 1 percent accruing 99 percent of global wealth in a system that rewards egotistical CEOs who make thousands of dollars an hour while resisting a minimum wage,[5] and a system that allows grossly inflated corporate wealth while abandoning everyday workers to poverty, the logical outcome is a global feudalistic state, or, more likely, a revolution.

Actually, the revolution-evolution is already upon us. We are already seeing massive investment and extraordinary innovation in renewable energy across the world. Germany has set a stunning example as the world’s first major renewable energy economy. In 2014, it set a new record, generating 74 percent of its power needs from renewable energy.[6] At the UN Climate Change Summit in September 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received commitments from more than a hundred countries to undertake climate action. The Congo and Uganda committed to restoring thirty million hectares of damaged forest, and Iceland and Costa Rica committed to being entirely fossil-fuel-free economies. Most countries are now setting ambitious goals that invest in renewables, cap the use of fossil fuels, and restore wilderness areas that act as carbon sinks, such as forests.[7] Demonstrating the complete viability of renewables, Denmark, through its government-backed offshore wind farms, can now generate 140 percent of its electricity needs.[8]

Meeting our climate crisis presents us with new possibilities, and a very obvious choice. Either we change our ways exceedingly fast, or we set the course of unmitigated suffering for generations to come, hurtling them, and most all life forms, toward extreme conflict, an unmerciful scramble for resources, and likely mass extinction, all of which is entirely driven by our human activity. To avoid that outcome, we have to appreciate that environmental, social, political, and economic systems are profoundly interconnected. Buddhism teaches that in reality the boundaries we construct are false. This understanding revolutionizes everything because we finally understand that the root of our human ills is the human mind, its delusions, and its projections.

While the mind is the source of our problem, it is also, as the Buddha pointed out, the source of our personal and collective redemption. A mind purified from the projected shadows of its own misconceptions is capable of insight, wisdom, compassion, and quantum leaps of evolutionary thought and action, all of which can be applied at systemic level. In spite of humanity’s tormented past, our deeper reality is a seamless world, divided only by the human propensity for delusion, fear, and greed. The veils can part from such an afflicted history when we allow ourselves to touch into the truth the Buddha spoke, vimutti sara sabbe dhamma, “Freedom is the essence of every circumstance.”[9] We are not just cogs in a corporate wheel. Our human spirit will ultimately revolt against injustice and inequity, whether for others or ourselves, because in truth we are part of one another. And so, the threat to our collective survival offers the chance to move forward in collaborative ways. The belching of carbon into our biosphere knows no boundaries, and so solutions have to go beyond geographic and nation-state borders in order to forge global alliances and necessary action.

The future belongs not to waste lands of burnt and tortured landscapes, or a return to feudalistic servitude. In the midst of devastation and destruction, as we negotiate the “the sixth extinction,”[10] the future is already emerging. It is in the shape of our awakening awareness regards the nature of reality; the immutable nature of consciousness, matter, and energy, is being mirrored in collaborative, inter-connected ways of working. As centralized systems implode, we are already moving within smaller self-empowered processes, where we can access global information, and are free to create, love, and share in ways that seek to express the truth of our deeper spirit, and our aspiration to align with the truth of an interdependence that respects the way of the Elders, our First Nation ancestors, who taught us to live in harmony with the earth.

At the end of the day, we humans are only here for a finger snap. Our empires and attempts to hoard possessions will inevitably be defeated by the shifting sands of time. Whether we manage to turn our dramatic global crisis into a different kind of dream, one that is “driven by deep desire to connect with others and share,”[11] or whether we fall under the weight of the dying dinosaur of our capitalist system, is yet to be seen. But what it clear is that a tiny window of opportunity is still open. Let us not fall back to sleep; instead, let us wake up and pick up the challenge for the sake of those to come. Together, we can bend the course of history.

It seems impossible, until it is done.

— Nelson Mandela

Read Part 1


1. Einstein and Buddha by Thomas J. McFarlane.
2. The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra by Thanissara.
3. “We Are All Greek Now” by Chris Hedges.
4. “Germany Has Never Repaid its Debts. It has No Right to Lecture Greece.” by Thomas Piketty.
5. “‘Hourly’ Pay for Fast Food CEO’s is Astonishing” by Janson Best.
6. “Germany Sets New Record, Generating 74 Percent of Power Needs from Renewable Energy” by Kiley Kroh.
7. “UN Climate Summit: Who’s Promised What” by Amanda Wills.
8. “Wind Power Generates 140% of Denmark’s Electrical Demands” by Arthur Nelson.
9. Mula Sutta, AN53, translated by Nyanaponikia Thera and Khikkhu Bodhi.
10. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.
11. The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism by Jeremy Rifkin.

Time to Stand Up by Thanissara book cover


Thanissara and her husband Kittisaro (Harry Randolph Weinberg) are the founders of Dharmagiri Hermitage in South Africa, from where they support several HIV/AIDS Outreach Programs and help guide and fundraise for Kulungile Care Center for orphaned and vulnerable children and teenagers. They have taught meditation internationally in Europe, the US, Canada, South Africa, and Israel for over 25 years. Thanissara grew up in an extended Anglo-Irish family in London, attending Southampton College of Art and traveling extensively in Asia in the 1970s. Also inspired by Ajahn Chah, she spent twelve years as a Buddhist nun in Thailand. She holds an MA in Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy Practice from Middlesex University and the Karuna Institute in the UK and co-facilitates the Community Dharma Leader Program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California.

Tags: Buddhism Climate Change Global Politics Sacred Activism Social Change Thanissara

About the Author

Bevin is the publicity and marketing manager at North Atlantic Books.