By Kuya Minogue, resident teacher at Sakura-ji, Creston’s zendo
Suzuki Roshi once said, “What we are doing here is far too important not to take seriously.”
When he said that he was leading a fledgling Zen community, the first on the west coast. I’ve been mulling over his words with respect to our situation. What are we doing here, as we transition off oil? Both our situation and Suzuki Roshi’s situation have an important idea in common: both are about developing deep intelligence, which is exactly what we will need if we are to make a relatively painless transition off fossil fuels.
“Transition to what?” – you might ask. For me, the answer is obvious. Transition to a localized regenerative economy that is not based in the belief that money exists for the sole purpose of making more money; transition to regenerative agriculture and power sources; to locally based food sustainability and less travel; and to a communal life style that considers impacts on each other and the earth.
But Suzuki Roshi wasn’t talking about building a physical future, he was talking about deep changes in the human mind; transcendence of self-centredness; letting go of rigid assumptions, opinions, beliefs and worldviews digested in our early childhood language learning. These beliefs from childhood have been reinforced by “the curses of a wretched education”. An education based in the colonialist/capitalist premise that first we protect our own, and then we make piles of money, for ourselves — at any cost. We see where this has taken us. Suzuki Roshi is saying that we need to change our minds about how to understand our lives.
“It takes thirty years to change a mind” is a Zen saying that has certainly been true for me. Thirty years of learning to disrupt the myriad manifestations of the confused view that the world is here to serve me. I understand now that I got it backwards; I am here to serve the world. Before figuring this out, my whole life had been about getting what I need/want. I’ve had travel, adventure, and good help with my health issues. In my retirement, I’ve the privilege of food and housing security, a stable loving relationship, and a community that I deeply love. But those early summer wildfires reminded me that I, like the people in Lytton, could lose everything in a flash fire. This indisputable fact turned my mind to climate action.
Last week, Creston Town Council voted to join the Kootenay EcoSociety’s community climate pledge to full transition off fossil fuels by 2050. In 2017, Creston’s Official Community Plan did not mention preparation for fossil fuel reduction. In four short years, we, as a community, have taken what Joanna Macy would call, “The Great Turning” — turning away from business-as-usual, and turning toward a shared vision and collaborative action to build a viable future — a future with good jobs, good food, good housing, and good friends. This pledge could be the start of something wonderful!
There are Zen stories about monks awakening when they see a peach blossom or hear a pebble hit a bamboo tree. Those stories make it seem like life-changing moments happen in an instant, and not in 30 years. But that is not true. For 30 years those ancient teachers had been noticing and letting go of thoughts that they recognized as conditioned, especially the ones they grasped so tightly, that when questioned or critiqued, evoked annoyance at best, or deep anger at worst.
Everything on earth lives by killing something else. That’s an indisputable truth of survival. But hey — do you think we’ve overdone it a bit? When I reflect on Suzuki Roshi’s words, I can’t help but think that if we are to realize even a glimpse of an enjoyable post-oil future, we, like our town council, have to change our minds about what we are doing here. As for me, I’m striving to do my part in imagining and creating a sustainable future — right here, in Creston.
Explore the end of this unfinished sentence. “What I hope for the future is…” and then take some time to celebrate, even for one uplifting moment, this very deeply intelligent turning of the community mind.