From Bodhisattva to Ecosattva: Integrating Personal Practice and Global Activism


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David Loy, Zen teacher, scholar, and prolific author, reveals his acute understanding of the crises we face today, the psychology at the root of the problems, and how we can make our way forward in this in-depth discussion. He has adopted the term ecodharma to focus attention on the challenge Buddhism faces now: integrating personal transformation with global activism and social transformation. As David points out, the focus needs to be on this world, with transcendence being a metaphorical understanding but not an excuse to abandon the problems we and our planet face today.

Besides gaining great depth of knowledge from being a scholar and student of koans, David’s insights come from a plethora of nondual experiences, which led David on a path of eco-action. Ecodharma asks: How does Buddhism need to change? How much is dwelling in emptiness becoming problematical in these challenging times? What’s best for the Earth? Everyone says practice, practice, practice…when is the performance? Is evolutionary pressure going to create a new way of living sustainably?

Recorded February 22, 2020.

Topics & Timestamps: Part 1

  • Social activism, Zen practice, philosophy, koan study: how it all started (03:52)
  • How does David’s Zen practice inform his activism? It was the experiences of nondual reality (05:48)
  • The emergence of compassion: when your sense of separation dissipates, it becomes not what’s in it for me, but what can I do to help make this a better world for everybody (09:14)
  • The cold civil war in the U.S. and the need to find a way to talk with each other and understand conflicting points of view (12:03)
  • Our fundamental problem is that we don’t feel real, because the separate self is a construct, inherently insecure, inherently uncomfortable, and we experience this as a sense of fundamental lack (14:03)
  • The psychological and sociological implications of this sense of lack and how society is constructed to take advantage of it: the contemporary world religion is consumerism (17:31)
  • The positive and negative sides of individualism (22:23)
  • The heart of the bodhisattva path: personal transformation and social transformation (24:57)
  • The challenge of integrating nondual experiences (27:31)
  • 3 elements of the Pali Canon’s Motivation for Awakening (28:31)
  • Dukkha (suffering) is structural not just individual (30:09)
  • Awakenings: transcendent, imminent, and the decline of Axial religions that devalue this world (36:26)
  • The problem with mindfulness and the 3 poisons: greed, ill will, delusion (40:51)

Topics & Timestamps: Part 2

  • The role of technology, moving into an age of virtual reality, and the creation of supernormal stimuli (01:41)
  • Ecodharma: addressing the need for a new understanding of practice and walking the bodhisattva/ecosattva path (04:37)
  • Keeping “don’t know” mind in the face of the eco-crisis (09:57)
  • How can Buddhism contribute to facing the critical issues of our time? (10:54)
  • The Extinction Rebellion, a grassroots direct action movement (11:49)
  • The election of Trump has highlighted our problems in making them worse (15:16)
  • The problem of complacency (17:24)
  • What signifies that one has started to walk the bodhisattva path? (19:42)
  • Desire versus craving (21:26)
  • Karma yoga and not being attached to the outcome (22:14)
  • The cycle of withdrawal and return common to those people who have contributed the most to humankind (23:45)
  • The deepest challenge of our practice is integrating the knowledge that everything is perfect, but also knowing action is needed to improve things (26:36)
  • Evolutionary psychology, the evolution of religion, and what we need to do today (28:18)
  • What socially engaged Buddhism has to contribute (34:02)
  • The challenge of the gnostic intermediary to transmit a wisdom tradition across cultures and across time (34:59)