Dharma of activism

Last week I wrote about an encounter I had with climate activists, one of whom was a monk from an eastern tradition. He suggested that the origin of the ecological crisis is rooted in the quality of mind. Further, that the pollution of the airwaves with untruths spoken by our leaders has more influence than we might think. His ideas divided the room and prompted some lively debate, excerpts of which follow.

“I understand that the quality of our thinking determines our choices and actions, which results in the quality of our results. I accept that the eastern way of thinking can help us reframe our approach to the problem.”

The young lawyer who spoke paused for a moment, her face belying the challenge she was about to voice.

“I have doubts about your suggestion that we should first seriously address the quality of our consciousness — before we ‘rush out’ to take action.”

The monk listened attentively.

“I accept the power and the importance of the enlightened activist. As you said, ‘If we awaken to the quality of our own thinking, if we cultivate a higher order within ourselves, we stand a better chance of addressing the problem.’ You quoted Gandhi who said, ‘We have to be the change we want to see in the world.’”

“Yes, that’s a good summary of what I said.”

“But that seems idealistic to me. It’s not practical or it’ too high a goal for the average person. I am also concerned that we don’t have a lot of time to solve this problem. Perhaps 11 years at most before we reach the point of no return. Excuse me if I sound sceptical, but we need more than navel gazing. I don’t think we have time to expand our consciousness before we take action. How long have you been practicing your path, if I may ask?”

“55 years.”

“And are you enlightened?”

The question raised a few eyebrows in the room.

“It’s not a courtroom, if you don’t mind me saying,” said one participant.

“It’s a good question,” replied the monk. “I would like to answer it — by saying no, I am not enlightened, not in the way I think you mean. But, I can say with confidence that the quality of my consciousness has evolved with my years of practice. What’s taken me years, may only take someone else months. I had high hopes when I started and yes I was idealistic. I still am. But it turns out I was a harder nut to crack than I first thought.”

The monk’s humility and candour spoke for itself, drawing some to the edge of their seats.

“So, in a way you agree with me, at least you are honest about what it takes.”

“I agree that the problem is urgent. Given its complexity it is hard not to become despondent. It is because it is complex that we need a new quality of thinking. We need to go back to the wisdom traditions that have encoded universal principles that can get us to that quality of thought. The principles of Dharma are a good example.”

“Doesn’t this take time?”

“Cultivating wisdom is a life long effort. Taking guidance from wisdom principles however, can be done in a moment. And it can be done at the same time that you are taking practical action.

… That is the ideal. Useful action informed by wisdom leads to optimal choices and better quality results.”

“Can you give us an example.”

“Greta Thunberg. That young lady is speaking truth plainly and respectfully. She is a person of action. It was simple at first. Just her alone with a placard in front of the Swedish parliament. Her effort caught our attention. Her strong intent – to speak the truth, as it is, has resulted in millions taking to the streets. It’s given people a sense that they can do something — should do something. You could say that the quality of her mind is resonant with wisdom principles. She is only 16, so she hasn’t had decades to cultivate that quality of mind. Like I said,

… a more enlightened state of mind can be achieved in a moment, especially if one takes the support of wisdom principles.”

“OK. How might we use wisdom principles to stimulate a new quality of thinking in as many people as possible?”

— To be continued


Feel like sharing?


  1. clara sherriff

    your best yet Michael – poetry in action 🙂 Clara

    • Michael Geary

      Thank you Clare.

  2. Rasangi

    A cliff hanger!

    • Michael Geary

      Hi Rasangi,
      Glad you liked it. Thank you.


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