4 Noble Truths

4 Noble Truths of Climate Change

The original four noble truths is a teaching that Siddhartha the last Buddha and his associates used to describe a path leading to the ending of suffering inherent in our lives. It can also be seen as a diagnosis and antidote to cure a disease or addiction. This is a formula that can be applied to addressing any problem on any scale and can guide us from inaction to skilful action.

So it is relevant to apply it to the problem of climate change and the damage we are causing to the global environment.

The first noble truth – There is climate change*

The second noble truth – There is an origin to climate change

The third noble truth – There can be an end to climate change

The fourth noble truth – There is a path leading to the ending of climate change

(*when we refer to climate change we mean human induced climate change)

The first noble truth – There is climate change

The climate is warming and is progressively damaging the environment and diversity of species.

Climate Change Forecast. Prof Schlesinger, Urbana
Climate Change Forecast. Prof Schlesinger, Urbana

But don’t panic! Climate change should simply be understood, without fear or blaming others. We are all responsible. Focus not only on the basic science but also the consequences: for people, plants and animals and the children in the future. Facts are friendly and help us face the real situation and empower us  to talk about it and accept it.

The second noble truth – There is an origin to climate change

The emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide in particular, largely from burning fossil fuels has over-whelmed nature’s temperature regulation system.

grangemouth-oil-refinery-editOver the last twenty or so years it has become known with growing certainty that the damaging warming is a consequence of the greenhouse gas emissions.

The real problem is that the issue is being ignored.

Ignorance leads to inaction. Obvious change is not being done.

Ignorance stems from attachment to cherished everyday behaviour.

Continuing the every day behaviour has become an end in itself because it reinforces self image, self identity and a sense of individual destiny.

 The third noble truth – There can be an end to climate change

Oak Sapling
Oak Sapling

Emissions of greenhouse gasses can be reduced to levels where nature can recover.  Long before we began to pour massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, systems kept a balance. Oceans and land vegetation take carbon out of the air and store it; there is a natural cycle of carbon. Our excessive use of fossil carbon fuels has overwhelmed the capacity of the system. If we cut emissions as much as we can as quickly as we can we will give the natural system the opportunity to recover.

Practical investigation into the problem tells us what behaviour we have to stop doing and what we have to start doing. There have been many books and reports written on this. The key is turning our words into actions.

The fourth noble truth – There is a path leading to solving the problem of climate change

This is the eightfold path, there is no sequence, and we work on all eight at the same time.

Wise Understanding

Wise Intention

Wise Speech

Wise Action

Wise Livelihood

Wise Effort

Wise Mindfulness

Wise Concentration

Wise understanding and wise intention (wisdom)

Wise understanding leads in from the previous three noble truths. All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing and is not self. This line occurs many times in the Pali canon (The first written down texts of the Buddha’s teachings) and simply means nothing is permanent including ourselves. With right understanding you are giving up the illusion of self. There is still the body, there are still feelings and thoughts, but they are simply what they are and no more.

Society and the media have propagated a whole raft of myths about climate change which are not true and have created confusion and doubt, denial and inaction. The Kalama Sutta is a basic guide to the wise understanding of climate change and emphasises that once we have a better understanding of what is the truth of the situation. We can free ourselves up to act.

Kalama stupa, India
Kalama stupa, India

Wise intention is sometimes described as wise thought. It is being aware of our thinking process, questioning our negative thought patterns and cultivating goodwill to ourselves and others. This striving sustains our focus, minimises diversions and drives our behaviour.

 Wise speech, wise action, wise livelihood (moral action)

Decisions about wise action, wise livelihood and speech come from our deeper understanding. The decisions we make about how we spend our time, what priorities we set all tell us what we are serious about. What we do is what we believe in.

 At the moment confused chaotic messages encourage us to dismiss the urgency and severity of climate change and to give all our attention to unreal, unimportant issues. We need to challenge these messages and speak the truth about climate change.

Klima camp Hamburg, Germany
Klima camp Hamburg, Germany

Livelihood is a very powerful driver in our lives. Society is structured to enforce an orthodoxy of working in a market wage economy in order to sustain our living. Moral choice is detached from what we must do to earn money. It is made very difficult for an ordinary person to walk away from having to support an environmentally damaging economic system.

Coppice Practice Training 2000
Coppice Practice Training 2000

Taking wise livelihood seriously means not undertaking work which harms the ecological balance of the planet or has negative consequences for society as a whole. In a time of great peril it means working collectively to wake up and take action to solve the problems at hand.

Abiding by the following precepts begins us on an active moral path. Abstain or refrain from:

Killing and harming life (take time to consider the circumstances)

Taking that which is not given (stealing)

Bearing false witness (lying)

Sensual Misconduct (by informed consent and respect for the age limit)

Intoxicants that tend to cloud the mind (taking alcohol or drugs is not an excuse for breaking the other four)

Wise effort, wise mindfulness and wise concentration

Wise effort is not trying to save the world or become responsible for all the ills of the planet. Life and the planet are not ordered and tidy. It is not about controlling but playing our part. It is about sharing effort and getting things done collectively.

Climate Camp Cymru
Climate Camp Cymru

Wise mindfulness and concentration is about sticking to the plot and not getting diverted or distracted. Engaging in practice helps us to understand no self and to question our conditioned responses. Creating opportunities for dialectic, reflection and solitude to calibrate our minds helps with this. It also provides us with an emotional balance that helps us learn to work with people, develop friendship and build trust.

If we apply the above we find that after some time our lives improve. We develop a genuine sense of purpose, integrity, satisfaction and an authentic presence. We may even become truly happy.


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