Climate Change and Redemption: The Third Noble Truth
Can we actually stop climate change and find a way out of this mess? Yes, according to the Buddha and the Third Noble Truth.
Recently, I wrote a post about about climate change and the first two Noble Truths. In these, the Buddha says that life is full of suffering and this suffering arises from our attachments. Besides the suffering these attachments create in our own life–like a drive to value money above family, community or ecosystems– the consumerism that arises from attachments is also the driver of climate change.
But what about the last two noble truths? I said in my previous post that, just as a physcian diagnoses and then treats an ailment, the Buddha does as well. After explaining that the woes of humanity are due to suffering, he then offers treatment. That antidote comes in the last two Noble Truths.
The Third Noble Truth says that there is an end to suffering, which is liberation. It is the fading away of these attachments, the ending of cravings and lust and greed, unhinging ourselves from these shackles that drive us to horde and destroy and exploit, and instead touching freedom.
The Third Noble Truth deals with one of my favorite phanomenons, which is redemption. When it comes to climate change, we are collectively creating terrible suffering in the world. But, the Buddha says we can end that. Redemption is possible, transformation and change are possible, liberation and salvation are possible.
When it comes to climate change, the Third Noble Truth is like a self-fulfilling prophecy: as we end our own suffering, we decrease suffering in the world. When we end (or more realistically, quiet) our own attachments, we will end (or, again, more realistically, calm) our own suffering. We re-orient away from consumerism and capitalism and towards community, connection and care taking of the natural world.
Imagine this shift on a national or global scale. It would serve to not only end climate change, but reweave the severed threads of connection that lead to a whole suite of social maladies.
This is the opportunity of climate change: Like a beautiful flower begging to be smelled, climate change offers the alluring and redeeming opportunity to gaze inward to our lives and communities and see them for what they are really worth. It is the opportunity to be honest about who we are, to see our lives in their totality, with beauty and pain; to see our own attachments and the suffering that it creates, for ourselves and for our communities and for communities we do not even know, and then to work to end that suffering. And hopefully, make something even more beautiful than we had before.
Looking at climate change yes, it is painful and overwhelming, but there is a liberating medicine in the pain, which is the motivation to transform. When we do that, we can only become more resilient, connected and fulfilled.
Now granted, this is a tall order for humanity. As I watch the mess that is our current political system, I am not expecting to wake up to national enlightenment any time soon. That is why we have to be engaged. That is why we have to push for legislation and systemic reform and structural changes.
It is not what I am expecting, but I can hold that possibility. I can orient myself toward ending my attachments, I can inspire others to. The Buddha provided guidance on how to do this through the Fourth Noble Truth, where he lays out the Eight-Fold Path, which I will address in a future blog post.
But, for now, I just want to stop and really linger in this one. One of the most noxious things about climate change is how big and overwhelming it is. It is a problem that terrifies people and shuts them down and then they don’t do anything. This Third Noble Truth holds magic in it, reminding us that change is possible and that our lives can be more beautiful than before. We can end suffering. We can end our own suffering and can end it in the world, or at least stop making it worse and start making it better.
If we are going to do anything about climate change, we first have to believe that we can. So, yes, we can do something. We can, indeed, stop climate change. There is a way out of this mess.
You don’t have to believe me; this one came directly from the mouth of the Buddha.