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Religion & Spirituality
The Dharma Center and Community Solutions are partnering to offer an “eco-sattva” training beginning Jan. 12 to help villagers take mindful, effective action in response to climate change. Pictured outside the Dharma Center are, counterclockwise, course facilitators Saul Greenberg, Dione Greenberg and MJ Gentile, with Dharma Center Board Member Katie Egart. (Photo by Audrey Hackett)

The Dharma Center and Community Solutions are partnering to offer an “eco-sattva” training beginning Jan. 12 to help villagers take mindful, effective action in response to climate change. Pictured outside the Dharma Center are, counterclockwise, course facilitators Saul Greenberg, Dione Greenberg and MJ Gentile, with Dharma Center Board Member Katie Egart. (Photo by Audrey Hackett)

Eco-sattva: Climate compassion, action

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Are you — or could you become — an “eco-sattva”?

A blend of “ecology” and “bodhisattva,” the term refers to a person working for the well-being of all life in the face of environmental harm. And a new eco-sattva training course, developed by One Earth Sangha, a Buddhist organization addressing climate change, is coming to Yellow Springs. 

The Dharma Center and Community Solutions are partnering to offer a local version of the eco-sattva training, which includes online presentations and audio materials from a range of American and international Buddhist leaders, as well as discussion, reflection and meditation. The training will be held Thursdays, Jan. 12–Feb. 16, 7:45–9 p.m. at the Dharma Center. Participation is free, as the two organizations are covering course fees. Donations, known as “dana,” or generosity, are welcome.

“It’s really a way to motivate people to come from a deeper place” in response to climate change, said Dharma Center Board Member Katie Egart. “While the facts [about climate change] are there, the motivation is not. … So it has to be about more than facts. That’s where spiritual practice comes in,” she explained.

The training is being facilitated by three local residents: MJ Gentile, a Dharma Center board member; Dione Greenberg, a longtime member of the Dharma Center’s book discussion group; and Saul Greenberg, husband of Dione, a Community Solutions board member for the past 10 years. 

Participants do not need to be Buddhists or knowledgeable about Buddhism to take part. “The course is a focused way for people to apply their spiritual ideas to ecology and sustainability,” regardless of their faith traditions, Dione Greenberg said. Buddhism is a spiritual practice compatible with many religions, she added.

At the same time, facilitators believe that Buddhism offers especially useful spiritual tools that can prompt and guide reflection and action around climate change. Awareness of climate change can touch off emotions like despair, anger, fear and grief. Buddhist practices can help people work with and through those feelings, rather than being overwhelmed or driven by them, according to Gentile.

“People can learn to skillfully transform those feelings inside to love, instead of acting out of anger and fear,” she said. 

And the Buddhist concern with all living creatures — embodied in the notion of “sangha,” or community — helps people cultivate love and care for the widest possible circle of life, she added.

The course will open on Jan. 12 with reflections from Thanissara Mary Weinberg, a Buddhist teacher and activist, about the U.S. presidential election and her recent experiences at Standing Rock. The reflections were recorded last month and will be viewed online by course participants. 

Standing Rock — where Native and Native-led activists effectively blocked an oil pipeline being built near the Sioux reservation in North Dakota — offers a powerful example of how spiritual traditions can inform and strengthen activism, according to Gentile.

“We’re learning a lot from Standing Rock. We can all look inside and find ways to become ‘protectors,’” she said, invoking the term Standing Rock activists use to describe their defense of water and the Earth.

The second session will feature reflections from American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi, again viewed online, about staying grounded in one’s essential nature. Trainings three through six will be discussion-based, with audio texts to listen to at home, and inquiry questions to explore together as a group. Inquiry questions include, “When I see what is happening to our world, what breaks my heart is …” and “Where in my own life can I take a spiritual risk?”

“The materials are just so rich,” Saul Greenberg said of the interviews and texts assembled by One Earth Sangha and shared through the local course.

Two sessions will explore blocks — “hindrances,” in Buddhist parlance — to engaging with climate change. Hindrances might be the feelings of despair and dread that come with confronting the realities of planetary harm. Or they may be the “three poisons” of greed, hatred and ignorance that Buddhists believe are at the root of all suffering, and thus all social and environmental ills, according to longtime practitioner Egart. Buddhism offers practical, compassionate ways to work with these hindrances, she added.

The sixth and final training session raises the question of what forms of climate action can be taken in Yellow Springs. Organizers hope the series doesn’t just end, but spawns new beginnings — practical steps for protecting the planet, locally and beyond.

“We’re hoping the training is an incubator for action,” said Gentile.

According to Saul Greenberg, Community Solutions can be particularly useful in this regard, “helping to translate ideas into action and expand on what’s begun.”

This is the first time the Dharma Center and Community Solutions have formally partnered on programming. Community Solutions recognizes the need to respond to the climate crisis in a holistic way, according to Executive Director Susan Jennings. “This training allows us to examine in community some of the spiritual principles that can help us respond constructively and compassionately to the root issue of the crisis,” she wrote in an email.

And the Dharma Center believes it can benefit from the practical wisdom — the data, science and grassroots strategies — that Community Solutions has assembled in response to climate issues. 

“In Buddhism, compassion is the action of wisdom. With the two organizations coming together, we’re bringing together wisdom and compassion in a new way,” Egart said.

Those interested in participating in the eco-sattva training may contact MJ Gentile for more information at 215-888-3880 or treefrog41@hotmail.com .

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Eco-sattva: Climate compassion, action

by Matt Minde