Lineages and Journey

 

Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it. — Ancient Arab saying

When you try to pick out anything by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe. — John Muir

 

Contents

Deep Ecology

Buddhadharma

Loving the Truth

Nature's Truth

Karma and Feedback

 

 

Although I was known as Suzanne Head until 1994, I am and have always been Suzanne Duarte.  Duarte is my father’s name.  His paternal ancestors were colonial civil servants from San Sebastian, Spain. My great-grandfather, Don Pedro Duarte, as secretary to the Spanish governor of Guam in the Mariana Islands, was the first prisoner taken in the Spanish-American war, and later acted as an advisor to the American governor.  Don Pedro married Maria Millinchamp, the daughter of a British schooner captain, and my grandfather Peter Duarte emigrated from Guam to California in the early twentieth century.  My mother’s family name is Downs. The Downs’ were Anglo-Saxon, cattle-ranching pioneers in the state of Nevada.  I grew up mostly in California, with some significant periods in Nevada.  So I am very much from the Wild West, but with that migratory genetic heritage, I seem to have been destined to the life of a seeker.

Fortunately, in seeking knowledge I found wisdom in two mind lineages that have informed my life and point of view:  Buddhadharma and Deep Ecology.  The experiential part of that story is described in my Ecobiography.  But here I would like to say a little about these mind lineages, which have some unusual things in common and are joined in the title and point of view of this website.  Both Buddhadharma and Deep Ecology can lead a person to an expansive, integrated perceptual framework or worldview based on the recognition of interdependence, and both have profound concern for, and commitment to, future generations of all sentient beings, not only humans. 

 

Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology is the name of the eco-philosophical movement that has arisen in response to the dualism in the Western worldview between humans and nature, and consequent ecological destruction.  My first encounter and plunge into this intellectual current occurred, seemingly by accident, when I was in college and discovered the English and German writers of the Romantic movement (late 18th – early 19th centuries). 

Romantic View by Caspar David Friedrich

The Romantics revolted against the norms of the Enlightenment period, industrialism, and the machine age, and they criticized the scientific objectification of nature in art and literature.  They placed a new emphasis on the feelings experienced amidst the grandeur and sublimity of untamed (wild) nature, and argued for an epistemology based on nature.  They were the first to elegize wild nature, for they foresaw the deleterious effects of industrialization on the natural world.

Only many years after immersing myself in Romantic literature did I learn that this movement was a precursor to the Deep Ecology movement.  Both are countercultural minority traditions that critique the dominant, mechanistic cultural currents of their time, and both resist the separation of humans from nature. 

John Muir by Herbert A. Collins Small

One of the people who inspired both my life and the deep ecology movement was John Muir (1838-1914), who had the heart and aesthetic sensibilities of a Romantic.  Muir’s influence was inseparable from the landscape where I lived, worked, and explored for five summers in my youth: Yosemite National Park and the high Sierra Nevada mountains, which Muir loved, wrote about, and did so much to preserve for the mental and spiritual health of humanity.  Muir was a naturalist, explorer, writer, visionary, and activist for the preservation of the American wilderness.  His influence in Yosemite was deeply felt in the 1960s when I was there, and he is credited with advocating the establishment of the U.S. National Park system, as well as founding the Sierra Club and inspiring the ecology movement of the 1960s.

Created with The GIMP
Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point in
Yosemite NP

The Sierra Club was the first major organization in the world dedicated to using and preserving wild nature. Throughout his life, Muir was concerned with the protection of nature both for the sake of Nature itself and for the spiritual advancement of humans. This vision still informs the deep ecology movement and inspires people to reorient themselves as part of nature. Though the arguments in favor of ecological thinking are often couched in scientific terms, the basic insight remains as Muir stated it: "When you try to pick out anything by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe." 

Muir was exceptional in his time for publicly resisting the commercial exploitation of nature.  With the sensibilities of a mystic, he saw and experienced nature’s wholeness, the interdependence of all living beings, and felt it was essential for the mental health of humans to keep some places off limits to extractive industries.  He did not confine his evolutionary and ecological insights only to Earth, but also intuited Earth’s oneness within the harmonies of the universe.  These were insights that would be confirmed by science long after his death.  (See the New Cosmology)  When Muir wrote his address, he added “Earth, Universe” after the town, state and country, which indicates the size of his worldview.

 

Buddhadharma

Trungpa Rinpoche, RMDC 9/74 ©  Suzanne Duarte

I came into contact with Buddhism mostly through osmosis at first. Buddhism had already penetrated the 1960s youth culture in California, even before I started meeting people who were ‘turned on’ to it.  When I became interested and began searching for books on Buddhism, I stumbled upon Tibetan Buddhism and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche seemingly by accident, for I was really flying blind regarding spirituality in those days.  However, by great good fortune, I met Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972 and knew he was my teacher.  His influence upon me was much greater than can be expressed here, since I spent 12 years entirely immersed in his teachings and in close contact with him.  (For more on that, click here.)  But there are a few things I received from him that might help to explain the viewpoint of this Dharmagaians website and blog.

It is said that when a great teacher passes, as Trungpa Rinpoche did in 1987, his or her students each carry particular teachings from that teacher that they then have the responsibility to bring to fruition in their lives.  This is how lineage is carried on.  I received many transmissions from Trungpa Rinpoche, but after he died several aspects of his teachings rose to consciousness, bringing an urgent sense of my responsibility to fulfill them.  These pieces came as little energetic packets of information—or ‘medicine’—about my ‘mission’ that had his stamp on them.  I don’t know how else to explain it. 

First was a dream I had during a wilderness solo about a year after his death.  He appeared to me and said, “I am the same as nature. There is absolutely no difference.” Trungpa Rinpoche loved the wild outdoors and the elements.  Like a shaman, he actually seemed able to command the elements, and was himself like a force of nature.  He described himself as a “spokesman for the phenomenal world,” and by “phenomenal world” I understood him to mean earth, water, fire, all the elements, plus the organic life of the Earth.  This dream could be taken in several ways, but I eventually took it as confirmation of my longing to integrate my dharmic and ecological paths.

Second was an insistent ‘message’ I received in 1993 while on retreat that indicated that I should pursue my inspiration for ecopsychology, which is about cultivating sanity in relation to the Earth.  Ecopsychology had only recently surfaced as an idea among adherents of deep ecology, but I saw its potential to reconnect people with the natural world and instill a sense of its sacredness.  I felt that if people could experience the wild as sacred, as I did, they would act to protect it.  This retreat strengthened my resolve, and two years later I was invited to teach contemplative ecology (or environmental philosophy) courses at Naropa University, founded by Trungpa Rinpoche.  My online deep ecology course was required in Naropa’s growing Ecopsychology Masters program. (I have since retired.)

In 1998 I received a third message on another retreat.  This time it was about concern for future generations of humans, a central concern of Trungpa Rinpoche and his lineages, and the importance of caring for nature for the sake of future generations.  Because I was aware that my generation has been stealing from the future by depleting the Earth, I was already feeling great sorrow.  During the retreat I realized that the love I felt for nature was inseparable from the empathy and compassion I felt for future generations of humans.  I knew that the wilderness I cherished—and the web of life in general—was being torn to shreds and that future generations would inherit a planet shorn of its beauty and abundance. Because I had watched it happening during my lifetime, I felt a responsibility to communicate about it, to explain to future generations how this could be allowed to happen, and to apologize.  That was the beginning of a writing project called Letters to the Future.

Trungpa Rinpoche represented a long lineage of enlightened people who dedicated themselves to propagating sanity for the benefit of all sentient beings. He went to great lengths to make sure his students understood that we are the beneficiaries of the work and sacrifices of many generations of dharma practitioners and teachers whose explicit intention was to benefit future generations.  Trungpa Rinpoche had a 500-year vision of how the dharma could be kept alive through the Dark Age of materialism, and thus enable future generations to maintain awakened mind in difficult circumstances.  He called this vision Enlightened Society, which is elaborated in his Shambhala teachings on warriorship.  He founded Shambhala Training in the late 1970s specifically to build the foundations for an enlightened society.

I had been teaching Shambhala Training programs for over a decade.  But I wanted to take the message of Shambhala further, to include cherishing and protecting the natural world and preparing people for the rough times ahead.  That was not so easy in the cultural atmosphere of that time, so writing letters to the future provided an outlet for my longing and frustration.  In a sense, this entire website is a 'letter to the future.'

 

Loving the Truth

In 2000, when George W. Bush showed up on the American horizon, another aspect of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings began to echo recurrently in my mind:  his consistent directive to adhere fearlessly to the truth—both within ourselves and with each other.  Welcoming the truth—even when bitter—and integrating the wisdom offered is a spiritual practice.  When we enter the stream of Buddhadharma, after all, we vow to free ourselves from delusion, knowing that ignorance and delusion are causes of suffering for ourselves and others.  As Trungpa Rinpoche said in Just the Facts:

Dharma literally means "truth" or "norm." It is a particular way of thinking, a way of viewing the world, which is not a concept but experience. This particular truth is very painful truth -- usually truths are.  It rings with the sound of reality, which comes too close to home. We become completely embarrassed when we begin to hear the truth. It is wrong to think that the truth is going to sound fantastic and beautiful, like a flute solo. The truth is actually a thunderbolt. It wakes you up and makes you think twice whether you should stay in the rain or move into the house. Provocative....

The basic questions are: Who is actually listening to the truth? What is his or her situation? And, in fact, what is truth?... The truth is about you, your existence, your experience. It's about you. Hearing the truth of Dharma and becoming part of the Dharma is [being] willing to face yourself, to begin with....

Sacredness doesn’t come in the form of religion, as a savior notion. The sacredness is the truthfulness. Experience is true; therefore, it's sacred. Truth could be secular, but still it's sacred.

If we don't face what we are experiencing then there's no path. It may be a drag, but you must be willing to face and actually give in to what is happening.... At this point, believing in miracles is an obstacle.  There is great room, on the other hand, for our minds to open, give [in] and face facts. Literally to face the facts: the facts of reality, the facts of pain, the facts of boredom.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 1975, by Paul C. Kloppenberg

Our world, this particular world, our Dharma, our truth, needs to be acknowledged and needs immense surrendering—not just a one-shot deal. Without this first Dharma, understanding the truth and our relationship to the truth, we could not go further.

Trungpa Rinpoche himself was fearlessly honest and up-front, and he had an unnerving, cosmic sense of humor.  He abhorred deception and pretense, deplored cowardice, and was compassionately precise in exposing it —a characteristic that caused discomfort to many students.  Someone once said that the role of the spiritual friend is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.  This was exemplified by Trungpa Rinpoche. His emphasis on truth as sacred dharma confirmed my intuitive conviction that lies and deception are corrosive.  Lies and deception create fragmentation, confusion, and degradation.  If “The truth will out,” as Shakespeare said, why bother trying to avoid it?  Trying to run and hide from the truth only makes its bite harder when it catches up with us.  Doesn’t everybody know this?  Apparently not.

I’ve been a seeker and lover of truth all my life.  Because there is no wisdom without truth, the truth is sacred.  But one might reasonably ask, ‘If the truth hurts, how can you love it?’ I’ve thought a lot about this since George W. Bush’s transparently deceptive campaign in 2000.  I’ve come to the conclusion that to actually love the truth requires two things: a sense of irony, and faith that cleaving to the truth will serve you better in the long run than not being truthful.  This ‘faith’ is also experienced as conscience.

We need a sense of irony because the human mind is subject to self-deception and delusion, which truth exposes.  So in order to love the truth, we have to be able to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously—in other words, be humble.  “Humbleness is the dwelling place of the forefathers,” as the Buddhists say of Buddhist forefathers. 

Secondly, cleaving to truth gives us strength, backbone.  It is essential for maintaining integrity and sanity.  Gandhi called it Satyagraha: truth force or love force.  So for Gandhi, love and truth were tied together and were a source of strength, the force of truth.  In Buddhism, we speak of love and truth as compassion and wisdom, or karuna and prajna, the two wings of the bird of enlightenment. 

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall - think of it, ALWAYS. — Gandhi

Lying fragments our integrity and therefore weakens us.  It also sows corruption in our social milieu, like a virus in the collective psyche.  Truth sets things right and restores sanity, at least for a little while, until the virus of corruption erupts again.

So valuing one’s own sanity, having an ironic sense of humor, and trusting that truth will ‘win’ and set things right (for a little while) seem like good reasons to love and be faithful to the truth, for truth serves those who serve it.  As Sir Laurens van der Post put it:

No imagination has yet been great enough to invent improvements to the truth.  Truth, however terrible, carries within itself its own strange comfort for the misery it is so often compelled to inflict on behalf of life.  Sooner or later it is not pretence but the truth, which gives back with both hands what it has taken away with one.   Indeed, unaided and alone it will pick up the fragments of the reality it has shattered and piece them together again in the shape of more immediate meaning than the one in which they had been previously contained.

But truth is not just a matter of individual conscience or philosophic, poetic, or religious conjecture.  Nature has its own truth, which science attempts to uncover.  And fortunately, but not surprisingly, nature’s truth confirms spiritual truth.

 

Nature's Truth

In Living Systems Theory, as I learned from deep ecologists Joanna Macy and Fritjof Capra, “truth” is heralded by feedback.  In living systems, “feedback” usually refers to the responses an organism receives from the surrounding environment, the larger living system, that tell it to either keep doing what it’s doing, or to change what it’s doing. There is deviation-reducing feedback that tells us to maintain homeostasis and not to deviate from established norms. And there is deviation-amplifying feedback that tells us to adapt to changes in the environment by deviating from established norms. 

All living systems—from cells to organisms, to human organizations, to ecosystems, and the Earth itself—are open systems that self-organize through exchanges of energy, matter, and information.  Living systems function well only with unhampered flows of matter, energy, and information.  Individuals and populations of nonhuman species thrive on this planet by being responsive and adaptive to messages or feedback from the environment. 

Among humans, however, this matter of feedback can get quite confusing—especially in anthropocentric cultures that replace responsiveness to feedback from the natural world with belief and ideology.  In such cultures, people tend to behave as if they live in a closed system that is immune to and independent from nature.  In the industrialized world this closed-system mentality has become so exaggerated that many people have lost their ability to perceive and respond accurately to feedback from the natural world.  In fact, industrial culture as a whole seems to have lost this ability.  Some Dharmagaian Allies say our industrialized civilization has become “autistic” in relation to nature.

In the process of becoming increasingly insulated from nature through fossil-fueled technologies, and increasingly preoccupied only with human affairs and human-made objects, we have lost many of the natural faculties and sensitivities that enabled us to survive in the natural world, and have become increasingly cut off from awareness of the natural world and its feedback.  There is even a diagnostic term for this: “nature-deficit disorder.” Ecopsychologists speculate that this may account for the increase in neurosis, psychosis, and other mental health problems in our civilization. 

I would go so far as to suggest that our Euro-American culture has been in the grip of a collective delusion that has prevented our civilization from acting to avoid the crises that are now upon us, precisely because it is in the habit of blocking feedback from the larger living system, the Earth.  (See Deep Ecology, Paradigm Change and Positive Disintegration for more about that.)  As Joanna Macy says, “Any system that consistently suppresses feedback, closing its perceptions to the results of its behavior, is suicidal.” By blocking feedback, or denying the truth, we invite the thunderbolt of reality.  What kind of a thunderbolt might be needed when an entire country or civilization is afflicted with self-deception and delusion?

During the administration of George W. Bush, I began to understand the nature of the thunderbolt of reality that our civilization has been inviting. At first I simply watched Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign in disbelief, because the pretence and deception were so transparent. I could not understand how so many people could fall for the illusion, but I intuitively sensed that the fact that so many people were so easily fooled did not bode well for the future.

My conviction in the value of honesty and my visceral antipathy towards deception kept my attention riveted to the shenanigans of the second Bush administration. There seemed to be no end to the lies, hypocrisy, secretiveness, cover-ups, disinformation, denial and distortion of scientific findings (e.g., global warming!), intrigues, scandals, fraud, subterfuge, and evasion that came out of that administration or were permitted by it.

As Tom Engelhardt wrote of the Bush II administration in How Bush Took Us to the Dark Side, “In just about every case, they chose to bring out the worst in us; in just about every case, they took us on as direct a journey as possible to the dark side.”

Indeed, the virus of corruption that erupted during that administration seemed to spread to other countries due to the American political and economic hegemony that existed when Bush took office. It was as if the world said, “If they do it in America, it must be okay.” We can’t blame all of this on Mr. Bush alone, but the culture of deception and corruption that proliferated during his administration was bound to have consequences. Now we can watch and experience the ripening of the karma as the United States and the global economy suffer the economic consequences.

On July 12, 2009, an article in The Independent reported on the “State of the Future,” the largest single report to look at the future of the planet. Entitled “The planet's future: Climate change 'will cause civilisation to collapse,'” the article says:

The impact of the global recession is a key theme, with researchers warning that global clean energy, food availability, poverty and the growth of democracy around the world are at "risk of getting worse due to the recession." The report adds: "Too many greedy and deceitful decisions led to a world recession and demonstrated the international interdependence of economics and ethics.

Although the future has been looking better for most of the world over the past 20 years, the global recession has lowered the State of the Future Index for the next 10 years. Half the world could face violence and unrest due to severe unemployment combined with scarce water, food and energy supplies and the cumulative effects of climate change.

This report vividly illustrates the effects of deception and corruption. “Too many greedy and deceitful decisions” lead to collective suffering in the future because deception and corruption are entropic. They create disorder and degradation, and are therefore, by definition, unsustainable. It doesn’t matter how many people buy into the deception and participate in the corruption, there is no safety in numbers. Rationalizing that ‘everybody does it’ provides no cover. The rotten karma will still ripen. And the more widespread the deception and corruption are, the more people will get hurt. In the case of climate change, for example – which the Bush administration denied for 8 years, delaying action to mitigate the effects – the collective suffering could easily go on for centuries, if not longer.

 

Karma and Feedback

Perhaps by now the reader may understand why Trungpa Rinpoche’s emphasis on truth became especially relevant when George W. Bush became president of the United States. With the Bush administration blocking feedback with a vengeance, I began to realize that honesty and concern for future generations are related with each other: our personal adherence to the truth in the present is essential for the sanity and wellbeing of future generations.

The Bush II years illustrated the relationship between deception, corruption and collective suffering, the converse of the relationship between truth and the wellbeing of future generations. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Bush administration, from a collective perspective, is that it was so corrupt that it forced people to begin awakening from the collective delusion. Not a moment too soon, however.

The denial of climate change, peak oil, and the limits to growth on a finite planet, and the blocking of feedback in general during the last 60 years, have created the conditions for a global catastrophe—a thunderbolt of reality—on a scale that the human species has never witnessed or experienced. Karma is natural truth, natural feedback, on Planet Earth. Western civilization has created a karmic wake-up call for itself, which all of life on Earth must now suffer through. The message, as I read it, is: ‘Get with the planet, or leave.’

Respect for the reality of karma makes us mindful of the consequences of our actions, and keeps us awake and open to feedback. This has been the norm in long-lasting indigenous cultures, but in the industrialized world, fossil fuels created a temporarily delusional way of life. Now we have to wake up from that collective delusion, turn around and face the truth, the facts of life on Planet Earth, and the importance of honesty and integrity in all our relationships.

My efforts to understand the dynamics of corruption and the dark side of human nature in relation to our collective crises, as well as the eco-psycho-spiritual truths of our time, constituted the most recent leg of my journey, and inspired this website. George Orwell said, “When lies rule the day, telling the truth is a radical act.” In putting this Dharmagaians site together, I have been aware that many people are likely to consider the truth that I and other Dharmagaians express to be radical, perhaps even ‘heresy.’ But the Dharmagaian perspective has always challenged conventional assumptions, beginning with the Romantic poets, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir. In the context of the profound paradigm change and rite of passage that our species is going through in the early 21st century, I feel it to be a sacred duty to present this perspective for those who can resonate with it. My most complete formulations of this perspective thus far are Psycho-Spiritual Evolution and The Animistic Soul Re-Emerges in the Great Turning section.

Software: Microsoft Office Considering that love for the truth, love for the Earth, and responsible consideration for future generations have been glaringly absent in the industrial growth society that has brought on the crises we face, I suspect that these might be the eco-psycho-spiritual prerequisites for the Great Turning and the survival of the human species in the centuries ahead. Without this orientation of the heart, we may not have much chance.

There is now enough of a change in consciousness and a sense of urgency in the world that perhaps the Dharmagaian perspective can help people to connect the dots.  Both Trungpa Rinpoche and John Muir—two visionary warriors—loved the truth, loved the Earth, and dedicated their lives to the benefit of future generations.  Both, along with many other Dharmagaian Allies, inspired the long journey that brought me to the Dharmagaians vision.  This vision is offered with the aspiration that humans may successfully negotiate the crises of this century and achieve a sane, sustainable, beneficent human presence on the Earth for centuries and millennia to come.  May this website be of benefit.

 

May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness;
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering;
May they not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering;
May they dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression and prejudice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2009 Suzanne Duarte