Carl Sagan, The Buddha, Ice
May we be awake to our own nature,
All human beings, all living beings, on this planet arise from the same conditions. We are all powered by the energy of this local solar system. Our molecules all mix with those that have been on this planet for billions of years, and came into being billions of years before. Our lives are all fleeting, brief, and ephemeral expressions of an unknowable and unseen collection of forces that hum along to a tune that sings through our beings. Yet every habitable plot of land on this planet is soaked with blood; the impressions of selfishness, arrogance, greed, and vitriol are mixed into the colors that paint the picture of human history. Yes, life and death are intertwined, and all things that seek to live thrive off of the lives of other beings. But it appears that only human beings, equipped with the capacity to appreciate and celebrate the experience of life, choose to ignore the opportunity to be alive. Humans can cooperate and work with the powers of nature to sustain and support the harmony among living creatures, but our history is rife with stories of shortsightedness and self-centeredness, exclusion and oppression, and cruelty and brutality. We are all the progeny of survivors and perpetrators alike. We are all equally participating in days of future passed.
Unlike times gone by, our world delivers us information on the latest changes all over our world, and gives us the capacity to share our perception and opinion widely. We are taught to believe that the picture of the world we create in the confines of our mind has the power to ripple out and influence the material world. But the picture in our mind is often a reproduction of old patterning and conditioning that is absorbed externally or held internally because it validates our sense of who and what we are. It is inaccurate to say that we are perceiving reality correctly, no matter how informed and unbiased we attempt to be. We are often blind to the way our conditions color our experience of our self and the world. Furthermore, we have a long history of not fully appreciating the impact of our collective misunderstanding and misconceptions. Whole industries rise and fall on the whims of groups of people. For example, the North America fur trade in the mid-16th century. Countless animals and humans died, and the previously "uncharted" and "unexplored" lands would later be exploited and the Indigenous populations subject to untold cruelty and genocide, all so that people could wear fur hats. Urban fashions built on frivolous desires helped further disconnection between consumers and their impact. Little is different in our modern context; the loss of life and suffering that comes with our consumption and lifestyles are far enough from our awareness that we can "safely" ignore them.
If you have read this far and are angry or ashamed, that is okay. I am too. Rather than blame, avoid, or ignore these feelings and the facts that give rise to them I invite you to be with them. Our feelings are teachings us how to choose what feels harmonious, rather than what feels immediately comfortable.
There is no swift and convenient solution to the collective human challenges we face. Our previous actions collectively have created a dire environmental situation from which we will unlikely recover. Our previous patterns of exploiting and marginalizing individuals or groups of people have created inequity that inundates every aspect of social life. Our ancestral stories about who we are and our place amidst the cosmos has given us beautiful wisdom traditions, and the tendency to cruelly and mercilessly subjugate or butcher those that do not believe in our stories. This same capacity to create conditions of suffering is what will allow us to work together to alleviate suffering, personally and collectively. This is a fact. The people of the past had little freedom to choose to part ways with the customs, norms, and expectations of their time. But they also knew that the suffering they endured was not meant to continue indefinitely. Victor Hugo wrote in 1862, "In the future no one will kill any one else, the earth will beam with radiance, the human race will love. The day will come, citizens, when all will be concord, harmony, light, joy and life; it will come, and it is in order that it may come that we are about to die."
Not a single being exists solely to suffer and struggle. Everything that lives craves freedom, connection, wholeness, and love. There is a process that supports all that has been and all that ever will be. Not a single molecule is out of place in the fathomless expanse of existence. Our being here is by a sliver of some chance, as Carl Sagan said: "If we were randomly inserted into the Cosmos, the chance that we would find ourselves on or near a planet would be less than one in a billion trillion trillion (10^33, a one followed by 33 zeroes). In everyday life such odds are called compelling." Firstly approaching our being alive with reverence and humility, and secondly with awareness of the interconnection of our lives, we may make use of this unlikely opportunity to exist.
The ethical principles of yoga, but also all the world's wisdom traditions, are tools to live from that place of deep knowing, contentment, and trust in the unity of forces that connect our lives with all other things. The Buddha taught it simply: "All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?" (Dhammapada 129-130). If we hope to develop a world where the cycles of violence, oppression, and misunderstanding no longer reign supreme, we must learn to face ourselves as we are. No longer can we hide in logical justification, historical precedence, or belief systems. We must choose to look deep within beyond the turbulent waters of our own minds to find the stillness within ourselves that allows joy and wisdom to flow freely. No set of rules or principles will ever result in kindness and dignity; it is our capacity to self-reflect and decide for ourselves that will free us from the struggles we create for ourselves. We will know love, wisdom and contentment when we can meet each other, and wordlessly see in each other's eyes the deep and sincere willingness to be with each other in the uncertain journey we face. Like the band Ice sang, There's Time To Change.