Finding balance in our lives is not easy. We want to fulfil our potential and our purpose in the world, but we need to do it in a way that is mindful and considerate of other forms of life. Being on the Environmental Warrior path involves finding balance between expressing our unique self and our purpose, and living a sustainable life, with respect and compassion for others and the Earth.
Last weekend, I spent a lovely day on the grounds of the Tibetan Buddhist Society north of Melbourne, among the beautiful roses in bloom, for the annual Buddhist Spring Festival. I took part in the Ceremony for World Peace, held within the Buddhist temple, adorned in gold, and filled with Tibetan treasures. It was a wonderful opportunity to engage with the Tibetan community and other like-minded souls from different cultures and religions. Sitting on the banks of the lake underneath the trees, watching the birdlife, I thought about the aspects of Buddhist philosophy that aligned with the Environmental Warrior ethos.
The Buddha was born a prince, into a life of luxury and sensual pleasure, where he indulged his body but paid no attention to his mind. But he became dissatisfied and left his home in search of a deeper truth. He became an ascetic, devoting his life to the pursuit of enlightenment. He deprived himself of food and sleep, but this resulted in starvation and extreme suffering. The Buddha experimented with both hedonism and asceticism but found neither brought him happiness. It was only by navigating the ‘middle way’ between self-denial and self-indulgence that he was able to find peace.
The ‘Middle Way’ of Buddhism from an Environmental Warrior perspective is the ability to navigate between the opposing extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence, and of finding a healthy balance between the two. It’s about honouring the path of life that the Buddha teaches, and cultivating those actions and attitudes that create happiness for the self, for others and for the Earth. We learn to regulate our impulses and behaviour, so that we don’t swing too far in either direction, but instead sit comfortably somewhere in the middle. We not only need to reconcile these two extremes, but also transcend them.
The extremes of spirituality and materialism
On a societal level, different cultures may either follow a predominantly spiritual or a material existence. In a highly materialistic society, over-consumption is often valued at the expense of the more spiritual aspects of life. Environmental destruction may be the end result of an excessively consumerist lifestyle. A highly spiritual society, on the other hand, may neglect the more grounded, practical aspects of life. People in developing countries who may not have all basic physical needs met (food, water, clothing, adequate shelter, sanitation), experience terrible suffering. None of these scenarios are healthy or beneficial.
The extremes of mind and matter
Obsessive focus on our physical or material needs may lead to overindulgence in sensual experiences (over-eating, excessive consumption, wealth accumulation). These experiences are often fleeting however, and don’t tend to bring us any lasting happiness, because we have to keep doing them when the initial thrill wears off. A spiritual lifestyle taken to extremes may make us too idealistic, and we may try to avoid the physical aspects of life, and miss out on truly living our lives. We must actively work to avoid these exaggerated, extreme attitudes. We are both spiritual and physical beings, and we need to experience all facets of our self to be whole. Being spiritual in a material world is about having a grounded spirituality, honouring the body and the mind.
The extremes of deprivation and excess
How does this translate on an individual level? The Environmental Warrior path is not about denial or deprivation, or gratifying our every desire without any thought as to how our actions affect others. It’s about awareness and understanding that our choices have consequences. We need to be self-governing, to regulate our own behaviour, not taking too much or giving too little, denying our basic needs or sacrificing our happiness. But we don’t need to own everything, do everything, be everything, or have everything. We need to focus our energies, role model our principles, find alternatives, simplify our lives, and then simply live.
Following the ‘Middle Way’ of Buddhism is a wonderful way to honour the Environmental Warrior path, where we avoid lives of greed and excess, or denial and deprivation. We embrace a lifestyle of balance, simplicity, accountability, awareness, enjoyment and fun.