THE BLOG

Can Meditation Save the Planet?

09/01/2015 10:15 GMT | Updated 10/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Mainstream Western society is waking up to the realisation that a meditation revolution is under way. Meditation takes many forms. Mindfulness, a kind of meditation lite, is the meditation practice most suited to modern life in the West. Mindfulness offers the student the opportunity to learn how to function as an optimal unit within our economy, providing the practitioner the tools needed to ensure their work performance is not degraded by too much stress or by overly identifying with negative emotions.

Meditation draws on deep spiritual roots and traditions, such as those associated with Buddhism. There have been many attempts to bring some of those Buddhist and related teachings to the attention of Western audiences since the 20th century. Notable examples include Siddartha by Herman Hesse (1922) , The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (1951) and more recently, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (1997) .

These texts share a number of common perspectives, the overarching one being that humanity must learn to live in the present, accept what is and recognise that now is the only reality. Humanity's ills cannot be remedied with external fixes but must come from this inner change. Once everyone comes to accept this truth and learns to live fully in the moment then our conflicts will be at an end and we will enter a time of universal harmony. In later works, such as that from Eckhart Tolle, this process of enlightenment is taken to be the primary means by which environmental problems such as climate change can be addressed. There is no workable solution without this spiritual awakening, a point made recently by the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh when he argued that only love can save us from climate change.

OK, so this is all ridiculously utopian and unscientific and can be dismissed out of hand. Except for two small matters. Firstly, the standard Western way of being is not only failing to provide any solution to climate change, but is actually the primer and accelerant for this destruction. Second, and this is the kicker, the idea that humanity is flailing under a false consciousness and that global harmony will come about once the wrongdoers have come to see the error of their ways is not restricted to Buddhism, but is the defining philosophy of civilisation, West, East, Capitalist and Communist.

Hence Western political elites bomb other countries so that they will become democratic like us. Once everyone is working to the same economic, legal and political frameworks - those of the West - harmony will reign over the Earth and all will know fulfilment and prosperity. Or the processes of historical materialism will see the chosen people, the proletariat, overthrow the capitalist oppressors, and a global permanent revolution will again usher in an endless future of world harmony. As for climate change, again, if humanity would just unite under the two degree dangerous limit banner we can slay the climate change monster and all live happily ever after in the land of neo-liberalism. You get the idea; it is not rational to seek to reject the idea that a change in consciousness is the necessary precursor to, or essential element of, the path to humanity's Golden Age. So the question then becomes, if one rejects the Buddhist ideas of how and why consciousness must change in order to forestall climate change, what else have you got?

I am not talking here about the need to impose this sort of spiritualism on the world. I am suggesting the process has already begun, the genie is out of the bottle. Like Marxism, our economic system has set up an unstoppable dialectic, just not a material one. The other key tenet of many Eastern philosophies is that people come to these teachings through suffering and crisis. It is the very suffering and crisis generated by neo-liberalism which is driving people to these teachings, which is why this revolution may now be unstoppable. There is one other reason this revolution cannot be halted by vested interests. The process is one based on acceptance, non-resistance. Through this awakening the desire to achieve happiness through external changes, for example consumption, simply drops away. So what are the corporations and bankers going to do - march us to the shops at gunpoint?