"Stephen Mitchell, author of The Enlightened Heart and The Enlightened Mind, once told me that, in Buddhist terms, the environmental crisis is our generation's koan. The koan is a kind of riddle story, a paradox, that is insoluble to the mind, used by students of Buddhism as tools in the quest for enlightenment. Any attempt to grasp the answer to the question fails, for the self is trying to maintain control. Similarly, any attempt to control or manage the environment as a resource fails because it perpetuates the dualism of self against nature. For Thomas Merton, the answer to the koan lay in simply letting go, but that approach, he knew, was 'alien to the Cartesian and scientific consciousness of modern man.' We attempt to solve the environmental crisis by clinging to whatever technical fixes allow us to continue our dysfunctional behavior a while longer. These false remedies will leave us stuck like a Zen student trying to master a koan until, in letting go, we experience an insight that transforms our perceptions. The agony of this frustration, this Buddhist dark night of the soul, can either keep us stuck or be a prelude to enlightenment and transformation.
"It is the same with the lost gospel. It is there like a koan. We cannot prove with our minds that the earth is alive, or that a sacredness inhabits it. Nor can our selfish egos accept a kinship dependency on nature. Instead we fill the shelves of our libraries and our minds with proposals for technological fixes to the environmental crisis. We pull out one after another, like Japan's fast-breeder reactor, only to discover the emptiness in the promises of such quick fixes. Like any addiction, the fixes become more expensive and more dangerous when the real solution is simpler but harder, like letting go of the vain attempt to mentally master the koan. Resolving our environmental koan requires that we let our minds surrender and give our feelings a chance. If we feel any kinship or sacredness with the earth, the feelings create a new perspective in which we will choose environmental paths that harmonize with nature instead of imposing technical fixes against nature's grain.
"Until we sense what the Buddhists call the buddha-nature of the earth, which is the lost gospel of the earth, the environmental crisis will remain an external projection of our frustrated inner desire for mastery of mysteries we cannot understand.
"Our religious, economic, and political tradition in the West has been about dominance and control. The delusion in this dominance was noted by Lao- Tzu thousands of years ago:
" 'Those who would take over the world and manage it,
I see that they cannot grasp it,
For the world is a spiritual [shen] vessel
And cannot be forced.
Whoever forces it spoils it.
Whoever grasps it loses it.' "