Earth Day 2012 was just a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about what that means to us now, as yogis and as human beings.
Humans are a funny species: We love to shout “Save the Planet!” as if we were not one of the species needing saving. It makes me think of deep sea shrimp organizing to save the oceans.
Perhaps it’s all the fault of the Bible. God did say, after all:
Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (Gen. 1:26-28).
No matter how many lapsed Catholics live among us, Western culture is still very much shaped by Christian mythology. We believe that nature is either our plaything or our burden, that we are somehow separate from the seasons or the ozone layer or the honeybees that pollinate most of our food sources or the industrial grade corn that thrives by adapting to human behavior.
Joe Rogen has his own theory of ecological evolution. The comedian starts his Live feature imagining flying in an airplane, looking over the beautiful ocean and mountains, and suddenly seeing Los Angeles. He says,
That’s a growth. That’s cancer. It’s big and it’s brown and it stinks and there’s smoke coming out of it, and it gets bigger every year. [...] If you were an intelligent life form from another planet and you were looking down at the earth....you would see mold on a sandwich. [...] I think our purpose here on Earth [...] is to eat the sandwich.
Some sorrowful scholars (and I would put Rogen in this camp) have projected what might happen if humans completely disappeared from the Earth. It’s a happy ending for everything but the humans. We like to think we are in some kind of ruined Garden of Eden. Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher featured in the documentary The Examined Life. He puts it this way:
This notion of nature that it is a harmonious, balanced, reproducing, almost living organism that is then perturbed and derailed by human hubris is, I think, a secular version of the Christian story of the Fall.
I think of Zizek as a kind of modern Tantric yogi. Unlike the Christian view, Tantra asserts that our world is not belonging to God but rather a manifestation of God. And that includes whales, humans, sandwiches, and mold.
Zizek claims that ecological ideology is taking on the conservative voice of authority that religion once held in our culture: “... the voice which warns us not to trespass, violate, a certain invisible limit.” We are in a state of “disavowal:” the tendency to know that something is true (that we are in imminent environmental danger), but that we don’t do anything about it because it’s not a part of our immediate reality. As he strolls past huge piles of landfill waste, he says,
Part of our daily perception of reality is that this [trash] disappears from our world. When you go to the toilet, sh*t disappears. You flush it. [...] at a certain level of your most elemental experience, it disappears from your world.
When we watch the news and see that the animals are dying and the fish are choking on plastic bags, we can then look out the window and see a pretty park or garden with green grass and birds singing. We just can’t understand the danger.
This ideology is deeply dangerous because it keeps us detached from the real world that we live in, which is one of trash, technology, and artificiality. Zizek’s got a solution, and it’s not to ditch LA, run to the forests, and “save the environment:”
I think what we should do to confront properly the threat of ecological catastrophe is not all this New Age stuff to break out of this ecological manipulative mold and to found our roots in nature but on the contrary--to cut off even more our roots in nature. [...] To become even more artificial.
Polarizing the pretty gardens as Good and the humans as Bad is comforting to us, in a twisted way, because it creates meaning in random catastrophe. The result, though, is that we prioritize sunshine and flowers over trash, technology, and evolution.
Tantric philosophy tells us every tulip and piece of sh*t on this Earth is divinely manifested, and that we must understand and honor it that way. Our world cycles and shifts and grows and dies all the time, and we won’t manage this unpredictability by pointing at the flower and ignoring the dirt it grew from. We have to look at the whole picture. “The difficult thing,” Zizek admits,
is to find poetry, spirituality, in this dimension. To recreate, if not beauty, then aesthetic dimension in things like this, in trash itself. That is the true love of the world. Because what is love? Love is not idealization. Every true lover knows that if you really love a woman or a man, that you don’t idealize him or her. Love means that you accept a person with all their failures, stupidies, ugly points, and nonetheless the person is absolute for you. You see perfection in imperfection itself, and this is how we should learn to love the world.
No “New Age stuff” here, just some hardcore reality about true love, authority, and nature, including the human kind. Happy Earth Day, every day.