The Environment and Awareness
by Colin Drake
The major factors in the degradation of the environment are unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and overpopulation. These are caused by those two ‘old chestnuts’ greed and lust, which unfortunately seem to be endemic to the unenlightened human condition. It seems fairly apparent that to overcome the environmental catastrophe that looms these two negative factors need to be drastically curtailed, which is not going to occur by global greenhouse agreements or local environmental activism. For it does not matter how many ‘accords’ governments sign, or minor victories local greenies chalk up, if humanity does not change for the better these will all be in vain. If politicians, and nations, continue to be driven by their own greed then the agreements will not be honored and larger development projects will be approved, wiping away the ‘gains’ obtained by local environmental groups.
‘Raise awareness’ I hear you say and hold the politicians accountable … that should do it! Unfortunately, even if corrupt politicians are slowly rooted out, their place tends to be taken by people of similar ilk, or if this does not occur then big business will just corrupt those ‘on the edge’ by offering larger bribes. Politicians are also corrupted, from their high ideals, by the greed for power. This may seem to be a somewhat cynical view but history will bear it out. Even such radical changes as the Russian Revolution suffered from the same fate, as its leaders proved as corrupt, and corruptible, as those they replaced. And as for the ‘liberated democratic’ Russia, freed by returning to capitalism and subservience to ‘market forces’, well we all know the situation there where big business, corruption and criminal syndicates hold sway.
So what about ‘raising awareness’? This seems to be all that’s left … Yes, but awareness of what? If we raise humanity’s awareness of the looming environmental crisis this may change some people’s behavior for the better, but will it fix the two core problems of lust and greed? For it does not matter how much we reduce our own personal carbon foot print, this will not solve the crisis if humanity continues to overpopulate The Earth and if most people are still basically greedy. Environmental activism, although useful and praiseworthy, is still only ’trimming the branches and leaves’ rather than attacking the root of the problem. What is needed is a paradigm shift away from personal interest and towards acting for the common good, which will not occur as long as we identify ourselves as separate individual beings living in a hostile universe.
“But surely that’s what we are” I hear many of you say … However, this is just an illusion caused by misidentification, regarding ourselves as separate objects in a universe of separate objects. For as long as we think we are separate entities then it is very difficult to transcend personal interest, lust and greed. The fact that this is just an illusion can be seen by investigating the nature of our moment to moment existence, see the appendix. When this is carried out we become ‘aware of awareness’ which the Buddha regarded as the ‘first factor of enlightenment’. The second factor he gives is ‘investigation of the way’ which is exactly what the appendix does, resulting in discovering that, at the deepest level, we are awareness itself! The outcome of this is, at this deeper level, we relate to others in a much more loving, wholesome way, for it becomes clear that there is in fact no separation between ourselves and others, as we share the same constant conscious subjective presence.
In fact identifying with the deeper level of our being, pure awareness, enhances our humanity immeasurably; and if this were the common condition then all instances of man’s inhumanity to his (or her) fellow man would be consigned to history. For, this deeper identification leads to joy, peace, love of all beings (in fact of the whole of existence) and true selfless compassion. This is because at this level there is no separation as all of manifestation is seen to be just the play of consciousness, cosmic energy, movements in consciousness itself. When this realization occurs then lust naturally diminishes, as it no longer enslaves us, and greed is a thing of the past.
This would truly be the best of all worlds for humanity, as we all seek joy and peace; the problem is in general that we look in the wrong place, the external world, rather than the centre of our own being. So to create this Utopia we need to commit to identifying with the deeper level of pure awareness, and to encourage those around us to do the same. The more we become established in this level of identification the closer we come to the peak of human existence and thus the more we enhance our true humanity.
In conclusion, I maintain that the solution to the environmental crisis is for humanity to ‘awaken’ by becoming aware of, and identifying with, awareness itself. After which we live more simply, as we are not seeking for happiness in material possessions, for we discover that happiness is truly (and always) within. In this way our carbon footprint will be naturally lowered and we will be more inclined to eschew self-interest and act for the common good.
The author, Colin Drake, is the volunteer-coordinator of the Caldera Environment Centre in Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Australia, where he has resided, for the last thirty years, in a simple, solar-powered farmhouse which has water tanks and a septic system. He and his wife work in a basic bush pottery producing domestic, and restaurant ware on kick wheels. Each year they have lived happily with an income which is well below the official ‘poverty level’. He has written three books on ‘Awakening’: Beyond the Separate Self, A Light Unto Your Self, and Poetry From Beyond The Separate Self, plus one which compares the world’s five major religions entitled Humanity Our Place in the Universe.
Colin’s books are available as ebooks for immediate download or as paperbacks. Read excerpts and order them at nonduality.com/colindrake.htm
Below follows a simple method to investigate the nature of reality starting with one’s own moment to moment experience. You need to let go of all pre-conceived ideas of who, or what, you ‘are’ and start from a position of ‘knowing nothing’. The investigation need to be carried out in a scientific, experimental, spirit. Each step should be considered until one experiences, or ‘sees’, its validity before moving on to the following step. That is to say that you should ‘test’ each one by considering it to see if it corresponds to your own direct experience. If you reach a step where you do not find this possible, continue on regardless in the same way, and hopefully the flow of the investigation will make this step clear. By all means examine each step critically but with an open mind, for if you only look for ‘holes’ that’s all you will find!
Consider the following statement: ‘Life, for each of us, is just a series of moment-to-moment experiences’. These experiences start when we are born and continue until we die, rushing headlong after each other, so that they seem to merge into a whole that we call ‘my life’. However, if we stop to look we can readily see that, for each of us, every moment is just an experience.
Any moment of experience has only three elements: thoughts (including all mental images), sensations (everything sensed by the body and its sense organs) and awareness of these thoughts and sensations. Emotions and feelings are a combination of thought and sensation.
Thoughts and sensations are ephemeral, that is they come and go, and are objects, i.e. ‘things’ that are perceived.
Awareness is the constant subject, the ‘perceiver’ of thoughts and sensations and that which is always present. Even during sleep there is awareness of dreams and of the quality of that sleep; and there is also awareness of sensations; if a sensation becomes strong enough, such as a sound or uncomfortable sensation, one will wake up.
All thoughts and sensations appear in awareness, exist in awareness, and subside back into awareness. Before any particular thought or sensation there is effortless awareness of ‘what is’: the sum of all thoughts and sensations occurring at any given instant. During the thought or sensation in question there is effortless awareness of it within ‘what is’. Then when it has gone there is still effortless awareness of ‘what is’.
So the body/mind is experienced as a flow of ephemeral objects appearing in this awareness, the ever present subject. For each of us any external object or thing is experienced as a combination of thought and sensation, i.e. you may see it, touch it, know what it is called, and so on. The point is that for us to be aware of anything, real or imaginary, requires thought about and/or sensation of that thing and it is awareness of these thoughts and sensations that constitutes our experience.
Therefore this awareness is the constant substratum in which all things appear to arise, exist and subside. In addition, all living things rely on awareness of their environment to exist and their behaviour is directly affected by this. At the level of living cells and above this is self-evident, but it has been shown that even electrons change their behaviour when (aware of) being observed! Thus this awareness exists at a deeper level than body/mind (and matter/energy) and we are this awareness!
Awareness can also be defined as universal consciousness when it is totally at rest, completely still; aware of everything that is occurring within it. Every ‘thing’ that is occurring in consciousness is a manifestation of cosmic energy, for the string theory and the earlier theory of relativity show that matter is in fact energy, which is consciousness in motion (or motion in consciousness). For energy is synonymous with motion and consciousness is the substratum, or deepest level, of all existence.
Now all motion arises in stillness, exists in stillness, is known by its comparison with stillness, and eventually subsides back into stillness. For example, if you walk across a room, before you start there is stillness, as you walk the room is still and you know you are moving relative to this stillness, and when you stop once again there is stillness. In the same way every ‘thing’ (consciousness in motion, or motion in consciousness) arises in awareness (consciousness at rest), exists in awareness, is known in awareness and subsides back into awareness. Awareness is still, but is the container of all potential energy which is continually bubbling up into manifestation (physical energy) and then subsiding back into stillness.