Say what you like about Earth Day — there’s someone I know out there is snarking about it right now, if he even knows about it — but if you ask me, it’s a holiday about celebrating and embracing something that is here, visible, tangible, and unarguably real.
People survived and thrived for hundreds of thousands of years without holding major festivals for specific deities, without holding big annual parties for imaginary constructions like nation-states. Nation states are all well and good, but the Earth is here, tangible, and absolutely necessary for our survival. It’s as close to sacred as one can be within a naturalistic viewpoint.
Those who complain that it makes people think they should consider the Earth for just one day a year may have a point, but I’d rather start with trying to get everyone to celebrate the planet itself for just one day a year instead of none; it’s a starting point, in other words, to a wider change in attitude that we should be trying to build, collectively, all of us who, to whatever degree, get it.
Because I think, just as snark is a psychological defense mechanism, so is holier-than-thou eco-politics. As much as I respect Theravada Buddhism more than Mahayana — from what (precious little) I know about each, the former’s intellectualism and philosophical bent attracts me more than the latter’s panoply of deities and folk myths and devotionalism and so on — there’s no way that the ascetic-environmentalist-activist equivalent of Theravada is ever going to attract enough people — let alone enough stable and sane people — to make the changes we need to make, unless there’s some kind of fascist green takeover.
What we need is environmental Mahayana: new technologies, sexy Green festivals, Greened education: more of the stuff that gets people who aren’t likely to start moving out into communes and donning hairshirts thinking about what they can (and need to) do. Maybe not everyone will get to the Pure Land that way, or maybe it will take longer, but if we don’t get as many people on board as possible, we’re not going anywhere except down the drain. That’s the fact that we need to face, and take to heart, and integrate into everything we say and so about the problems we’re faced with now.
It looks like the big celebration in Seoul was held on the weekend — and I was too sick to have gone, even if I’d been on the ball enough to remember that this happened last year too — so in lieu of that, I think I’ll try set aside some time to get to the mountain and appreciate it, thanking it in my way for the challenge it gives me every day that I climb it, and appreciating all those green plants that eat up my exhalations and shade my way as I journey among them.
(UPDATE: That’s precisely what I did: I hiked the mountain and thanked it for giving me a place to exercise. Stood there in the sunset light, my breath visible in the chill air, and listened to the branches rustle in the evening breeze. I even left an orange there for some small creature to find and feast on: a little sacrifice not so much to a San-shin [Mountain God] as to the little creatures who make the world such a vibrant place. Some squirrel got lucky last night, I’m thinking. It felt good to let loose with a little real, honest gratitude. It felt like spring.)
And finally, here’s a video my neighbours sent me when wishing me a Happy Earth Day. It’s another excellent video from TED, about the part of the earth most neglected by the “green” movement: our oceans.