Cherishing the Web of the Universe by Gillian Coote, Sydney Zen Centre

The Sydney Zen Centre community caring for place in the Upper Macdonald Valley

We learnt about the web of life at school, back in the l950’s, yet right now the world is rapidly losing species in a horrifying man-made extinction.  This ‘web' may have had its genesis in the metaphor of the Net of Indra from ancient India, a vast net, in which each being occupies a node, each being a gem whose many facets reflect all the other gems and their reflections too, back and forth infinitely - the world interwoven in such a way that each node of its living net contains all mysteries; there’s no need to climb to heaven to find the sacred, when the part contains the whole, just as the hologram does, where each tiny speck of an image contains the whole.  Christian poets like William Blake have said it too – to see the world in a flower, and heaven in a grain of sand….

Mahayana Buddhism, of which Zen is but one strand, emphasises the realisation of the Buddha that all beings are interdependent, not separate, isolated and defended.  As Joanna Macy put it, ‘we inter-are.’  Zen students practice zazen – sitting meditation – opening to the experience of this!  which goes beyond an intellectual knowing.  Joanna’s work was inspired by the despair round the Cold War, her seminal book, Despair and Empowerment in the Nuclear Age.  It's time to focus on despair and empowerment in the climate change age.

Caring passionately about biodiversity and climate change can be heart-breaking, when mineral companies present their extractivist point of view that what matters are human jobs, not ecosystems, when politicians can say they put people before plants, attitudes that can create despair and apathy.   What can we do to make a difference?   Fritz Schumacher's 'Small is Beautiful" was published in l973, and his,  'think globally, act locally ' still resonates.  In the Upper Macdonald Valley, our faith community has been practising bush regeneration since the late 90's, removing infestations of blackberry and working to prevent weeds penetrating the bushland. It's about ecological restoration, maintaining biodiversity and restoring ecosystems in which natural regeneration can occur, and where habitat for our vulnerable species is protected.   This ethic of caring for nature exists in most cultures and across most faiths and, as people realise the extraordinary heritage of the flora of Sydney Hawkesbury Sandstone, sensitivity and protective behaviour will surely grow.

Watching a spider at work,

I vow with all beings

To cherish the web of the universe.

Touch one point and everything moves.  (1)

Yes, one person can act in spite of feelings of grief, dread and anger - one person can overcome that sense of powerlessness and inertia in the face of what lies ahead for all beings.  One person must. *Robert Aitken, The Dragon Who Never Sleeps, p. 42, pub. Parallax Press, l992