Wednesday, October 14, 2009

COMMON GROUND


Many decades ago I came to the conclusion that the day would soon arrive when humanity will be faced with imminent extinction - unless it has enough good sense to outgrow antiquated, anthropocentric belief systems and find common ground with all the other lifeforms with which we share the biosphere.

A cursory glance at news headlines over the past week (death toll rising from Sumatra earthquake, massive floods in India and the Philippines, destructive storms and mudslides in Southern California) has convinced me that that fateful day has indeed arrived. In fact, it probably arrived at least 10 years ago, but our so-called leaders were too busy plotting world domination to notice. And, even as I type this, many continue on the same tack.


Even with Barack Obama in the White House, it appears that not much has changed. There's still talk of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan - instead of finding a non-military win-win solution and declaring an immediate ceasefire. Some continue to threaten a nuclear attack on Iran. In effect, it's clear that the giant oil companies and international financiers still hold sway when it comes to deciding the political agenda. Why else are feisty Greenpeace volunteers climbing onto the roof of the British Parliament to draw global attention to climate change?

Closer to home, the component parties of Pakatan Rakyat are faced with a genuine dilemma: can they transcend their own party ideologies and infighting, and agree upon a few universal principles on which they can find common ground?


In other words, are we capable of stepping back from the petty issues clouding our vision and taking time out to contemplate the Big Picture; to once again see the beauty and majesty of the forest instead of squabbling over a few scrawny trees?

Some folks go ga-ga over puppies and treat their dogs as equal members of the family, to the extent of sharing a bed with their furry pets. Others recoil at the mere sight of a canine, believing that dogs are unclean and that if one comes into contact with canine saliva, it could ruin their prospects of going to heaven. Some exhibit an irrational fear of dogs, even when the mutt's tail is wagging. Strange, isn't it, that some folks actually believe being licked by a dog is a greater "sin" than behaving in a cruel and insensitive manner towards animals?


How can we possibly find common ground with people who think drinking beer or doing a bit of yoga or displaying some bare skin are far worse transgressions against their religion than accepting gross injustice and wholesale corruption?


If the water supply is poisoned, everybody gets sick or dies - regardlesss of whether they worship in a mosque or a church or a temple or are completely apathetic about the existence or non-existence of God. Similarly, if the air is severely polluted, EVERYBODY CHOKES - and it doesn't matter a whit if you've been celibate your whole life or earn your living as a prostitute.


In effect, environmental degradation impacts on everyone and everything across the entire spectrum of belief. Whether you're a corrupt and horny Umno minister or a rare Amazonian horned toad, ecosystemic health is one thing you can't afford to ignore.

I realize that certain religions teach their followers to disregard the physical world as merely illusory or, at best, ephemeral. Therefore, their attitude towards the ecosystem is: why bother if everything seems to be falling apart? The crucial thing is to be a staunch believer and have unshakeable faith that the devout will be translated into rapture on Judgment Day - or be resurrected from their graves and exalted in heaven.

There are certainly a few fundamentalist Christian sects that preach precisely this. In America they are called the Christian-Zionist rightwing and they are the ones who have been pushing their Armageddon agenda, in the hope that accelerating the advent of the Final Apocalypse will hasten the return of their savior, Jesus Christ.

Such a belief system borders on psychosis, but I'm pretty sure they constitute a very tiny minority. Those of us who consider ourselves sane must greatly outnumber these eschatological extremists.

How does one measure sanity? For a start, being able to appreciate beauty and enjoy the sensation of being alive puts one on firm ground. To be able to delight in all our senses; to savor the taste of fine cooking, the sensuous feel of rich satin, the aroma of burning grass, the splendor of a painted sky or a vivid rainbow, the haunting strains of a flute at twilight or a mellifluous voice raised in melodious song; these are the unmistakeable symptoms of sanity, the hallmarks of a living, conscious being endowed with a zest for life.


This is where we can all find common ground. Appreciation of nature's beauty and the simple joys of our incarnate existence in the physical world. The gamut of powerful emotions to be experienced and explored as we spin merrily around the Sun affords us access to the mystery of existence itself.

The Chinese place great premium on the quality of air and water. They call it fengshui (from the Chinese words for "wind" and "water"). With good fengshui, prosperity, good health and longevity follow as a matter of course.

Can you imagine, then, what follows upon our cavalier mistreatment of the living ecosystem that sustains us? When we pollute the air with vehicular emissions and factory fumes and poison the waters with industrial effluents, what are we creating for ourselves and for our progeny if not hell on earth?

Do we as a species have sufficient maturity and understanding to set aside trivial prejudice and inherited programming - and come together consciously and cooperatively to restore the health of our precious environment?

Do we have the political will to get our priorities right? In our obsession with facts and figures and pie charts, have we blinded ourselves to what is glaringly obvious to anyone who takes time out to sit atop a hill and gaze around in awe at nature's inherent magnificence?

It doesn't matter what color the skin you're born in happens to be; nor does it make a difference which direction you face when praying, or if you even pray at all. Country bumpkin or city slicker, you are an inextricable part of the whole complex spectrum of energetic interactions that synergetically constitute what we call "Life on Earth."

If you can stop in your tracks and integrate this simple truth... there's a damn good chance you will be able to find some common ground - not only with other humans that populate the planet, but also with the marvelous diversity of biological species that contribute to the neverending dance of life, death and rebirth.

Begin from there and we stand a pretty good chance of liberating ourselves from the tyranny of money and military might. By recalibrating our lives around the celebration of beauty and truth, we shall emerge triumphant from our cocoons of limited vision and experience the freedom and joy of life without end.

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