Vol 4, No 5       

child in indigenous celebration
Environmental Healing and World Peace
by Claudia Sobrevila


by the author

This article addresses the question: "How can we create a peaceful society?" It was inspired by a Conference on Peace that I attended two weeks ago. The XIII International Conference of Educators for World Peace was convened by Lama Gangchen Tulku Rinpoche and by the International Association of Educators for World Peace.

Lama Gangchen was born in Tibet. At the age of five, he was enthroned as the reincarnation of a great lama healer. He is the holder of a long, unbroken lineage of healing lamas and tantric masters and has been teaching in many parts of the world about peace education and environmental peace.

I present in this short article a bio-spiritual point of view of how to reach an enlightened and peaceful society, drawing upon natural laws that govern existence on the earth, from the teachings of spiritually peaceful and enlightened individuals like Lama Gangchen and also from teachings from indigenous native people that live closest to Nature and honor and respect her.

Five major issues are presented that summarize some of the highlight of this fascinating Conference.

Environmental Healing
and World Peace

I have pursued and obtained many formal education titles and degrees to become an environmentalist. But in none of the universities where I studied or professional positions that I occupied did I ever find clues about how to produce transformational changes that would result in real protection and peace with the environment. Nor did I ever find the means to do so even if I knew how.

Then, five years ago, I was on a business trip in the Amazon of Brazil, visiting a small village that could only be reached by boat. My organization was evaluating the feasibility to finance a program to protect the rainforest in this village.

One day, we received an announcement that the Tibetan lama Gangchen Rinpoche, the man I mentioned in my Foreword, was due to arrive at this village. Intrigued, I asked what a Tibetan lama was doing in the Amazon, and was told he was on a pilgrimage to make Peace with the Environment and with Amazonia.

Now I was even more intrigued and eager to meet him. I had never encountered anyone whose purpose was to promote peacemaking with the Environment.

The lama's boat finally arrived at the small village, and a large crowd gathered around him. A young doctor who was accompanying our group led me through the crowd and finally introduced me to him. And when I saw Lama Gangchen's smile, my busy, chit-chattering mind went silent, and I experienced what I think is inner peace and happiness.

The villagers gathered around and started to share their experiences. Lama sang mantras and the villagers brought presents — songs, water, and pieces of their culture. The children gathered in the small, square plaza, and I could hear their laughter and joy.

I realized that in all of the years I had been working for the environment in these remote villages, I had never before entered them in peace, with peace, bringing peace. I had entered them with a busy, speeded-up mind, trying to impose views and knowledge that would leave nothing of value behind.

So my education for making peace with the environment started that day. I was taught that I needed to create a peaceful container, individually and collectively. By creating containers of inner peace — world peace, peace with the environment, peace with everything — I would make my contribution to re-establishing harmony.

Today, we live in fear of terrorism and war, and the media makes all possible efforts to remind us of this fact. Many wake up in the morning dominated by these thoughts, in addition to being tired and concerned. Will our children be safe? The threat of violence escalates with every passing day, and the solution also seems more distant and more complex.

Peace seems to be a foreign concept to many people that I meet. They see peace as something that will be reached when certain governments will sign peace treaties. In the school system in the US, where I live, there is no education for peace in the curriculum. In the schools right now, there is only talk about how to be more secure, how to protect ourselves from the aggressors, how to defend ourselves from attacks. There is no culture for peace.

Many people believe, if we put an end to the violence toward our environment — conserve our forests, rivers, oceans, plants, and animals and cleanse the air we breathe and our waters — that we would create the necessary conditions for peace and healing. Contrast the state of fear we just talked about with the state of peace we feel when we trek in a nature reserve, or walk along a beach, or dive into the wonders of a coral reef.

There is no doubt that a pure environment induces a sense of harmony and natural wonder.

Violence is a human phenomenon — it has no meaning in Nature. The food chain isn't violent, it simply "is."

I. Inner Peace Is the Best
Foundation for World Peace

Peace in the World cannot be separate from individuals attaining inner peace. This is not a new concept, but it surely became a unanimous conclusion at the Congress. If the individuals who negotiate peace agreements are not peaceful themselves — if they are filled with emotions of anger, retaliation, revenge, discrimination, and judgment — they are not really suited to be negotiators of peace.

The Conference stressed that the process of gaining inner peace is the best contribution that any individual can make to help reach world peace. Many examples were given on how to slow down our tremendously powerful minds and engage in peaceful thoughts and actions and to become less defensive about everything.

Our society needs new values: values of tolerance, acceptance, love, and generosity.

One example of gaining inner peace came from the teachings of Buddhism. Buddha reached enlightenment, freeing himself from all suffering and pain, and attained the state of a pure, crystalline, pristine, and peaceful mind. The problems that we have — our sufferings, pains, and fears — are, according to the Buddhist doctrine, all related to the pollution of our minds.

For many lives, we have allowed our minds to feed upon negative emotions and impure actions and to accumulate polluted information about the true reality of who we are as human beings.

Buddha has laid out the steps for people to free their minds and bring them back to their pure state. Meditation, recitation, and avoiding karmic actions are all part of the solutions that Buddha proposed, and these help individuals attain inner peace. Without inner peace, there is no world peace.

II. Creating Peace Means
Creating a Culture of Peace

The process of peace needs to become a culture for peace. The cultural patterns of our society need to move from a culture of violence to a culture of peace. The cultural patterns of our modern society are observed in the day-to-day actions that happen either individually or collectively.

If, for example, we look at the actions that take place today in the entertainment business, the media, and other forms of recreation, these are not based on a culture for peace. The scenes, the news, the images, the magazine covers, the advertisements with which we are bombarded every day reflect a culture of violence and sex and not a culture of peace. They are based on very low-consciousness values. The media focuses only on bloody news, not peace news.

This culture of violence produces a society that is not peaceful. On the contrary, we witness, day in and day out, visions and scenes of violence. Even the games that are invented for our children today portray scenes of war, devastation, destruction, guns, and blood.

We need to create and encourage a culture of peace in our society and little by little eliminate the culture of violence from our entertainment business — the media, publicity, theaters, magazines, and so many other areas.

There are native peoples in many parts of the world who have lived, and still live, in harmony with their surroundings, just as they did five thousand years ago. They had a culture and education of peace.

Just in the Amazon alone there are more than three hundred ethnic groups that have had little contact with our modern society. Instead, they live in daily contact with Nature. These societies could become our educators of peace.

Let me illustrate a few examples I have come across recently of how these societies have rules and behaviors that support a culture of peace.

Man is not the only species on earth. Humankind, a single species among the 15 million, has emerged in the last million years — hardly a moment in the planet's seven billion year history — to exercise total hegemony over all of the rest. We have come to exercise a terrible power to collectively destroy the environment. The energetic imbalances we create in doing so bring disharmony, and this disharmony invariably degenerates into conflict and violence.

For the most part, the native, indigenous people who still live in harmony with Nature have not broken the natural laws. They respect all other species that surround them, recognizing their value and taking only what is needed.

Our planet is alive. Every living and inert organism plays an important role, exchanging its energy with all other organisms. Domination over all other species is a serious ingredient in creating conflict in our society. Taking more than is needed, demanding more than is necessary, dominating and bending the natural laws to our own human willfulness and insatiability — all of this behavior creates conflict with Nature and within our society. Peace is lost when we are out of touch with Nature and her laws, and when we abandon the natural ways of life.

We are one with everything. Many spiritual traditions and the native indigenous peoples believe that we are all interconnected. The Buddhist dharma teaches us about the interdependence of all phenomena. It explains the natural law that governs all actions, intentions, and life both on this planet and throughout the cosmos.

The problem is that we believe we can exploit our environment and consume natural resources without consequences. But the truth involves an invariable principle: When we change something, we always create something else. Here is a story that illustrates this principle. It concerns the catfish in the Amazon River.

There are many large catfish species in the Amazon that have a complex life cycle. These species lay their eggs in the watersheds of rivers in the Andean Mountains of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Then, after the young hatch, the adults travel 2000 to 3000 kilometers (about 1200 to 1800 miles) to the Brazilian part of the Amazon River, where they feed and grow and where the human population depends upon them for survival.

But today, because the watersheds in the Andes are being destroyed by deforestation and the resulting soil erosion, these fish are losing the opportunity to reproduce. As a result, the number of adult fish in the lowland Amazon has decreased alarmingly, thus affecting the food supply of the people who live there.

So here is a perfect example of how the actions of human society in one geographical place, taken without understanding of the possible consequences, have affected the livelihood of humans living somewhere else. It is no exaggeration to say that a society in one area might, by its unthinking alterations of the balance of life, end up causing death by starvation to the people of another area.

Mental education in children to create peace. There is an ethnic group called the Senoi who live in the Malay Peninsula. Some anthropologists have characterized the Senoi as the most democratic group in human history. For hundreds of years, violent crimes and personal conflicts have been unknown among them. They are always happy and in perfect mental health.

The Senoi's secret for peace is simple. They use dream interpretation and manipulation for their mental health. The Senoi believe that dream images are part of the individual and are formed of psychic forces that take external forms — forms that may later become physically manifest. To keep them from manifesting in their lives, the Senoi learn from childhood to master the internal dark forces of the psyche.

Senoi children are encouraged not only to confront, but actually to attack hostile figures or "spirits" in their dreams. They are taught to call "friendly spirits" to their aid during nightmares. These friendly forces, which can be equated with angelic and religious figures, are the positive inner aspects of the personality.

The Senoi believe that any threatening figures destroyed by the dreamer will emerge later on as a friendly spirit or ally. Prolonged study of the dream beliefs of the Senoi has led many modern psychologists to conclude that their dream philosophy is the healthiest and most adequate for the preservation of mental health and the integration of the personality.

III. Protecting Our Outer Environment Is a
Sine Qua Non for Inner and Outer Peace

We simply cannot remain psychologically healthy until we begin to protect the environment. Violence against our environment perpetuates a series of actions at the global level that contribute to conflict within society and the self. The emotions and minds of human beings are strongly affected by what they eat, what they do, where they live, and what surrounds them.

Our original environment was filled with life in an abundance of animals and plants, fresh air and water, and natural sounds. But most of the human population lives in urban areas, especially cities, that contain the opposite of those elements: concrete, metal, inanimate objects, engine sounds, and polluted air and water.

But when people from urban communities have direct experience with Nature — seeing, feeling, and touching natural elements — they strongly recognize life and its natural laws.

The closer humans move to urban areas and cities, the more they lose this recognition of the natural laws of life. As they lose experience of natural life elements in the environment, so also they lose touch with the life within themselves. Emotional health breaks down. They more easily experience disharmony, conflict, and frustration.

Our society in every corner of the world is treating the environment with tremendous disrespect, with greed. Everywhere, we are leaving a trail of devastation that will eventually produce unhealthy situations and economic problems. But even before the long-term results appear, our behavior is creating a more anxious and less relaxed population.

Natural and clean environments help human societies relax more from life's anxieties. A natural environment recycles the air. The sounds of Nature have positive psychological effects. Natural environments are humans' best allies to have a harmonious society.

Many people believe that if we put an end to the violence toward our environment, and instead act to conserve our forests, rivers, oceans, plants, and animals, cleansing the air we breathe and the water we drink, we would automatically be creating the conditions for peace and healing within society.

On the other hand, if we continue to destroy our environment through acts of greed and insatiable development, we will every day be cutting even more our chances to attain peace — locally, nationally, or globally.

We must take care of our environment.

By increasing societies' understanding of the need to care for and nurture the environment, we create a powerful movement toward peace.

A polluted outer environment increases illness, conflict, and unhappy society. If exploiting and destroying Nature leads to violence, in the same way giving back to Nature just as surely creates peace. When we take something from Mother Nature we should ask permission and thank her afterward for her unstinting bounty.

Think of all the scientific and technological discoveries that were inspired by observation of Nature. And in return for the great knowledge that we received from Nature, how do we pay her back? By destroying her, by taking even more from her. How much greed can we possibly have?

The importance of ceasing to destroy our environment is something that should be in our conversation, our media, our votes, our purchases, and our prayers. And only then will the sum of our own individual commitment and actions have the power to change society and bring a return of peace.

We must regain our respect for Nature.

Environmental ethics is disappearing. Respect for Mother Earth used to be the way of all indigenous peoples.

But this ethic has almost disappeared from modern society. If we look at societal behavior toward the environment, we see disrespect, violation, and abuse of life. And comparing modern societies to indigenous ones, we can see that the presence or absence of peace is reflected in the way we treat our environment.

In contemporary society, most people realize that it doesn't work to treat their friends and neighbors badly, or even people in general. But most people also are totally unaware of how they are treating their environment. While they consider it a crime to kill a person or abuse a domestic animal, they don't think it's a crime to gratuitously kill a tree or an animal that lives in the wild.

On an individual level, peace comes as a result of our acceptance of the differences that our external environment imposes upon us. Our level of consciousness about peace needs to go to new places. It is not enough to say that we are peace makers or that we are peaceful because we are good to our family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, or even strangers. To be truly peaceful people, we also must care for the environment.

If we mindlessly support the destruction of our planet, believing that we benefit from the decimation of forests, from having products that are deleterious to the environment, from killing off Nature, then we are full of contradictions.

The violence done to Nature invariably manifests in our own lives in negative ways. And on the other hand, if we respect Nature, that respect will likewise manifest beneficially in our life environment.

IV. Realize that Peace Education
Is a Transformational Process

Peace Education cannot come from books. Peace has to be experienced. And there has to be an understanding of what values and processes need to take place to create this experience.

It is almost impossible for someone who is not peaceful to teach others to be peaceful. The peace state is found within our own minds, and it needs to be self-realized in order to be passed along to others. Spiritually peaceful and enlightened people, then, are key elements in supporting the process of peace.

My meeting with Lama Gangchen provided me with a transformational experience around peace or environmental education. I realized then that when people have a sense of harmony and peace, violence and destruction go away.

So it was Lama Gangchen who first taught me that protection of the Environment has to come from a place of Peace. I realized after meeting this spiritual leader, this environmental peacemaker, that my life would never again be the same.

V. Replace Values Based on Greed with
Values Based on Generosity and Caring

The root cause of conflict is greed. It is the lack of willingness to share, compromise, and accept other another person's way of being. In the pursuit of earthly pleasures, we want more and more to satisfy ourselves, and we are creating a terrible and unsustainable burden on Earth's natural resources.

I am reminded of the wisdom I heard from an indigenous woman from the Amazon region. She lived in a remote village that had very little contact with modern society. This group, like most indigenous groups who have maintained their traditional knowledge, believe that there is a Harmonic Law of the Universe, and that human beings need to respect this law. In order not to create imbalances and chaos, they are careful of how much they take from Nature. Everything — human beings and everything else — is in order and is part of the community.

Unlike these traditional villages, modern societies and our human behavior are characterized by greed. Greed has reached such incredible, notorious levels in our modern society that two percent of the population now owns more than eighty percent of the resources.

This is greed.

Peace, on the other hand, is not about taking everything from Nature. True Peace requires a fundamental change in many of our attitudes. Peace is sharing the resources equally with your human neighbors and all the natural elements: the forests, the birds, animals, plants and minerals. People find excuses to ignore Nature and abuse her. But peace, and even survival, will be hard to reach if we continue to do this.

Today we are faced with more and greater threats of dangerous pollution experiences, global climate change, and loss of species that will never again be seen. Our irrepressible demands to consume more are depleting all our resources. And it is the scarcity of resources that creates conflict.

Nature is not greedy. Nature is unbiased toward each of the elements of creation. Different species can live and thrive in one space, sharing water, air, soil, and sunlight. It is mankind alone that demands to dominate and recklessly consume the planet's resources. And competition for these resources creates conflict and violence.

We are far removed from the values of inner peace, sharing, nurturing, and living in harmony. We have unwittingly exchanged them for a state of anxiety, fear, frustration, and anger. We are in "attack" mode, both verbally and physically. Society degenerates as we ourselves degenerate.

How can we reverse this situation? Some people turn to leaders or seek solace in their churches. This is good, but it is not enough. Indeed, there are very few leaders equipped to guide us back to the places where we can find inner peace and love, compassion, and generosity. There are few teachers, and these need more support to renew our values and our faith in peace.

How can we go back to Nature, to the Environment? Let's take a walk in Nature. Let's take our children back to Nature. Without much effort, we can find places nearby.

What this natural place will do for us is to teach us and regenerate us.

Look, sense, imitate. When we go to Nature we can observe how everything must have worked when it was all working — how everything must interact. The river flows, the animals and plants touch one another and draw energy from one another. Birds feed and, in feeding, spread pollen and drop seeds that rejuvenate.

How Nature interacts is the lesson for us. By being in contact with Nature, we renew our own internal energy and bring about a way of behaving. If you look at Nature there is no greed but there is a generosity that provides for everyone. No being takes more than it needs. If you imitate that behavior, you will soon learn the values of simplicity and generosity that come with the realization that you already have everything that you need and many times over.

Thinking that you need a new whatever — a new car, a fashionable new suit of clothes, new friends, a new house, new furniture — all of this is your illusion. When we walk with Nature, we learn what we need and what we do not. And what we need is very little... mostly, the humility to learn what is there for everyone.

Conflict and war are a reflection of a society that has been too much taken over by masculine energy. The basic human compact that underlies relationships has lost its nurturing value. Rather, it is based in competition and power.

And rebalancing our values also involves a new recognition of the feminine energy. To bring back peace to our society we need to rebalance the feminine energy in all of our circles and in our activities. The feminine energy brings peace with caring. Many men that lead us have shut down their feminine voice, their caring words and actions. They must listen more to the feminine wisdom.

And women who lead must not lose touch with their pure feminine power and strength. They must listen more to the wisdom of the feminine. This is the wisdom that replaces self-interest with family, or clan with society as a whole.

Women are too often left in the back without voice, and their wisdom is not heard. It is difficult for women to get into positions of power because they must cope and work with the stronger masculine force. Men need to coach women to assume power without fear — to go with confidence, armed in their own wisdom. Just this simple action could change the world profoundly.

In Conclusion...

Every sane human being wishes for peace. But for many, a precondition of peace in the world is to create inner peace. Unfortunately, we have old and bad habits that keep us from this inner harmony.

We are driving in the city, caught up in a terrible traffic jam, late for an appointment, irritated, surrounded by equally overwrought drivers who are honking horns, driving aggressively, polluting the air around them — how can one talk of inner peace under such circumstances?

But what if we imagine just the opposite situation — strolling through the surf breaking on a pristine beach, walking in a park, watching a sunset, or listening to the birds and silent sounds of the forest? This alone can bring us back to harmony and a peaceful state of mind.

If our outer environment affects our inner environment, the opposite is also true, and this is something we can control. And because most of us live in the middle of chaotic and stressful environments, it is very important for us to renew our peaceful energy every day with mental exercises.

But mental exercise is not enough, as it does not translate to collective change. To create collective change, we need to create inner circles of peace: gatherings where people may experience inner peace and interact with one another in peaceful, kind, and generous ways.

These inner circles of peace are a different way of socializing, an old way of socializing. It is even more powerful if done in a natural setting surrounded by Nature. Joining in such a circumstance, even for a short period of time, we create, or recreate, the habits of peace that are a precondition for spreading peace to others we come in contact with.

Creating habits of peace is especially crucial for our children. It should be an actual experience of sitting quietly to contemplate a sunset or the waves in the ocean.

Five paths to walk, five paths to peace. These are simple steps, and they are not unique. There are many other ways. All possible forms of reaching peace should be tried.

But no matter how we approach creating peace, we must realize that the beginning of peace is in the awareness of where our inner violence lies, and what we do with it. There is no blame or shame. We must simply see our inner conflict simply as a sickness that needs healing, and seek solutions to the unexplainable violence that fills our hearts in small and large ways.

Also, we need to know that reaching peace means working a fundamental change in the selfishness that pervades society. Our school systems and families need to teach values of caring and nurturance to our children, both through educational experiences and by example.

And if we are truly serious about reaching peace we have to start back at the beginning. Nature is that beginning. Nature is the power of sharing, generosity, respect, love, and peace. Nature is free. It is there for all of us, if we will but walk the paths she has laid out for us. Nature has lived harmoniously on Planet Earth from the beginning of time.

Claudia Sobrevila works for the World Bank as Senior Biodiversity Adviser. She also is the founder of EcoVillages Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose website is at lgpt.net/Ecovillages.

Claudia wishes to emphasize that the views expressed here are solely her own and should not be attributed to the World Bank or any of its affiliates, and that any errors or omissions in the above text are solely those of the author.

You can read several of Claudia's articles about the environment in the first issue of the Spirit of Ma'at, August 2000, all about Mother Earth and Her Environment

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