Are We Vulnerable to Conspirituality?

What is conspirituality?

Charlotte Ward and David Voas first coined the term “conspirituality” in 2011, to describe the merger of conspiracy theories and New Age spirituality. I like to put a hyphen between the con and spirituality because it is a con. Spirituality is conscripted into the service of gurus and influencers concerned only with their success in terms of numbers of followers, who can then be turned into paying customers. When these gurus start espousing conspiracy theories, their followers – if they’re not critical thinkers and misinformation resilient – tend to believe them, and so the theories proliferate. Fact or fiction, the more people share them, the more people believe them. It’s easy to share that meme or opinion because it seems okay on the surface, but not checking it carefully before sharing is dangerous, for us and for society.

Just look at Trump’s conspiracy theory about the 2020 election. The result is the destabilisation of American society and an assault on the Capitol building.

Conspirituality is ‘a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fuelled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews. It has international celebrities, bestsellers, radio and TV stations. It offers a broad politico-spiritual philosophy based on two core convictions, the first traditional to conspiracy theory, the second rooted in the New Age: 1) a secret group covertly controls, or is trying to control, the political and social order, and 2) humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness. Proponents believe that the best strategy for dealing with the threat of a totalitarian ‘new world order’ is to act in accordance with an awakened ‘new paradigm’ worldview.

 A 2011 article by Ward and Voas from the Journal of Contemporary Religion

The spiritual, new age, yoga and wellness industry is full of charlatans who will say almost anything if it will increase their social media following regardless of whether or not its true. If it gets lots of ‘Likes’, ‘Shares’, and comments, they’ll keep saying it. If we’ve come away from Buddhism holding the vague kinds of beliefs commonly professed by many of these gurus or influencers, we can easily be led into the rabbit hole of their sphere of influence.  We may adopt a con-spirituality mentality and become part of groups that are every bit as much a cult, if not more so, than the Buddhist cults we left behind.

The problem with con-spirituality

Our devotion to Sogyal would have kept most of us away from the New Age and wellness movement’s lightweight spirituality, but I wonder how many of those who have left Rigpa might be turning to it now. Why is that a problem? Because listening to some people in that community might lead you to think that conspiracy theories are true, and if you embrace them as truth, you end up living in a world of your beliefs that bear little relationship to reality.

A viral outbreak of con-spirituality has arisen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s based on a critique of modern technology, medicine, and governance. They claim such things as that the COVID-19 pandemic is a construct of the deep-state and a sign of end-times, often aligned with ideas emanating from the far-right, apocalyptic QAnon movement which frequently draws on Christian millenarianism.

Where spiritual people and groups’ questioning of modernity is critical, informed, non-violent, and employ ideas and practices whose validity is bolstered by genuine and fully understood science, that isn’t con-spirituality. People with conspiritual views ignore, denigrate or twist science and evidence and hold opinion and feelings to be the final arbiter of ‘truth’. (Do you recognise this kind of thinking from those in Rigpa who defended Sogyal’s abuse?) This kind of perspective and a lack of media literacy in regards to ascertaining what is true or false is what makes people easy prey for conspiracy theories.

Just as in any cult, adherents feel they are privy to the ‘real truth’ and thus more enlightened than mainstream society. Their form of spirituality is individualised, based on personal choice—often stating that truth can only be known by looking inside themselves—and commodified, which is why conspiritualists see coronavirus restrictions as a threat to their personal freedom. In actual fact they are not only a threat to the health of society, but also completely deluded; they’re fighting an enemy that simply doesn’t exist.

Though lip service may be given to the importance of love, genuine compassion seems to be lacking. Conspirituality movements are full of privileged white people whose philosophy doesn’t work well for those without the means to pay for and take time off their job for the latest sweat lodge or tantric sex weekend, not to mention having the means to purchase the expensive supplements peddled by the wellness influencers. Love is professed only in so far as it makes followers feel good and because talk of it boosts the influencers’ social media followers. As with Sogyal and Rigpa, when it comes down to it, money is their real motivator.

Contemporary spirituality places an emphasis on positive thinking for personal wellbeing and economic gains, and yet individuals cannot simply think themselves out of this COVID-19 crisis. This has resulted in mass spiritual bypassing, with more privileged individuals and groups — who are far less likely to be affected by the coronavirus — denying the reality of the suffering that the virus is inflicting on the less privileged and more vulnerable.

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/covid-conspiracies-and-conspirituality/12760976

People drawn to conspiracy theories often share the same qualities we find in people drawn to spirituality. You may recognise some of the qualities that make one vulnerable to conspiracy theories in yourself, such as:

  1. An openness to unusual beliefs and experiences. If you’re very creative, with a capacity for original, innovative thinking, that openness could be harmless, but you may also be prone to beliefs that are unfounded in reality—especially if you misunderstand the indivisibility of form and emptiness and how that relates to every part of ourselves and our lives.
  2. Prone to very independent thinking, suspicious of authority, suspicious of official narratives, suspicious of mainstream medicine, big pharma, and much more drawn to alternative medicine and alternative healing practices. 
    These qualities are not problematic if measured with common sense and critical thinking, our decisions are evidence based rather than intuition based, and we have a nuanced—rather than black and white—view of the world. If we paint all pharma, all mainstream medicine, all government as bad and all alternative medicine and healing as good, then we’ll be easy prey for the con-spirituality gurus and their cults.
  3. Have a tendency for the narcissism seen in new age spirituality and conspiracy thinking. Both can be a form of Gnosticism, which is based on the idea that you are part of the special elite that has seen through the illusion of ordinary reality and accessed secret truths. (Recognise Rigpa culture here?)

The wellness and alternative spiritual crew have united over the past decade to expose the vested interests of the food, pharmaceutical and oil industries – for valid and worthy reasons. Drug companies have abused our health. The Gates Foundation should be more transparent and accountable, considering the massive influence it has over global public health. And the fight to expose truth has united this community.

Meanwhile, political trust is at an all-time low globally. Media and other moral structures that once held the status quo accountable have desiccated. It’s understandable that we be suspicious and questioning. I am on a number of issues. But as the world gets more complex and noisy, truth can easily become confused with “truthiness”.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/15/the-wellness-realm-has-fallen-into-conspiritualism-i-have-a-sense-why

Could your desire to expose the truth, the same desire that lead you to help expose Sogyal’s abuse and support his victims, lead you into the delusion of conspiracy theories?

‘Spiritual’ beliefs that make you vulnerable to conspiracy theories”1.

  1. Everything is connected;
  2. Nothing happens by accident;
  3. Nothing is as it seems.

Do any of these ring true to you? Aren’t they things we believed in Rigpa? Aren’t these the kinds of beliefs that became slogans used to explain away abuse? These are the core beliefs that have been misunderstood and misappropriated by conspiritualists. If you understand the dharma basis of these beliefs well—including what they don’t mean—are social-media literate, and use your critical-thinking faculties when engaging with con-spiritualists—meaning that you insist on actual proof from recognised trustworthy sources (like properly interpreted genuine science)—you won’t be at risk of falling for the con. However, if your understanding of their spiritual basis is vague, and you are too willing to ‘go with the flow’ and believe whatever someone says when they ‘sound’ reasonable—those skilled in cult induction techniques tell you what you want to hear—you’re at risk of falling into delusion in a big way.

How do we avoid being conned by con-spirituality movements?

People fall for conspiracy theories because they want certainty in an uncertain world. So accepting the limits of your certainty and becoming comfortable with the inevitable uncertainty of human existence will help inoculate you against falling for conspiracy theories. If we long for certainty and security, we’ll hold onto beliefs or hopes or ideologies that give us this certainty, even if they’re a false narrative.

In Buddhist terms, excessive attachment to views is a form of ego clinging, so knowing those teachings will help make you less inclined to become attached to a conspiracy, or any other, theory. Some solid Buddhist study—with genuinely qualified teachers—will help you realise that these beliefs, as they’re stated above, are gross oversimplifications. Apart from being a useful spiritual education, this will help you to avoid being conned by those with no clue to their real meaning. Alternatively, or simultaneously, dropping all ‘spiritual’ beliefs would also work as an inoculation against conspirituality. At the very least, you could develop a questioning attitude to such beliefs and to people who profess them.

In simple terms try to find a balance between being open to alternative experiences and beliefs, but not believing any old nonsense or falling into magical thinking—the belief that unrelated events are causally connected despite the absence of any plausible causal link between them. 

And learn how to do genuine research:

We will indeed need to do our own research and demand more truth. But we will also need to defer to and respect science to do so. We need to understand that research done via YouTube is not “your own research”. It’s an algorithm at play that handcuffs us to our worst cognitive biases. We need to be sceptical – but for the sake of understanding, not to create more tribalism. I would argue that we also need, at a broader level, to instigate fake news resilience training, like Finland has. It works.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/15/the-wellness-realm-has-fallen-into-conspiritualism-i-have-a-sense-why

So along with our spiritual sensitivities, we need to value evidence from our shared physical reality. What seems to be true to us is not the same as what actually is true in reality. If we don’t look for external validation of our beliefs in the form of evidence, we risk becoming completely unhinged from reality, and there is no greater delusion than that.

For more on con-spirituality listen to the Conspirituality Podcast. This episode on why spiritual people are vulnerable to conspiracy theories is particularly relevant.

References.

https://conspirituality.net

https://www.vice.com/en/article/93wq73/conspirituality-explains-why-the-wellness-world-fell-for-qanon

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/covid-conspiracies-and-conspirituality/12760976

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/15/the-wellness-realm-has-fallen-into-conspiritualism-i-have-a-sense-why

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/28/fact-from-fiction-finlands-new-lessons-in-combating-fake-news

Could Your Desire to Wake up to Your ‘True’ Self Lead You Deeper into Delusion?

The Tibetan Buddhist teachings warn that where there is the greatest potential for enlightenment there is also the greatest chance of delusion. If you embark on the spiritual path without correct understanding of the subtle concepts involved, your desire to ‘wake up’ to your true self could lead you deeper into delusion. This is why they say that Vajrayana and Dzogchen should only be undertaken with a qualitied teacher who can make sure that the student doesn’t misunderstand the subtle teachings. But it also applies to any level of spiritual study and practice.

In Rigpa, we enthusiastically lapped up our Dzogchen teachings, never for a moment thinking that we might fall into the kinds of misunderstandings that increase our delusion, rather than freeing us from it. We were brainwashed into believing that we had a great master who was teaching authentic Dzogchen. Given our knowledge now of the man behind the teacher, however, of someone who, along with his most devoted students, thought his actions were not subject to the law of cause and effect of the material plane, it appears that he didn’t understand the teachings on the indivisibility of relative and absolute truth. No matter who you are, if you’re a physical being and you hit another physical being hard, it hurts them and results in blood and bruises. Apart from this being made clear in the teachings on dependent arising, it’s just common sense.

Genuine understanding or vague concepts?

Despite what you may believe or may have been told by those who haven’t really studied the teachings, there is no enlightened plane separate to the physical world, and no inner spiritual world that we can enter to find out what is happening in our external world. That knowledge comes from our outer senses and intelligence backed up by facts presented from reliable integrous sources. Inner examination might show the vastness of inner space and even the way the outer world exists, but it doesn’t show what’s happening ‘behind the scenes’ in the physical world, and it doesn’t change what is actually real to suit our beliefs. If we believe that what we ‘know’ about the outer world from our intuition or ‘inner guidance’ is the same as what is actually true in the external world, we’ve misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘truth’ in relation to what we find by looking at our own awareness.

The Buddha made the relationship between the outer and inner spheres of our experience and perception quite clear when he said, ‘Form is emptiness; emptiness is form; form is no other than emptiness; emptiness is no other than form.’ Sogyal said that often, as did we all, but how many of us truly understand its meaning or honestly admit that we don’t really get it and look into it further? How many of us studied beyond Rigpa’s curriculum—which was lightweight in terms of Madyamika—enough to understand dependent arising? Without those teachings we are unlikely to fully understand this statement on emptiness from the Buddha. If we didn’t see the full profundity of this, along with other often-repeated phrases, then they were little more than cult slogans.

Even with the Four Reliances there is opportunity for misunderstanding

Luckily for us, Nyushul Khenpo, who presumably saw the danger inherent in a teacher with many students and no formal training, undertook to give him that training, and Sogyal did follow his words—and those of other respected teachers—precisely. So if we followed the words of the dharma rather than the teacher, we did receive authentic Dzogchen teachings, especially if we fully followed what’s known as the Four Reliances.

1. Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality;

2. Rely on the meaning, not just on the words;

3. Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one;

4. Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgemental mind.

The Buddha, in the Sutra of the Teaching of Akshayamati and the Sutra of the Questions of the Naga King Anavatapta.

Even so, there is still much opportunity for misunderstanding. How, for instance, are we to know the real meaning, let alone the difference between our wisdom mind and our ordinary, judgemental mind? Did we seek other teachers and other texts to give us the real meaning? Did we examine the meaning in light of our meditation experience? And did we really use our wisdom mind—which is free of all concepts and has a direct experiential understanding of the meaning of emptiness and its relationship to the physical world—or some vague state still within the realm of concepts and assumptions? Did we mistake intuition for true wisdom? Whether we did or not, I think, would depend on the quality, amount, and consistency of our study and practice. Rigpa’s basic curriculum may have been light weight in some areas, but their lists of quality books to use as resources for each module of study were comprehensive. There was no reason why those with the time and inclination for study and practice could not have understood the true meaning.

Unfortunately, however, those closest to Sogyal, who worked incredibly hard, had the least amount of time for study and practice, even if they had the inclination. And Sogyal taught some very subtle teachings to casual students uninclined towards intensive study who lacked the grounding from which to fully understand them. These he taught in retreats where he’d created the atmosphere of a group trance state, and the danger was that people went away thinking they had understood because they confused a pleasant trance experience with genuine understanding or experience. Such assumptions solidify delusion.

Generosity or greed?

The potential for misunderstanding is the reason why these teachings were supposed to be taught to no more than three students at a time, and why those students were supposed to be only those who were ready for them, those who had done the pre-requisite study and practice. Sogyal, however, boasted at his generosity in making them available to everyone. I’m not complaining, since I benefited greatly from those teachings, but I see now that it was not generosity, but rather greed that led him to be so free with the teachings. Offer something special and the pundits come in droves with open wallets! In this he was no different to the new age gurus he so despised. He certainly had little ability to correct misunderstandings or to go into great depth. I’m fully aware that I learned the definitive details from books, not from Sogyal. He was good at inspiring people and essentialising the teachings—something I appreciated—but essentialisation does not impart the full meaning; it summarises. And if you haven’t studied what is summarised, you could easily come away from such a teaching with assumptions that are incorrect.

Why is this potential lack of understanding an issue? Because having only a vague understanding of key spiritual ideas opens us to falling deeper into delusion, not just on a personal spiritual level, but also on a worldly level.

How can wanting to ‘wake up to your true self’ lead you deeper into delusion?

Misunderstanding ‘spiritual’ ideas or ‘lightweight spirituality’–picking just the bits that appeal and not giving ideas any kind of rigorous investigation—can lead not only to deepening personal delusion but also to worldly delusion because conspiracy theorists share some of the same kinds of ‘sloganisable’ beliefs. By sloganisable beliefs I mean easily sharable stock phrases that sound right to ‘spiritual’ people but about which they may have erroneous assumptions or incomplete understanding. When reduced to slogans, the very beliefs you subscribe to because they are what you ‘feel’ to be true in light of your path to wake up to your true self are used to hook you into the delusion of conspiracy theories. In the cause of waking people up to the conspiracy theories in which they believe, they are spouted equally by narcissistic New Age and wellness gurus / influencers and the white supremacists, anarchists and far right Christians that spread conspiracy theories.

For instance, ‘Don’t let yourself be ruled by fear.’ Sounds fair enough. Sounds like something we heard often in Rigpa, too. Remember Sogyal’s oft repeated slogan ‘all fear arises from an untamed mind’? That suggests that we can, and should, get rid of fear by ‘working with our mind’ which in Rigpa essentially meant ignoring one’s thoughts and emotions—never giving any credence to the fact that acknowledging the validity of our fear could save our life.

‘Don’t let yourself be ruled by fear’ is also, according to the Conspirituality website page on the language used by conspiritualists, ‘a stock phrase used [by conspiracy theorists] to denigrate anyone who, in the time of COVID, abides by public health directives. The term implies that the virus is not real, but rather a constructed social control effort. Meshes well with victim-blaming language that suggests fear itself is a degraded or immature state.’

Note that last sentence. Isn’t that exactly how it was used in Rigpa?

See the danger now?

See how easily someone could hook you with that slogan because we’re familiar with it from Rigpa where it was also used as a method of denigration for and dismissal of valid concerns?

Do you believe that your personal transformation/enlightenment is part of a coming fundamental transformation of society, after which ‘all things will be changed’? Millenarianism—defined as a religious, social, or political group or movement that believes this—is part of the con-spirituality mind set. Your desire to see a better world where everyone has woken up to their true nature can easily be the way you inadvertently share a slogan with links back to a bunch of conspiracy theorists for whom the great awakening means waking up to the truth of the Q-drops, and also to ‘the storm, or the wave of mass arrests that will finally awaken the nation to the reality of the Cabal.’  Once you’ve shared something that, even if it seems innocuous on the surface, was posted by a conspiracy theorist you’re a target for recruiters who know exactly how to hook you. Be careful or your desire to see society wake up might become the hook that draws you into another cult, because make no mistake about it, the groups that spread conspiracy theories are cults, dangerous ones too.

Look what happened in Washington on the 6th January 2021.

Where do you find truth?

New Age, wellness and other modern ‘spiritual’ communities where many have fallen prey to conspiracy theories put great stock in following one’s own intuition or inner wisdom, not only to guide you in life but also as a method for ascertaining ‘truth’. I agree that we need to follow our inner wisdom to find our essential nature, but my understanding of ‘inner wisdom’ or ‘finding the truth within’ doesn’t preclude me from using my critical thinking faculties. Nor do I confuse ‘finding the truth within’ with finding the truth of what has actually happened or not happened in the outer world – which is what those who have fallen into conspiracy theories have done. They think something is true because it ‘feels’ true or because they believe it is true.

Again, look at all those who believe Trump won the 2020 US election? It doesn’t matter what evidence you try to give them to prove that Biden won. They’ll just tell you that they ‘know’ Trump won.

If you don’t know how to differentiate between your ego mind and your wisdom mind (the mind that recognises emptiness), then following the idea that we should turn to our wisdom mind in order to find the ‘truth’ could be dangerous. Whether we’re following our ego—undoubtedly cloaked in its wise form on order to fool us—or our wisdom mind, we’d better have a healthy dose of common sense and respect for external truth as validated by actual evidence in the real world. Without it, we could easily fall prey to those who push conspiracy theories.

Non-rational forms of knowing, such as dreams, intuitions, inspiration and mystical experiences have their place, of course. They can be important sources of wisdom and healing. Many great scientific discoveries and cultural creations have come from ecstatic inspiration, from Newton’s discovery of gravity to Milton’s Paradise Lost. However, it’s crucial to balance our capacity for ecstatic / magical / mythical thinking with the capacity for critical thinking.

Too much left brain thinking without any ecstasy, and you end up with a rather dry and uninspiring worldview. Too much ecstasy without critical thinking, and you may be prone to unhealthy delusions, which you then spread, harming others. You may be so sure you’re right, so hyped in your heroic crusade, you may block things that are really helpful and spread things that are really harmful.


https://emotionsblog.history.qmul.ac.uk/2020/04/conspirituality-on-the-overlap-between-spirituality-and-conspiracy-thinking

Most of us in this post-Buddhist cult community are good people. I’m sure that none of us want to ‘spread things that are really harmful’. So if we do it by accident—and that’s easy to do if we don’t take the time to check the source and critically evaluate what we read—then we can always simply admit our mistake. We’ll all learn by hearing your story.

What experience have you had with conspiracy theories? Do you know or have you been approached by anyone pedalling conspiracy theories? How did they try to hook you?


Image by Nicky • 👉 PLEASE STAY SAFE 👈 from Pixabay

My next post will look at other ways we might be vulnerable not only to conspiracy theorists but also to the narcissistic wellness gurus and influencers who will happily hook us into their brand of spiritual in order to sell you their wares.

References.

https://conspirituality.net

https://www.vice.com/en/article/93wq73/conspirituality-explains-why-the-wellness-world-fell-for-qanon

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/covid-conspiracies-and-conspirituality/12760976

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/15/the-wellness-realm-has-fallen-into-conspiritualism-i-have-a-sense-why

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/28/fact-from-fiction-finlands-new-lessons-in-combating-fake-news

What Happens When Beliefs Don’t Align With Reality

Distorted Houses

We see reality though the filter of our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. When beliefs don’t align with reality, they distort perception. This is why, according to the Buddhist teachings, one of the obscurations we need to dissolve if we are to be enlightened – i.e., see reality directly – is the cognitive obscurations, the area of beliefs.

It’s why when we meditate, we train in not labelling or thinking about what we perceive, we simply see, simply hear, simply be without engaging our conceptual mind. But even those who practice this in their meditation find it hard to practice in daily life, especially if they hold tight to beliefs that aren’t in alignment with reality. And sometimes those beliefs are the very beliefs that were designed to point them in the direction of reality.

Look at those in the US who believe that Trump won the election.

This is what I look at in this video.

At the end of this video, I pose a question about how to talk to people who support Trump or believe conspiracy theories. This Conspirituality Podcast gives some good answers. If you’re not already listening to this podcast, I highly recommend it.

Have you had any success in talking to Rigpa people who still believe Sogyal is a Mahasiddha and did nothing wrong? Or those who admit he abused people but remain in RIgpa anyway, unaware of how they’re silently endorsing the very beliefs that enabled the abuse?

My last conversation with someone in the latter category put me off ever trying again. Her attempts to manipulate me were obvious and sickening, and she was so totally brainwashed by the Rigpa party line that she could not see outside of it. She thought she was being reasonable and, using the usual Rigpa-speak tried to appeal to the pliable, obedient self that I’d been while in the cult, but actually she was merely trying to prevent me from gaining access to information. She just covered up that intention with reasonable-sounding words – reasonable to someone who accepted the party line, that is. I felt the dark intent behind her words in my body and decided I could do without that in my life.

I also realised in a deep way just how I’d been manipulated while in the cult and how that manipulation was still going on. (This conversation was after they’d supposedly changed.) They cover over their less-than-noble intentions by using Tibetan Buddhist beliefs in a twisted way. Protecting their relationship with their guru is so paramount to their sense of spirituality that it easily turns into protecting, defending and excusing their guru at the expense of others. Do they truly believe that their intentions are honourable? I think they do. Beliefs have been used in a twisted way for so long, and they follow the Rigpa way of thinking so completely that they genuinely think they’re doing the right thing, when actually they’re manipulating people at best and harming them at worst.

Have any of you shared that experience like that? Or had better luck in communicating with those who haven’t moved beyond the Rigpa temple?

How Do We Know What’s True? A major problem of our time

What brought this community together back in July of 2017 [under the name of What Now?] was our search for the truth about Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar and his organisation, Rigpa. So it seems fitting that my first post after a period of silence is on the topic of truth, albeit in a more general application. Anyone who uses the internet has likely been touched by the avalanche of misinformation, outright lies and conspiracy theories, so much of this post won’t be news to you, but I have included copious links to some excellent articles that are well worth a read if you want the full grubby picture.

You may have noticed that the manipulation of people through the distortion of truth that we’re seeing in the world, particularly in the USA, is eerily similar to how we were manipulated in our cults. Scary shit, indeed. I’d love to hear in the comments how you handle this pandemic of misinformation and any experiences you have to share on the topic.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Given the amount of misinformation around, how do we know what’s true?

The proliferation of misinformation and people’s willingness to believe outright lies and unfounded theories is a major problem of our time. People no longer know what’s true. They don’t know what or who to believe, and when voters don’t know what’s true and politicians are manipulating them to further their own agendas, our democracies are severely compromised. So how do we know what’s true?

Social media is the tool for spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories. Misinformation can be propagated in all innocence by ordinary people, less innocently by people with a personal agenda, knowingly by those seeking power and influence over others, and even by a new breed of PR and marketing firms ‘ready to deploy fake accounts, false narratives, and pseudo news websites for the right price’. The result is the widespread, targeted manipulation of public opinion.

That’s us. You and me. Do you want to be manipulated? Do you like being manipulated?

Just like you were in your Tibetan Buddhist cult.

‘If disinformation in 2016 was characterized by Macedonian spammers pushing pro-Trump fake news and Russian trolls running rampant on platforms, 2020 is shaping up to be the year communications pros for hire provide sophisticated online propaganda operations to anyone willing to pay. Around the globe, politicians, parties, governments, and other clients hire what is known in the industry as “black PR” firms to spread lies and manipulate online discourse.’

Craig Silverman, Buzzfeed, Disinformation For Hire: How A New Breed Of PR Firms Is Selling Lies Online

The Buzzfeed article quoted above is vital but scary reading, not only because of the software that aims to manipulate people, but also because of the complete lack of morals of the people who create, sell and run the programs.

Even if we’re not being outright lied to as blatantly as Trump does it, our politicians are all involved in marketing and hire PR firms to run their social media campaigns . And what are marketing campaigns if not a way to manipulate people’s emotions such that they buy something we want them to buy—or vote for someone we want them to vote for? All marketing is selective in what they show the viewer and in how they present it.

Just like Rigpa, NKT and Shambala. They presented us with only the side of their gurus that they wanted us to see. Sogyal never missed a photo opportunity with HH Dalia Lama to help give him legitimacy. Perception can be skewed without outright lies. It can be done merely by cutting what doesn’t fit the narrative. It all depends on how you edit that clip!

Are the lies that bad?

Yes, they are. Trump, for instance, is gaslighting on such a scale that whole sections of the population subscribe to an alternate view of reality, even to the extent that they lose touch with reality.

McKay Coppins, reporter for the Atlantic, shares his experience of being targeted by the Trump campaign in an article titled The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President

‘There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.’

Reality drifting out of reach is the result of gaslighting. And we, as ex-Rigpa cult members, have experienced gaslighting ourselves. We saw Rigpa’s guru abusing someone, then that person stood up before us and declared that it wasn’t abuse at all, but love. That was then reinforced by instructors and by the guru himself in subsequent teaching sessions. No, we were told, that wasn’t abuse, that was teaching through ‘crazy wisdom,’ an expression of great wisdom love. And we believed it. We trained ourselves to see it as love, not abuse, until such time as the full extent of the harm Sogyal was causing came crashing down on us and we woke up.

What will wake up those in Trump’s cult?

 Coppins continues: ‘What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.’

We saw this in Rigpa, too, in the way they communicated, stating the party line at every opportunity and in every email and video so that those who pointed out an alternative view of events were simply drowned out. How can those who only listen to Rigpa’s version of events know what is actually true?

Trump’s campaign manager used social media to sway the 2016 election in the USA, and he’ll do it again if people don’t wake up to how they’re being manipulated.  Facebook does not fact-check their adverts, and why would they bother when adverts containing lies are not prohibited on Facebook.

 “Obviously the formula that they used in 2016 is something they’re going to try to duplicate in 2020, which is really the tactic of using social media to try to distort the truth and mislead the American people and con themselves back into the White House. “That’s part of the reason why he [Brad Parscale] was made the campaign manager. It shows how much of a priority their misinformation digital strategy is to the re-election campaign.”

Kurt Bardella, a former spokesman and senior adviser on the House of Representatives’ oversight committee quoted in Meet the Social Media Master who Could Win Trump a Second Term, David Smith, The Guardian US.

Making it worse is the double twist.

Donald Trump refers to the journalistic sources that I trust—ones that have long had integrity and a name for quality journalism and writing the truth—as spreaders of ‘fake news’. The New Yorker, the Atlantic and the Washington Post are his targets because they publish the truth, and the truth threatens Trumps lies – just as the truth about Sogyal threatens Rigpa’s angle on events.

Trumpism is a cult. His followers act like people in cults do. They believe whatever he says.

This double twist is like the bully at school declaring that his victim actually bullied him. ‘It wasn’t me, Miss,’ they used to tell me. Referring to the victim they’d say, ‘He bullied me.’ They tried to make me believe that they were the victim not the perpetrator. It’s the DARVO response: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. Trump declares that it’s not him that’s lying, but those who tell the truth.

No wonder people are confused.

Doctored images and the algorithms that spread them.

And you can’t even trust the images you see, not only in photographs but also in videos. You Tube is responsible for the spread of a lot of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

‘Fabricated videos will create new and understandable suspicions about everything we watch. Politicians and publicists will exploit those doubts. When captured in a moment of wrongdoing, a culprit will simply declare the visual evidence a malicious concoction.’

Franklin Foer, The Era of Fake Video Begins, The Atlantic

Conspiracy theories

We are presently experiencing not only a pandemic of covid-19, but also a pandemic of conspiracy theories about it.

‘As the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded, conspiracy theories about the origins, threat and basic nature of the virus have become an increasingly visible and consequential element of the timeline. Conspiracy theories have tangible consequences for individuals and society, especially when they are sanctioned by trusted members of society, such as political, business and religious leaders. They can decrease people’s willingness to get vaccinated or comply with social distancing directives; they can also negatively impact people’s view of scientific findings and political out-groups. That means a pandemic is an especially dangerous time for conspiracy theories.’   

Adam M. Enders and Joseph E. Uscinski, Conspiracy theories run rampant when people feel helpless. Like now. Washington Post

When some of my Facebook friends started sharing conspiracy theories as if they were truth, I re-evaluated who I considered a friend and pruned by friend list accordingly. Like cult members, you can’t convince someone who subscribes to a conspiracy theory that your sources of ‘truth’ are the truth, as they don’t trust your sources and you don’t trust theirs.

I admire those who can patiently engage with those who have fallen prey to misinformation, gaslighting or brainwashing and gently try to direct them towards the truth. Truth as in what actually happened or is happening before one right now—when viewed without the overlay of beliefs. Despite the viewer of any phenomena playing a role in how something manifests, events still do either happen or not happen. Facts are either verified by qualified people or not. Repeating a lie enough times does not make it true.

We can dismiss conspiracy theorists, but when they grow in numbers until they are a sizable portion of the voting public, then we’re in trouble. And we’re in double trouble when those in power feed the tendency, as we’re seeing in the USA today.

Trump’s logic

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post compiled a list of 5,000 false or misleading statements Donald Trump made during his first 600 days in office.

James P. Pfiffner (a university professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University) wrote a paper titled The Lies of Donald Trump: A Taxonomy published on SSRN (an online database of early scholarly research) concluded that Trump’s lies are ‘detrimental to the democratic process, and that his continued adherence to demonstrably false statements undermined enlightenment epistemology and corroded the premises of liberal democracy.’

Knowing what’s true isn’t only vital for our own mental health, it’s also vitally important for the health of our societies and our democracies. Trump’s [illogical] logic is one followed by those most vulnerable to believing lies, fake news and misinformation. According to James P. Pfiffner, it goes like this:

  • Trump makes a false statement.
  • His followers believe it, and others hear it from a source credible to them.
  • When asked how he could make a claim with no evidence, Trump says “a lot of people agree” or “many people are saying.”
  • Trump’s logic: He makes a false claim; people believe him; Trump concludes it is true.

Trump isn’t the only one who thinks like this.

What can we do? Media literacy – methods for uncovering the lies

So what do we do when almost everything we read online (particularly social media) could be misinformation? We have to become aware of how we’re being manipulated, find out the truth and champion it. Just what we did with our TB groups.

We have to uncover the lies and make sure we don’t spread them. And for that we need to become media literate.

A Google search for ‘How do we know what’s true on social media’ will bring up many excellent articles that give us the kind of media literacy we need in order to not fall prey to manipulation online. To protect individuals and society, media and information literacy needs to be taught in schools.

‘The process and ability to be able to evaluate and separate fake news from real news is a part of media literacy and, on a broader level, information literacy.’

Enoch Pratt Library article

The following guide to uncovering fake news and misinformation is from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. It’s from a pdf you can download and print and pin on the wall for you and your family to refer to.

  • CONSIDER THE SOURCE: Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
  • READ BEYOND: Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What’s the whole story?
  • CHECK THE AUTHOR: Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real? Do they have an agenda?
  • SUPPORTING SOURCES? Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
  • CHECK THE DATE: Reposting old news stories doesn’t mean they’re relevant to current events.
  • IS IT A JOKE? If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  • CHECK YOUR BIASES: Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
  • ASK THE EXPERTS: Consult a fact-checking site – and check the site is legit.

I also recommend reading this detailed article on how to fight lies, tricks and chaos online by Adi Robertson on The Verge. His initial warning is something to take particular note of: ‘If a story grabs your attention for any reason, slow down and look closer.’ The very things that make you want to respond in horror and share immediately are the posts of which you need to be most cautious. The warning signs according to Robertson are:

  • You have a strong emotional reaction
  • A story seems totally ridiculous — or perfectly confirms your beliefs
  • You’re going to spend money because of it
  • You immediately want to amplify the story

Social media algorithms for what a media platform presents to you are all based on engagement. The more engagement a post gets, the more it gets shared, not just by people, but by the media platform itself. Those suggested videos in You Tube are the ones that cause the most ruckus. They are the ones that get lots of comments, get viewed a lot and get shared a lot, but the algorithms in all social media platforms do not ascertain whether or not the engagement is positive or negative. A video with thousands of comments saying that the video has no basis in fact will still be favoured in an algorithm that pushes what gets the most engagement. So if you have a strong reaction to a post, likely many others have had as well, and you may be seeing it simply because it is controversial, not because it’s true.

An article in The Conversation on the role of social media algorithms in the spread of conspiracy theories concludes that ‘The theory that social media algorithms lure people into conspiracy theories is difficult to definitively prove,’ due to the role of human behaviour and personal choice, but social media algorithms do favour the controversial and sensational, so use your strong emotional reaction as a warning sign.

And don’t forget to check if what you’re reading on Facebook is a ‘sponsored post’. A sponsored post is an advert. It’s a legitimate business tool, but it can also be used by anyone seeking to manipulate you for their own agenda – be particularly wary of political advertising. Remember that they only show you what they want you to see.

When your mind reels from all the nonsense

When I used an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) article to back up something I said on Facebook, and a Facebook ‘friend’ told me that she didn’t see the ABC as a reputable news source, I was flabbergasted. What had she been reading? The ABC is the gold standard for news reporting in Australia. They don’t go in for sensationalism and they’re not privately owned nor under the control of the government. And their fact-checking service is excellent. I wondered who she’d list as a reputable source? Perhaps The Australian, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper? A paper known to have spread misinformation during the Australian Bushfires. (No, the majority of the fires were not started by arsonists!)

How can you know what’s true when the sources you use to tell you the truth are actually telling you lies? What if the one that you think is telling lies is actually telling the truth?  My head hurts just thinking about it.

At times like these, I look out the window, clear my mind of its conceptual and emotional filters and tune into reality as it actually is. Here. Now.

That little trick keeps me sane. It clears away the bullshit and grounds me in reality. [And I have to thank my many years of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice for that skill.]

How do you stay sane in a world of lies?

Stay safe, everyone.
Tahlia

Climate Revolution Requires a Shift in Consciousness

Changing the world requires a change of consciousness. Think about the big shifts in human development – the French Revolution; the abolishment of slavery; voting rights for women; equal opportunity for all regardless of race or gender – when these ideas first appeared, the mainstream thought them extreme and they met a lot of resistance, but eventually enough people saw the importance of breaking out of old patterns that our civilisation made these changes, changes that benefitted a huge number of people.

The shift in consciousness required now is essentially one that changes our pattern of plundering the natural world (e.g. burning fossil fuels) to one of caring for it (e.g. using renewable energy sources).  

‘Humanity needs a transformation of belief – a drastic reshaping of human values. People around the world must come to see the planet as our “common home,” one that we share with other countries and other species.’ 

James Engell Professor at Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences English Department

The reshaping of human values of which Engell speaks is one based on an understanding of interdependence, impermanence and, at the deepest level, the compound nature of all phenomena. Sound familiar?

But there is enormous resistance in some quarters to making that shift. In Australia our government is practically a puppet for the fossil fuel mining companies, whose greed outweighs any sense of responsibility they might have to future generations.  And yet the climate science is so clear. So why can’t those in power in Australia and the US, and those who support them, see what’s right in front of them? Why can they not embrace the necessity of change?

Answer: Essentially they lack the necessary level of mental awareness to be able to escape the fear-driven machinations of their own minds.

Blinded by attachment, aversion and ignorance

“I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation, and eco-system collapse.. but I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”

James Speth, former head of the Council on Environmental Quality and a top Washington policy maker.

In other words, the reason some cannot see the evidence before them is attachment to money, aversion to anything that threatens oneself and one’s comfortable life (selfishness), and ignorance or lack of concern or interest.

‘The transformation that Speth speaks about is a shift to a higher level of attention and seeing the world from a more objective vantage point with a witnessing or reflective consciousness.’ … it’s a ‘shift from an “embedded consciousness” that is locked inside the habits of our thinking mind to a more spacious “reflective consciousness” that enables us to become a fair witness or objective observer of our lives. … A reflective or witnessing consciousness also promotes a feeling of connection with the rest of life. We begin to see and sense our intimate relationship with all of life and this, in turn, naturally fosters feelings of compassion and caring.’

Duan Elgin, Climate Change Consciousness, Huffington Post

A reflective consciousness uses the skills we developed through meditation practice and that millions of others around the world are developing in secular mindfulness programs.

If we care about our children and future generations, both human and animal, and about our planet, we will care about doing our bit to halt climate change, and for some of you this might mean working to assist people in making this shift in consciousness by teaching meditation in your local community hall.

Thoughts and beliefs give rise to speech, and action follows thoughts and speech.

Mind is the master. Change starts there.

Mental revolution

As Buddhists or ex-Buddhists, we should have learned a bit about how our minds work. The idea of being able to look at our own thoughts and beliefs without getting involved in them is not just something for us to do on a mediation cushion; it’s something to apply to our lives. We practice so we can apply that skill of being non-judgmentally aware of our mind to our life.

We also, if we’ve studied a bit, have learned that, according to Buddhism, in order to see reality directly, we have to be able to drop (if even only for a moment) the four things that obscure us. These are cognitive obscurations (our concepts and beliefs), habitual obscurations (our habits), emotional obscurations (the emotions we get caught up in), and karmic obscurations (the actions we take without awareness that are driven by past actions).

We can only truly see reality without these overlays. If we can recognise these concepts, habits, emotions and impetuses in ourselves, then we can start to let them go, or at least step outside of them enough to see without filters for a moment or two.

In meditation we practice doing exactly that. We practice simply seeing, without commentary, without becoming distracted by whatever rises in our minds. We practice seeing reality as it is without the overlay of concepts and beliefs about what we see, and without habitual or karmic reaction or getting carried away by whatever emotion whatever is in front of us might evoke. This makes the skills learned in meditation essential for this shift in human consciousness to occur.

What causes denial and inaction?

We saw the result of Buddhist practitioners not applying their meditation skills to life when many in our old communities refused to believe that our ex-gurus abused people, despite being presented with solid evidence to the contrary. Instead of seeing the evidence as it was, they let their concepts, emotions, habits, and unconscious reactions blind them. Those who made no decision as to the truth or untruth of the accusations of abuse misused the madyamika concept of emptiness and the meditation instruction to not get involved in risings as justification to not act.

Those who thought, ‘It didn’t happen to me, so it doesn’t affect me,’  or ‘Hitting transformed me, so those who felt abused simply weren’t able to work with it in the right way,’ allowed those ideas/concepts to blind them to the truth. They didn’t look with an open mind. They looked with a heavily conceptually and/or emotionally obscured mind (habitual and karmic obscurations would be in play as well). So they didn’t see the evidence as it was.

And most likely these reactions were driven by fear of change and the results of accepting such an uncertain future. Accepting the evidence would mean they would have to re-evaluate their beliefs, their actions, and their place in the world, and likely certain beliefs and the emotional support they give would crumble as a result – a scary prospect. No one wants to have to do that. As human beings we tend to cling to our comfort zone and do whatever we can to protect it. Only a great shock will jolt us out of our torpor of ignorance.

It’s easy for people to reject the evidence of climate change because up until now it appears to have happened fairly slowly or it hasn’t impacted on us directly yet, because media propaganda has made some think that climate change is not real, isn’t as serious as the majority of scientists say or is a matter of belief not fact, and because it suits us to ignore the signs – just as we ignored the signs that Sogyal wasn’t actually the person we thought he was, and we were brainwashed by the Rigpa party line. And it’s easy to reject predictions for the future because they seem too extreme, the same reason some rejected the ‘stories’ of Sogyal’s abuse; they just couldn’t believe it could be that bad.  And in the same way, we don’t want to believe that our future could be as bad as predicted. It’s just too scary.

They [climate change deniers] reject the knowledge because it’s incompatible with their worldview, their sense of identity, their anti-government and governance bias, and with all they would have to do and be if they were to take in these truths. 

Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton

If practicing Buddhists can’t manage to accept clear evidence, to see without obscuration, is it any surprise that ordinary people can’t do the same when it comes to climate change? Is it any surprise that they/we react with fear (emotional obscuration), disbelief (cognitive obscurations), resistance to change (habitual obscurations) and that we continue to be driven by the four hopes and fears – hope for happiness, fame, praise and gain, and fear of criticism, loss, pain and suffering – (karmic obscurations)

The mental health challenge

Of course, acceptance of what the climate science research is telling us is a challenge for our mental health. Anxiety and depression are on the rise – and no wonder. This is why it’s important for us to find out what we can do in our own lives to help and then do what we can.

If we fall into despair, dwelling on the worst-case scenerios and thinking there is nothing we can do, or that we, as individuals, can’t do enough, then it becomes another reason not to act and that only compounds the problem.

The Australian PM, Scott Morrison (aka Scomo or ScottyFromMarketing) often says that Australia only contributes 1.3% of the global total of carbon dioxide emissions and he uses that as an excuse to not cut emissions more. His thinking is, ‘Why bother, if we lack the power to do anything that makes a difference?’ But apart from that figure giving a distorted picture by leaving out some important factors (like that our per capita emissions rate is one of the highest, along with the USA), if we put together all the countries responsible for less than 2% of total global emissions they make up something like nearly 40% of the global total. Imagine what a disaster it would be if they all took the same attitude as the present Australian government. The point being that everything helps. Even if it seems like very little, if enough of us do it, it will have a huge effect. For instance, imagine if all of us put our superannuation into an ethical super fund that doesn’t invest in fossil fuel companies and instead funds renewables.

My key to mental health this year is telling myself, ‘I will not fall into despair.’ Remembering that when I feel really down about it all, stops me from getting depressed and keeps me focused on what I can do, not on what I can’t do. Despair is debilitating. Action is empowering – even if it’s small.

Watch out for distorted truth in this discourse

Near the bottom of a comprehensive article on climate change by Warm Heart Worldwide is a section that warns of how people’s reactions can distort the conversation around climate change. I quote it below. You’ll notice that it’s very similar to the kinds of reactions we saw to the accusations of abuse by our Tibetan Buddhist gurus.

‘Fringe environmental groups, right-wing internet blogs, politicians of all stripes have spread falsehoods far and wide or distorted the truth to serve their own ends. Beware three particular versions of “science” abuse:

My cause is so critically important that a little exaggeration/a few lies are no sin’: This is the most common version indulged in equally by left and right. Environmentalists feel that “life on earth” or whatever is worth any price; the hard right believes that the “climate myth” is simply another internationalist plot to impose government control on free people – whose freedom must be protected at all costs. In both cases, attention to the truth takes a back seat.

The sky is falling – Oh, give me a break’:
Here the divide is between the doomsayers (“Climate Change Impacts Could Collapse Civilization by 2040” report)  and the perpetually disengaged (“Americans don’t worry much about climate”). The doomsayers will find any excuse to believe the worst; the “whatevers” see no reason for concern about anything. To put these contending positions in context and observe the misuse of science in action, remember, first, the 1970s and the gloom that surrounded the impending exhaustion of world oil resources that led to a policy of “pump America dry first” and then, second, the “oh, give me a break” reaction to the efforts that ultimately led to the 1970 Clean Air and Water Act.

”They only believe in/deny climate change because they are [dumb, insane, evil, deluded, godless, terrorists…]’:
This is such a common type of “argument’ that it must be mentioned, although it is so illogical an “explanation” that it is hard to consider. Most people learned in primary school that such ad homonym attacks do not constitute compelling refutations, but such assertions form such an essential part of what passes for global “public discourse’ today that it bears repeating that any such contention only bears tossing out.’

We all know how frustrating it is to deal with these kinds of responses, but if we are to help shift consciousness, we must restrain our anger when we’re trying to have a conversation with those who use these tactics. When you’ve finished talking, go yell into a pillow, not at the object of your anger; it only polarises people and causes them to be even more protective of their own beliefs.

Anger feeds a divisive politics that cannot help us to address our big collective challenges. By retreating into social media echo chambers where mockery and disrespect are the norm, we risk losing entirely the social cohesion and trust needed for democracy to work.

A whole-of-society discussion about our collective future is urgently needed. Now is the time to reinvent how we communicate about climate change, particularly with those who don’t see it as an urgent concern.

theconversation.com/not-everyone-cares-about-climate-change-but-reproach-wont-change-their-minds-118255

Not everyone cares about climate change, but reproach won’t change their minds. We know that all too well from trying to converse with those who don’t care about guru abuses. This article from The Conversation gives some excellent pointers for communicating with those who simply don’t seem to care enough.

The good news

The good news is that by merely accepting that we need to make major reductions in carbon emissions and radically up our level of environmental care, we contribute to the necessary shift in global consciousness. Just that awareness and understanding, even with no other immediate action on your part, contributes to a positive future. Why? Because you’ll naturally transmit that understanding to others, and it will eventually have an effect on your behaviour and the behaviour of your friends and family.

But we need more than acceptance of the facts to deal with the plethora of issues involved in turning this around, we need a level of genuine awakening, the kind that many of us who have studied and practiced Buddhism for decades already have, one based on an understanding of interdependence, impermanence and the compound nature of all phenomena.

Climate change is not the concern of just one or two nations. It is an issue that affects the whole of humanity and every living being on this earth. This beautiful planet is our only home. If, due to global warming or other environmental problems, the earth cannot sustain itself, there is no other planet to which we can move. We have to take serious action now to protect our environment and find constructive solutions to global warming.

When we see photographs of the earth from space, we see no boundaries between us, just this one blue planet. This is no longer a time to think only of ‘my nation’ or ‘our continent’ alone. There is a real need for a greater sense of global responsibility based on a sense of the oneness of humanity.

HH Dalai Lama. Message to Delegates to the COP24 UN Climate Conference December 5, 2018.

More good news is that this shift in consciousness is already happening. The Beyond the Temple community is evidence of that in the way we support each other on this journey of awakening, and our communication technology supports us in those efforts, enabling us to share ideas with others across the globe. The amount of information and opinion open to us through social media is enormous if we’re interested enough to access it.

With the combined power of our communications technologies, we are fostering a new level of collective consciousness that can overcome our apathy, selfishness, and greed and enable us to discover a common future of sustainable prosperity. We are a witnessing species. Assisted by the communications revolution, we are becoming more fully awake and able to respond to the supreme test of climate change from a higher level of perception and understanding.

Duan Elgin, ‘Why Climate Change Requires a Consciousness Change.’

In his new book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival, Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton argues that we are living through a time of increasing recognition of the reality of climate change, a psychological shift he refers to as a “swerve,” driven by evidence, economics, and ethics. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to take the stand of climate rejection,” he says, “because there is so much evidence of climate change and so much appropriate fear about its consequences.”

Compassion is another means to facilitate the shift

Like Australia, Bangladesh is also feeling the disastrous effects of climate change and so is Indonesia – for them it’s trial by water not fire. And like Australia, Indonesia also faces government inaction even though 60 people died in recent floods. People in these countries are already suffering from climate change, and their poverty makes it all the more harder for them to takes the necessary steps to cut emissions and to deal with the results of not doing so. All the more reason why we, the affluent nations responsible for the majority of the emissions, do more.

As the huge generosity of people in supporting bushfire victims in Australia shows, many people find it hard to stand by and do nothing when people and animals are suffering.  The suffering they witnessed in their own backyard, or in a culture so similar to their own has been the impetus for many to find out more about climate change and its role in what we actually are experiencing now. I have seen a shift in my own friends and family to a consciousness that wants to actually do something to help thwart the gloomy picture of the worst-case scenario future. Because of my raised awareness of the issue, I am looking into what changes I can make in my life, and no doubt others are doing the same.

As people with a greater understanding of mind than the average person, I believe that we have a role to play in facilitating this shift of consciousness. How that will play out in our own lives and actions, I have no idea, but if we are true to deepest ourselves as experienced without obscurations , I’m pretty sure we’ll naturally have a positive effect on the climate change discourse and therefore the future of the planet and its species. Caring is key.

“We have to make an effort, so that even if we fail we have no regret. Ultimately this is a matter of our survival. … Taking care of the planet is taking care of our home.”

HH Dalai Lama

Do you have any additions, comments or suggestions on this Buddhist perspective on the consciousness change required to thwart climate change?

If you need facts of climate change, click here to read a post I wrote on Medium.

Image by Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

Climate Change: The Challenge of the Decade

I have lots of ideas for posts for this blog that take the idea of ‘beyond the temple’ broader than it has been, but it could take a while for me to get around to writing them. Those who are my friends or followers on social media will know that I’ve been consumed by the bush fire crisis facing my home state, NSW. I even had to evacuate one day. But today we have a little rain, so perhaps we’ll dodge the bullet this time. The nearest fire is about 20 kilometres away, but it hasn’t moved towards us for a week now, so the ever present anxiety has eased.

The expected rain isn’t enough to put out the fires, though, just slow them down, nor is it expected to be enough to fill the dams and break the drought. Ferns and trees are dying. Kangaroos are coming into the garden to get water and vast areas of Australia are burned and/or in severe drought. Wildlife is devastated. I read somewhere that scientists predicted that Australia would be one of the first countries to feel the effects of climate change, and here we are.

So discussions around Tibetan Buddhism all seem rather inconsequential and even indulgent in light of the fact that if we don’t act in the next decade to lower carbon emissions, we truly will be facing the extinction of life as we know it.

We are truly, all of us, facing the great impermanence.

Ah, back to Buddhism. Wait, no. That’s simply a statement of truth. Life is impermanent. That’s a fact, not a belief. But let’s not let be distracted …

Civilisation as we know it is dying. I can see it in the destroyed forests just south of me, and in the dead animals lying in the paddocks. We will not be able to feed ourselves if we don’t have sufficient water, and the fighting over water has already started here. It isn’t machetes or guns, it’s protests and angry voices, but it’s still a fight because it’s unjust, ordinary people’s rights are being ignored in favour of the rich.

We either change or die out along with all those other species going extinct through humankind’s negligence.

At times I’ve had to wear breathing apparatus to go outside. I felt as if I was living in an apocalyptic world.

Oh, wait. I am living in an apocalyptic world,

We can’t grow food without water. It’s that simple.

The Garnaut Review concluded that unmitigated climate change would be “bad beyond normal human experience”, both due to the extreme weather and the consequences that those extremes would have on the safety of our societies. Even with immediate action, the impacts on Australia will be far more severe than they are now. It is likely that, even if we do everything we can to cut emissions, the Great Barrier Reef will be dead, or close to dead, if temperature rises reach 2 degrees. Such a path may become inevitable by 2030.

“Without mitigation, the best estimate for the Murray-Darling Basin is that by mid-century it would lose half of its annual irrigated agricultural output,” says the Garnaut Review. “By the end of the century, it would no longer be a home to agriculture.” Since then, the temperature rises driven by rising emissions have been causing impacts that are tracking at the more dangerous end of scientists’ forecasts.

smh.com.au/national/what-is-real-action-on-climate-change-20200115-p53rok.html

The challenge we face

The challenge of the decade is lowering carbon emissions and dealing with the environmental issues arising out of our lack of care of our earth since the industrial revolution. But there is a lot of resistance from the Australian government and in right wing sections of governments all over the world. In Australia, our politicians are virtually dictated to by the coal industry. The coal industry gives both major political parties huge amounts of money. Corruption is rife in water management, too, with the interests of big business being deemed more important than the right of ordinary folk to water to drink, wash in and farm their land.

It’s been a miserable start to the decade for me. Climate change has become very real. And the old ‘righteous anger’ has returned, but this time it’s not because of a corrupt guru and the system that supported him, it’s because of those morally bankrupt and corrupt politicians and big business who are actively destroying this planet. Now that we know what is coming, to do nothing or not enough is worse than negligent, it’s criminal.

If emissions aren’t cut drastically before the end of the decade, my daughter will face starvation at some point in her life. Her children, if she has any, will not be able to go outside for much of the year because the heat will be higher than a human can survive.

If you aren’t joining protests asking for greater climate action, it’s time you did. And yes, I’m telling you that you should do this because if you don’t, you’re being someone who sits by, saying nothing while evil proliferates. I doubt any of the readers here want to be that kind of person. Perhaps you are already out on the streets and gathering your friends to join you. If so, tell us what you’re doing.

“The bushfires have shown that doing nothing is itself a choice,” says Herd, “with radical implications as Australia is highly vulnerable to the frontline effects of climate change. As such, we are choosing to lock-in climate change and the damage it will bring rather than reduce the emission intensity of our economy. And the extent of this damage will worsen the longer we choose not to act and the more temperatures increase.”

https://www.smh.com.au/national/what-is-real-action-on-climate-change-20200115-p53rok.html

What can we do?

We can live a life with the lowest carbon footprint we can manage. And we can educate ourselves with the facts on climate change and share what we learn. But don’t forget to check that you’re sharing from reputable sources and not sharing misleading information or outright lies – there’s a lot of that about, unfortunately. And we can join the protests, email our local MP and vote for politicians committed to saving the planet.

Some people find the sharing a bit much doom and gloom, but it’s only gloomy if we fail to act. We have a decade to save our future from the worst predictions. If we don’t recognise just how gloomy that future is if we don’t severely cut emissions ( to near zero ) by 2050, we likely won’t act in time.

It’s just like all the stories of abuse in Rigpa; we had to know just how bad it was. We had to know the truth. It’s the same here. We have to come down from our lofty spiritual mountains and see what’s happening in the real world. We can’t spiritually bypass this crisis!

Luckily there are stories of people doing good things.

And here’s another positive view about what we can do.

Waking up has never been more imperative

Waking people up is not just a spiritual imperative, it’s a survival imperative. The following video created by my husband Chris Newland who wrote the music is designed to help wake people up.

Please do your bit to wake people up by sharing this widely. It’s a powerful statement.

If you need any more convincing as to the nature of what we’re facing, take a look at this article with its wonderful graphic. It lays it out really well.

What are you doing to fight climate change?

Image by Fuzz from Pixabay