Joanna Macy recalls how as a young child she sent a sick and quarantined relative a shopping bag of objects that would tell their own story of what she had been about and what she was thinking and doing. Now she likens this collection of essays to such a bag. Not an autobiography, it nevertheless conveys most clearly the author's personal concerns in the fields of Buddhism, deep ecology and systems philosophy. The chapters comprise 'so many pieces of my life that reflect the pursuits of my heart and mind'. The book is arranged in the following sections: One: Trusting our Experience Two: Rediscovering the Early Teachings Three: Learning in Asia Four Opening New Doors The first part invites readers to engage with their own feelings about environmental destruction and social injustice, and offers conceptual tools to enable this connecting to take place. Part Two discusses the contemporary relevance of classic Buddhist teachings, especially the concept of 'mutual causality'. While this will clearly be of interest to Buddhist practitioners, others including myself, will find it has a much wider significance. The third part expands on Macy's experiences of Buddhist encounters in Asia. It could have been entitled 'engaged Buddhism in action'. She recounts some fascinating meetings and some valuable lessons learnt. The final part of the book shows how Macy's expanding world-view has led to opportunities for growth and development and sharing accross a wide variety of contexts. Especially interesting for me was her description of 'The Council of All Beings'. The book's title refers to an essay in part one, which suggests people tend to view the world in one of at least four ways: as battlefield, as trap, as lover or as self. Her reflections on these attitudes are alone worth far more than the cost of the book. I loved her quotation from a conversation with Australian rainforest campaigner, John Seed: 'I try to remember that it's not me... trying to protect the rainforest. Rather , I am part of the rainforest protecting itself.'
A highly optimistic assessment of how the empirical, daily experience teachings of early Buddhism can translate into meaningful and effective efforts to save the environment. This is where you go when you finally accept that you cannot force others to behave the way you wish them to behave.
The section on early Buddhism and the slippage into abstractions and absolutism is fascinating reading for Buddhists. "Cause and effect" awareness is the centerpiece for Macy's save-the-world thesis, coupled with community action. Do it yourself, with friends.
Macy is a bit flushed with enthusiasm and hopefulness about Third World cultures, considering the years she spent living in these places. Perhaps what's missing is an assessment of 'why things stay the same'.
This is the most common-sense book I have ever seen on environmentalism, in that it avoids seeking an 'enemy' to disparage and criticize, except to the extent of recognizing that 'the enemy is us' as consumers and users. Buddhists and philosophical types will really enjoy Macy's "Mutual Causality".