09 Aug Preface
In biology, there’s a phenomenon called parallel evolution. Two different species found on two different continents from two distant branches of the evolutionary tree evolve similar characteristics to survive and thrive.
How does this happen?
Similar conditions, biologists tell us, mean that similar characteristics provide a survival advantage.
Something similar is happening in the world of religion. Sailesh Rao is a Hindu. I am a Christian. Some might say we are different religious species from different continents from distant branches on the family tree of human religion. But as I’ve gotten to know Sailesh, as I’ve learned of his beautiful work among the poor of India, and even more as I’ve read Carbon Dharma, I feel I’ve found a spiritual brother, a kindred spirit.
Coming from such different backgrounds, we’ve reached remarkably similar (and where they differ, complementary) conclusions about what’s wrong in our world and what needs to be done to make it right.
My version of the journey began in 2006. After leaving academia in the 1980s to become a pastor in a nondenominational Christian church, I started writing books. In 2005, I wrote a book on the essential message of Jesus, which I discovered to be (this is pretty obvious, but sometimes religious people show amazing creativity in missing the point) “the good news of the kingdom of God.” That pregnant phrase, I had become convinced, was not about where we go after we die, as I had been taught: it was about how we live before we die. It was a call to reconciliation – with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors and even our enemies, and with nonhuman creation as well.
When I left pastoral work to write full-time in 2006, I knew what I wanted my next research and writing project to be. First, I wanted to pursue a question that had been nagging me for over twenty years, simmering on the back burner, so to speak: what are the world’s biggest problems? In other words, which problems are the diseases beneath the symptoms … which problems the game-changers (or enders) … which problems, if they aren’t addressed, could destroy us first or hurt us the worst?
Then, I wanted to take what I had been discovering about Jesus and his message and apply it to those questions. The result was a book called Everything Must Change: Where the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide. Writing Everything Must Change certainly changed me. I’ll never recover from that research and reflection.
Meanwhile, as you’ll read in the chapters that follow, a Hindu engineer from India was going through his own evolutionary process. In the end, we both arrived at similar conclusions.
1. Our world is in trouble, big trouble.
2. The big trouble relates to our relationship with the environment.
3. We can’t make the changes we need without a deep spiritual change.
4. Our respective religious traditions offer powerful and profound resources to help us experience that change so that we are converted from being part of the global problem to being part of the global solution.
But it wasn’t only the similarities between our work that intrigued me as I read Carbon Dharma. I was even more intrigued to gain greater insight into Hinduism and how Hindu perspectives, rooted in the Hindu scriptures, can enrich our pursuit of a better, more sustainable, even regenerative way of life.
There’s a section in the pages to follow where Sailesh tells about his struggle as a boy coming of age to deal with the stories of Hindu scripture. Must he take them literally? Are they only true or valid or valuable if they are literal? Or can they be actual without being factual? I found a huge smile spreading across my face as I recalled my own parallel structures as a boy caught between scientific evidence for a universe 14 billion years old and a biblical story that unfolded some 6000 years ago.
So you won’t be surprised how I, as a committed Christian, feel so enthusiastic about a book that provides Hindu perspective on the environment and our place in it. However distant our past evolution has been, one thing is certain: our futures are interwoven and the challenges we face require us all to bring all our best resources to the table – scientific, yes, but also spiritual.
The importance of spiritual resources became all the more clear to me about a year after my book on global crises was published. The advisor to a prime minister contacted me and asked to speak with me. The head of state for whom he worked was a leader in the international community arguing for serious and sustained action on behalf of the environment in general and climate in particular. The prime minister, he explained, had been impressed with the book and gave copies to his whole senior staff, including this advisor.
“The reason I wanted to meet with you,” he explained, “was to tell you that I’ve lost hope about political solutions successfully dealing with this crisis. As your country makes clear, political processes reward politicians who can exploit short-term, hot-button issues to get elected and re-elected. Political processes punish political leaders like my prime minister who try to deal with long-term issues like climate and the environment.”
He went on to explain the conclusion he had reached: the only way needed change would come would be through a world-wide, grass-roots spiritual movement that focused on changing hearts first, and then focused on changing behavior. Then we can move on to changing policies – and politicians.
May Carbon Dharma contribute to the growth of exactly that kind of world-wide, grass-roots, multi-religious spiritual movement.
Brian D. McLaren