A Philippine symposium echoes the call of the Amazon[i]

Organizer is the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines’ Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Commission (JPICC-AMRSP) in collaboration with the Great Work Movement (GWM Philippines)

Initiative of the Achuar

Achuar from:

It was the Achuar, an indigenous people of the Amazon forest that first issued the invitation. But for one whole day last Tuesday, July 24th, at Catholic Trade School in Manila, more than a hundred activist representatives of the AMRSP-JPICC from all over the country came together to meditate and to reflect, to think deeper and to strategize regarding a topic so urgent for many years now – how to unite Tradition and Modernization, how to welcome “Sapat” (enough prosperity) without harm to human and other natural existents. The GWM (Philippines) offered the seminar –symposium of the Pachamama Alliance and both the presentations and the workshop discussions were truly much appreciated food for the soul.

For centuries the Achuar had made their home in the rainforests of Ecuador and Peru, Colombia and Brazil, leading peaceful lives in harmony with nature.

Then suddenly, in the 1990s, they faced oil development in their ancestral lands, which threatened their very existence. Their elders decided to fight back – and in a smart way, too. How? They decided to reach out to the modern world that was threatening their life.

These wise leaders saw that the most profound cause of the deadly invasion was the modern dream entertained by modern folk. Why not confront this and issue a call to all who cared to listen to change their dream of modernization and prosperity?

Deep called unto deep. The primitive folk sought an alliance with the caring among the modern sectors. There are such people, of course, and so an alliance was forged that is now named “the Pachamama Alliance.”

The alliance was the initiative of the indigenous leaders and shamans themselves.  In this they were influenced by their understanding of an ancient prophecy about the Eagle and the Condor, shared by many Andean and Amazonian indigenous cultures. According to this prophecy, people are at a moment in history when the Eagle – representing intellect and the mind – and the Condor – representing wisdom and the heart – must come together to ensure the continued existence of humankind.

Today the work of the  Pachamama Alliance is based on a heightened consciousness that those in the modern world share a deep connection with the people who call the rainforest their home — all having a critical stake in the health and well-being of this vital element in the global life support system. Indigenous people are the natural custodians of the rainforest. Therefore the Alliance’s key strategy focuses on strengthening their culture and empowering their ability to stand for and represent their own interests.

Earth’s tropical rainforests are its most valuable ecosystem. Yet, in the economic equations which shape decisions regarding the use of Earth`s resources, how seldom do rainforests show up as adding any value by simply remaining in their natural state. Modern man is always tempted to use technology to replace the environmental services nature provides, not considering the direct costs to society of such insanity.

The Great Work Movement

Luckily, the dream of the Achuar comes at a time when a worldwide movement promoting a new dream – the dream of the Earth – is currently gaining so many adherents from all over. This movement based on the science story of the origins and evolution of the Universe calls itself “The Great Work Movement (GWM).”

Its theoreticians and practical people are clear as to what they are about. They see that the great work before humans today is the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating actions on Earth to a new era where humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner. And this is where they need the traditions and values presently guarded by indigenous peoples world-wide.

In almost 14 billion years of the existence of the Universe, as scientists know it, humans came into being out of the stardust that formed the solar system and Earth, and evolved to be seemingly the most conscious part of the planet, and rather late at that.

If 14 billion years were a 24-clock, humans, as they have become now, came on the scene less than two seconds ago, representing the last hundred thousand years. And yet, what destructive powers humans developed in less than two seconds, as we can see it now. Instead of increasingly becoming co-creators in this beauteous Universe story, humans became more and more like exterminators.

Down the millennia (in that two-second parenthesis), humans have become the most powerful Earthlings of all but have also forgotten that they are merely made out of Earth’s air, water and soil.

For instance, they cut down trees and constructed buildings everywhere. They figured out how to power cars and planes by burning ancient fossil fuels. They made plastic and molded it into a zillion things. They used chemicals to grow more food.

They acted as though they owned everything absolutely to use as they wish.

They didn’t realize they were poisoning Earth’s lungs, veins and skin.

Another instance: the Sun’s energy enters the atmosphere, heats up Earth. Then light is re-radiated back into space in form of infra-red waves, a portion of which is trapped by the atmosphere in amounts that are just right. Neither too hot like Venus nor too cold like Mars. But now huge quantities of human-caused carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases get trapped and as a result the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere – and oceans – gets dangerously higher and warmer.

Warmer water in the top layer of the ocean drives more convection energy to fuel more powerful typhoons and hurricanes in increased frequency. Aren’t we getting to know this better these past few disaster-prone years?

As water temperatures go up, wind velocity goes up, and so does storm moisture condensation. It also causes more of both floods and droughts. Also, such global warming sucks more moisture out of the soil and, as a consequence, increases desertification, causes more fires, and experiences less productive agriculture.

Still another instance: It is estimated that there are about 10-12 million species of plants and animals, of which around 2 million have been identified and named.  Extinction means the disappearance of an entire species, with no possibility of replication or regeneration. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

In the 1800’s the rate of extinction was one species a month, or about twelve a year.  Currently it is estimated to be one every 15 minutes, or a hundred a day, or between 30 and 40 thousand a year, since the past twenty years or so.  What do scientists call this but mass extinction?

The last mass extinction happened about 65 million years ago, with the demise of the dinosaurs, which are included among the 75% of all species that became extinct.  A mass extinction signals the end of an era, hence, the end of the Mesozoic Era after about 200 million years. By the way, it was the fifth mass extinction that Earth had seen.

In any case, the past 500 million years of life – and humans have not been around more than a hundred thousand years – have been divided by scientists into three ages: the Paleozoic or the age of fishes; the Mesozoic or the age of dinosaurs; and the Cenozoic or the age of Mammals, with this latter spanning the immediate past 65 million years – and the human mammal lording it over the past few thousand years.

The age of Dinosaurs came to an end because of that asteroid.

The Age Of Mammals from:

The age of Mammals is coming to an end because of human activity. Yes, this is the big problem: humans are so ignorant of the fact that they have become such a planetary power for better or for worse. To date, it has been greatly for worse. And so, says the Great Work Movement, we must now hurry to get humans to exercise their power to usher in a new age – an era wherein humans shall finally have found a way of living in harmony with all creation – a new era which we may call the Ecological Age or the Ecozoic era.

A New Earth Consciousness

The faith of the Achuar in some enlightened modern folk turns out not-misplaced. And modern folks’ desiring to learn from our living ancients is the most practical yet.

As a result of this cross-fertilization of insights, many humans have now come to see Earth no longer as a mere planet solid enough through gravity to keep Earthlings from falling off and out to wherever in space imagination will throw them. That is not Earth.

Earth, rather, is a single integral community of life manifesting itself in different modes – as tree, as insect, as river, as mountain, as human, as a whole diversity of many other kinds, human and non-human – who live in relationship with all others, each being having its own role to play and fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity, its own rights – yes, Earth recognizes not only human rights but, equally and differently, also non-human rights like tree rights, insect rights, – all limited and relative to each other in a continuity of being.

One great aspect of the Universe is its obviously ever-renewing sequence of seasonal cycles. What is not as easily obvious but should be is its developmental sequence of irreversible transformations…which, fortunately, we are beginning to see now.

Organic vs. Extractive

In the long past, humans first embraced the organic economy – which by its nature is an ever-renewing economy, living within the bounty of the seasonal renewing productions of Earth’s bio systems, making it capable of continuing into the indefinite future.

Later, however, humans got into an extractive economy which by its nature is a terminal or biologically disruptive economy, dependent on extracting non-renewing substances from Earth, surviving only so long as these endured.

The Extractive Economy: disturbs the chemical composition of Earth’s air, water and soil to the extent of affecting the entire network of organic life on the planet; weakened the ozone layer protecting the organic forms of Earth from the ultraviolet rays of the Sun; destroys the tropical rain forests on a massive scale and a big part of Earth’s biodiversity; brings about an excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by its burning of fossil fuels, causing disastrous changes in the global climate, which is why, as already mentioned, in 200 years or less, it has brought about a level of species extinction unprecedented in the past 65 million years.

It has brought about processes giving off toxic residues for which there are, at present, no adequate methods of disposal. This is especially in products from metals and petroleum in the making of fuel and plastics and the consequent dispersal of contaminants and toxic residue throughout Earth’s air, water and soil.

It has consumed over 80% of the available supply of fossil sources so that we may yet see the absolute end of petroleum as we have known it – and the conditions of its production will never occur again.

It has used engineering technologies to turn even renewing resources into non-renewing resources! for example: exploiting the soils of Earth through chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to a degree that it has exhausted these soils and made them toxic; for another example: in the fishing industry, through electronic instruments, draft nets, factory fishing vessels that so exhaust the resources of the seas and rivers of the world terminating their capacity for self-renewal.

A new Earth consciousness is now rejecting the nightmare of an extractive economy and replacing it with the dream of an organic economy. But, of course, spreading this new consciousness and getting people to act on it will be quite a task – quite a great work. Look at the main features of the dream economy and see if old traditions and truly modern science do not concur – because they surely do, and therefore imperial global corporations must give way to directly people-powered enterprises everywhere.

First, the organic economy recognizes the obvious reality that the universe, the solar system, Earth are the primary given in human affairs. It is the primary source of existence. Every mode of being is universe-referent. Therefore, whatever we think or do must be done, planned, and looked at as by people who are part of and not apart from the universe.

Second, the universe does not exist as a vastly extended sameness but as highly differentiated forms. For example, Earth is a highly differentiated complex of life systems. As soon as its diversity diminishes, the security for each life form is also weakened. Nothing exists in isolation: the honeybee and the flower, the tree and the soil. In fact, the hundred-plus elements of matter are self-organized in their being into the 5 spheres of which Earth is composed: the land sphere, the water sphere, the aerosphere, the life sphere, and the mind sphere.

Third, especially in the realm of living beings is there an absolute interdependence. No living being nourishes itself. Animal forms depend on plant forms that alone can transform the energy of the Sun and the minerals of Earth into the living substance needed for life nourishment by animal and human alike. Therefore, the organic economy recognizes that the well-being of the soil and the plants growing there must be a primary concern for humans.

Finally, the organic economy must establish our basic source of food and energy in the Sun, which supplies the energy for the transformation of inanimate matter into living substance capable of nourishing the larger bio systems of Earth. It must shun monoculture in agriculture and excessive uniformity in industry because it is closer to nature to produce diversity.

The Movement’s Guiding Principles

First is the Nature of the Universe: (The Unity of the Universe) the universe as a whole is an interacting community of beings inseparably related in space – time. From its beginning the universe has had a psychic-spiritual dimension. The universe is a communion of subjects not a collection of objects.

(Modes of Expression) The universe expresses itself at all levels through communion (intimacy, interrelatedness), differentiation (diversity), and subjectivity (interiority, self-organization).

(Cosmogenesis) The universe is a creative, emergent, evolutionary reality that has developed from the time of the primordial flaring forth, and is still developing, through a sequence of irreversible transformations. 

Second is Earth and her Current Dilemma. Earth is a one-time endowment in the unfolding story of the universe. The effects of human activity on Earth have become so pervasive and invasive that the survival and health of the Earth community now rest on decisions being made, and actions being taken, by humans.

Finally – there is a need to move from the current technozoic period where Earth is seen as a mere resource for the benefit of humans, to an Ecozoic Era where the well-being of the entire Earth community is everyone’s primary concern.

Building Blocks for the Movement

This new story of science or the narrative of the evolutionary development of the universe from the primordial flaring forth to the emergence of the Ecozoic Era provides a unifying awareness for all human cultures and a basis for common action in the realization of the coming age and, therefore, is the movement’s first key building block.

The Pachamama Alliance provides a good template for united front tactics against the intransigence of international capital. The movement of money must be countered effectively by the movement of a highly aware people everywhere. The major living faiths must be called on to provide the sympathetic contexts for such alliances. Today’s symposium in its number and kind of participants spoke louder than words.

Another building block is Bioregionalism – or care for Earth in its relatively self-sustaining geo-biological divisions. This will involve study and research on bio-regions but the results will reorient human activity in developing sustainable modes of living, building inclusive human community, caring for the rights of other species, and preserving the health of Earth on which all life depends – this would then be another key building block for the movement.

Finally there is Ecological spirituality as an absolutely necessary building block – presence to the primal mystery and value of nature and to Earth as a single sacred community, providing a basis for revitalizing religious experience and healing the human psyche.

One goes back in time to see the Great Works of prior periods. We can see the movement of the first people out of Africa in the Paleolithic Period; the creation of language, rituals and social structures in hunter-gatherer communities; the establishment of agriculture communities in the Neolithic Period; the development of the great classical civilizations; and, in the modern period, advances in technology, urban civilization, new ideals of government and human rights, the modern business enterprise and globalism.

Or one can look at various historical epochs where people were given a “Great Work” to do – in one age the settling of new lands, in another the building of great cathedrals, in still another the creation of artistic, philosophical, religious or scientific works, or the shaping of political structures and ideas.

In the past, during the classical Greek world, the great work was understanding the human mind and creating the Western humanist tradition.

In Israel, it was articulating an experience of the Divine in human affairs.

In Rome, it was gathering the people of the Mediterranean world and of Western Europe with an ordered relation with one another, giving a first shape to the Western World in its Christian form.

In India, it was leading human thought and spiritual experience of time and eternity.

In China, it was the creation of one of the most elegant and most humane civilizations we’ve ever known.

In America, the Great Work of the First Peoples (not the later colonizers) was to occupy a continent and establish an intimate rapport with the Powers that brought it into existence.

All of these great works were done in the past “two seconds” or much less, for we humans have not been around all that long and may not be around much longer unless we allow our Higher Consciousness to dictate otherwise.

One thing is clear: our great work is a role given to us, beyond any consultation with ourselves. We were thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. But the nobility of our lives depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role. It is not a role that we have chosen, for we did not choose the moment of our birth and our particular culture or the historical moment when we would be born together with the cultural, political and economic conditions that would be the context of our lives.

More significantly … it’s only now we are beginning to realize that we are cosmological beings – belonging to and essentially part of an evolving cosmos. We could not have known from empirical observation or scientific conclusions till only recently – what perhaps the Achuar and the major living faiths had taught all along – that all of us  humans and non-humans alike are the Universe in various forms.

Yes, “in the past Earth was molten rock; now it sings operas.” It is the scientific consensus reached only in recent years that we are all related genetically, in energy, in the material elements that compose us, all of which started many long years ago, long before we were “born”, thirteen billion seven hundred million years ago to  be precise: itself a calculation that is a feat of modern-day science.

This is the universe story, of which we are a part: a true story that, in fact, had a beginning, is continuing right now, and is challenging us humans to see our role in the whole magnificent process. Science has started a massive revolution in human consciousness, that what we are started 13.7 billion years ago. The Achuar and the major living faiths confirmed this down the ages.

“We are the universe in human form. We are part of the universe’s wild and dazzling dream: every cell in our body is packed with hydrogen, made when the universe was born; our bones are hardened with calcium made by stars, long ago, before even Earth was; our backbone was fashioned by fish; the deepest part of our brain was built by reptiles; the love we feel for another deepened inside the very first mammals; our awe-filled wonder began on starry nights around campfires long, long ago…in a long evolutionary journey that has brought us where we are now.”

Thomas Berry said: “We all have our particular work– some of us are teachers, some of us are healers, some of us are in various professions, and some of us are farming. We have a variety of occupations. But besides the particular work we do and the particular lives we lead, we have a Great Work that everyone is involved in and no one is exempt from.” FINIS

[i] P.S. This essay has been culled from the writings of Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jennifer Morgan, Al Gore, John Leydon, Charles Avila – and others past and present in the Great Work Movement. The Gardener: CRA – GWM (Phil.) 

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