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Denying the planet its food means obstructing its spiritual growth

Culture / -

Carlo Serra
Alessandro Cremasco © Expo 2015

Too many human beings in the world today are denied food, and denying someone food is not just a matter of making them hungry, it means denying them the dignity of being human, and the possibility of growth and self-awareness.

Buddha Shakyamuni is often depicted holding a bowl in his left hand while his right hand makes a teaching gesture. This fact clearly means that the teaching has to do with food. But what exactly is it?
We are all gathered here today in a moment of shared awareness of food, represented by the Milan Charter, because for most religions food has a value that goes far beyond a substance or a product. It ought to be a substance of awareness, for everyone: but we are so used to eating hurriedly, alone, standing up, and often busy performing various other multitasking actions at the same time, that we are unable to give it any value beyond its taste quality and our personal pleasure. If it has been felt necessary to dedicate nothing less than a Universal Exposition to food, it means that our relationship with food needs a 360° overhaul. In its Original Nature, for all religions, food was not something to be traded for profit or power, as it has become. Food needs to go back to being a nourishment of awareness for human beings, restoring our awareness that our body is the food we eat, and our mind and our spirit are the food we eat too: for Buddhism, mind, body and spirit are a single essence.
Helping to restore this important vision of unity is one of the practices of Zen in relation to food. Helping to restore the true value of the food that is our life, that we are, encourages us to understand the importance of food and of nourishment for us and for all living things, and to understand that food and nourishment is a spiritual thing because it involves a sharing of interdependence and interconnection with the entire planet… and beyond. Too many human beings in the world today are denied food, and denying someone food is not just a matter of making them hungry, it means denying them the dignity of being human, denying them the possibility of growth and self-awareness, or spiritual awareness one would say in other religious contexts.
And beyond. To not help human beings, but also animals, plants and all beings of Earth to nourish themselves adequately, means impeding all of us and the Planet from carrying out our journeys of realization, of illumination, of awakening to our real nature of universal beings.

Indifference and avidity are serious defects of the soul

Culture / -

tenzin per discorso 21 maggio imm rif

Poverty is a fact of life, undoubtedly. What is unacceptable is the egoistic acceptance of those who brutally pillage and exploit the Planet’s resources, impoverishing the earth’s biodiversity and bringing suffering to animals. It is possible to change the world, but before that evolution can take place, the horizons of single consciences must widen.

The interreligious conference at the Theater of the Earth confirmed once again the harmonious relationship and the shared viewpoints of the different religious traditions who expressed their views on pressing contemporary themes such as the production of food, ethical consumption, avoidance of waste and the correct distribution of water resources and food on a planetary scale in order to guarantee all mankind’s inalienable right to food and water as fundamental necessities.
To briefly summarize my contribution expressing the vision of Buddhism, I say that although one may in a way accept the relative poverty of the many and richness of the few, whether speaking of nations or individuals – even from a karmic viewpoint and therefore as the effect of causes rooted in the past – what is imperative today is that we change direction compared to the past and abandon, or at any rate reduce the hegemony of egoism, the culture of predatory exploitation of the Planet’s resources, the unbridled maximization of profits and personal or caste privileges. Instead we must encourage more altruistic attitudes and behavior, and show a greater sense of awareness and responsibility concerning the urgent need to improve our relations with the Planet which is our host and which provides us with everything we need. Procuring food and necessary resources must no longer involve inflicting unjustified suffering on animals or depletion of biodiversity, or the destructive exploitation of people or territories for the purpose of providing too much for some people and practically nothing for others.
Avidity, the will to pillage and dominate, indifference to the suffering caused by poverty and inequality are manifestations of moral defects which poison the Planet, sowing the seeds of joylessness on every level. When these defects become the ruling behavioral guidelines for entire countries, the effect is catastrophic. Every one of us has the responsibility to respect the environment and all its inhabitants: each of us is an important fragment of potential global change which will not come about without the evolution and maturation of all single consciences.

Food is also a spiritual matter

Culture / -

platone per discorso 21 maggio imm rif

Everything we do as individuals has consequences on society, so we must start to behave positively if we want a better world. I came to Expo Milano 2015 because I believe that together – with due critical spirit – we can construct a different society, one that is democratic and authentic, where science and faith finally enter into constructive dialogue.

The problem is that our society is greedy, egoist and cruel. We have to be realists, evil does exist, and so do economic interests, and we have to accept that, or at least try to understand it. We are part of Creation and everything we do as individuals, everything we call sin, has consequences on society. What does ‘Food for the Spirit’ mean today? Food is a mirror that reflects our lifestyle. In our Waldensian meals, we use porcelain plates and not plastic ones, and we use carpooling for transport… in other words, as believers we look for little solutions to the big problem.
I always say, we’re part of the problem, but also the solution. And also, that it’s better to be atheists than bad believers! I have come here because if we wish, together, we can build a different Europe. We need to take part together in a shared project for humanity. Clean air, lightness, clean and controlled food, democracy, and authenticity. These are the words we need to say, for ourselves and for the future of our children. Man is body and physicality, faith and science, this is the vision of the Bible. We no longer need to separate science from religion… there’s no need to do that any more! These two realities must converse with positive critical spirit, to make something true, authentic, which doesn’t harm human beings.
To examine this subject more deeply, I’d like to refer to a reflection on nourishment which we recently carried out in our Waldensian community in Milan. The words of Jesus, spoken after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes – “Do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life” (John 6, 27) – highlights the duality between material food and spiritual food. We obviously need the former – “Give us this day our daily bread” – but we search for Jesus in order to live, not just to survive. Life, in the true sense of the word, has need of spiritual bread too, in order to nourish our communion with God.
Hunger drove Israel to Egypt, where it became enslaved. And when it escaped slavery, on its journey towards freedom it was nourished, in the desert, by manna. A daily gift which, if hoarded, went rotten: thus avoiding the extremes of some having too much and some none at all. God’s gifts are entrusted to us so that everyone may enjoy them, without transforming them into exclusive personal property which does not have to be accounted for to anyone. Otherwise our mission will end in tragedy. Greed eats away at the kind of respect for limits to which God has invited us since creation.
“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden – God says to Mankind – but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2, 17). Food becomes a gift of life in the measure to which we recognize that there is a limit, that not everything is available to us. But things went differently. From the avidity to possess everything, to accept no limits, is born the delirium of omnipotence that destroys life. Food is the measure of our relation with creation and with God. Nourishing oneself is also a spiritual matter on which we should reflect every time, starting from the tension between penury and excess, between egoism and communion. So much of our life is spent at table: a moment not just of satisfying hunger but also of recognition… the recognition and gratitude for the gift of our “daily bread”.
Our fraternity reemerges and is consolidated in the Lord’s Supper of the Eucharist. Eating with The Lord helps us to understand that the material goods entrusted to us are to be used in a perspective of sharing. The future of humanity begins at table: at that table to which God, through Christ, has invited us, all men and all women, without excluding anyone. Christianity proposes as its horizon the image of a laid table to which one more place may always be added. There is nothing more acutely spiritual and material at the same time than the simple act of sitting down at the table while thanking the God who has invited us to his table.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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