Buddhist Q&A

BY ANDY WISTREICH and Joseph Mishan

As Buddhists we recognise and carefully consider any problematic impacts of direct action. Here, Andy and Joe respond to Dharma challenges by a long-term practitioner.

Q Few practitioners are at the advanced stages of the path necessary to be able to cope with the challenges experienced during direct action.

A It is our experience that even relatively beginner practitioners may progress spiritually through supported, compassionate, mindful engagement with the challenges of direct action. Clearly one should only engage in direct action if one is not in danger of losing one’s spiritual foundation, and we would certainly encourage anyone who is impacted in this way to take care of themselves in whatever way they needed. There are many ways to take action of course e.g. in a support role, and not everyone will be willing or able to join protest actions on the streets. 

Q Throughout the suttas there are warnings about exposing ourselves to situations where it is difficult to guard the sense doors.

A It’s true that practitioners are advised to hold back from activities that would undermine their inner stability. Therefore each person must choose how to engage in a way suitable to them. The  retreat experience in which we can and do guard the sense doors is invaluable, but we continue to practice when we move out into the world. For most of us this movement in and out of the world is the reality and both can contribute to our spiritual development.

Q Direct action creates attachments that hinder our progress to awakening. Once we are thus-achieved”, or well-advanced along the path, then direct action may be possible, even advisable, but very few of us are.

A We practice mindfulness during actions in order to hold back from being drawn into attachment and anger. This is a valuable practice in and of itself.

A key offering of the Dharma in the context of direct action is non-attachment to results. This is our perspective. It is freeing and takes the stress out of our action. Instead we focus on cultivating the wholesomeness of our motivation and do our best to be well prepared.

Q The Buddha tells us how to develop our practice. It’s a well-trodden path. Most of us in secular dharma (who aren’t monastics) have a difficult job following this anyway because our lifestyle puts us in the way of worldly distractions. So, we should not make it more difficult by going looking for them.

A  Direct action on climate change is not a distraction any more than any other compassionate action in the world. We have chosen a focused compassionate practice of non-violent direct action. This isn’t a ‘worldly distraction’ as it arises from a deeply held compassionate sense of universal responsibility, which is the very foundation of the path of awakening.

Q There may be wise ways of responding to legitimate concerns about the environment that involve little or no such dangers. It may therefore be more appropriate to explore these even though it may seem to us they are less effective or exciting, judged by the world’s standards.

A It is important for each individual to choose forms of action that suit their capacity and temperament. The most important point is the intention. If the intention is to generate excitement, then the action is indeed worldly; if the intention is universal compassion and responsibility, then the action is Dharma.

Q Then there is the consideration of the suffering of those adversely affected by XR protests. Some would say the few must suffer for the many” but this is hardly compassionate.

A As XR Buddhists we favour actions that do not cause suffering. We are confident that our actions arise out of compassion for all beings; but actions toward a more sustainable and more inclusive world inevitably will cause discomfort even suffering to some. There is no way to avoid this, but to do nothing is to allow and perpetuate a system that causes huge suffering,  particularly to the poor, the non-dominant cultures and to the other species. If our system continues as it currently does it threatens our very existence with the unimaginable suffering this will cause. There is no way to avoid suffering, we can only attempt to minimise it.

Q The non-violent meditator who stands apart from the world and its norms is likely to receive short shrift.

A This is not our experience. Our meditations may be quiet but they are also very powerful, conveying peaceful determination and rootedness. Very often when we meditate within the wider extinction rebellion movement, others will join us and sit with us. It is often evident that other activists and members of the public are inspired and moved by our meditation. Although we may be sitting apart we have placards that make clear the issues we addressing in the world.

Q. I agree with the goals of XR, but I’m not likely to engage in street actions: is there anything else I can offer from my meditation practice?

Yes. Thank you.Here are two suggestions for prayers and vows; please adapt them to your own needs and heart:

Prayer for the Earth

  • May people around the world including Governments, awaken to the reality and urgency of the ecological and climate crisis and act quickly and with wisdom.
  • May climate justice prevail in this world, so that inequality and harmful exploitation everywhere is ended for the good of all
  • May there be spiritual and ecological harmony in the world between people, in our treatment of animals and in our relationship to the environment, providing wellbeing and happiness to all beings everywhere.

And from a personal perspective here are the Eco-Satttva vows:

Eco-Sativa Vows (from: The Eccosattva Training course by One Earth Sangha)

Based on my love of the world and understanding of deep interdependence of all things, I vow:

  • To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products and energy I consume.
  • To commit myself daily to the healing of the world and the welfare of all beings; to discern and replace human systems of oppression and harm.
  • To invite personal discomfort as an opportunity to share in the challenge of our collective liberation.
  • To draw inspiration, strength and guidance from the living Earth, from our ancestors and the future generations, and from our siblings of all species.
  • To help others in their work for the world and to ask for help when I feel the need.
  • To pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart and supports me in observing these vows 

Joseph Mishan is a mindfulness teacher in the Vipassana tradition, a psychotherapist and the coordinator of Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement in London and a joint coordinator of XR Buddhists UK. 

Andy has been studying, practising and teaching Buddhism within the Gelug Tibetan tradition for 40 years. He joined XR in 2019, and is active in his local XR group in South Somerset.

Posts and articles are the views of their authors and not necessarily of the XR Buddhists group.

3 thoughts on “Buddhist Q&A”

    1. Hi Peter, thank you. I’m not sure the question asker wanted to be identified. It’s enough to say that they were asked by someone sceptical of the value of Buddhist action, I think.

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