Read the XR Buddhist UK January newsletter here – including an invitation to our online retreat at the end of this month.
By Andy Wistreich
There are various kinds of activism, and thus various kinds of activist. Moreover, one activist can engage various kinds of activism either at different times or simultaneously.
Activism is comprised of specific actions aimed at identified results in the world. Here we are concerned with activism for the benefit of all (as distinct from for example far-right activism which seeks the benefit of one group at the expense of everyone else.)
As you read through the following descriptions of types of activism, you may recognise elements of your own journey as an activist and locate where your personal emphasis seems to lie right now. Remember that activism requires flexibility to the moment, and shapeshifting, so it’s advisable not to feel too fixated in a single type.
The varieties of activism described here are not in a hierarchy. The transformations required in our time require all the powers and forces available, from every possible type of activism. In practice, successful collective actions include many kinds of activists working together alongside one another. We can’t generally tell by looking at anyone, what kind of activism they are practising.
This article divides activism into three main types – direct, radical, and deep. There is a further division of deep into outer, inner, and secret. As indicated above, this taxonomy is not exclusive, simply a method to explore the overarching topic of activism, to help support the processes of all activists.
It’s called direct because it pinpoints a specific situation, methodology and purpose, and focuses directly at that point. Traditional methods include strikes, occupations, pickets, blockades, and marches. It may be volent such as engaging in fighting police or opponents of the action, using weapons, such as Molotov cocktails or not. It may be non-violent as in the non-violent direct action (NVDA) practised by Extinction Rebellion, which includes disruptive or obstructive actions, which might involve lock-ons, gluing oneself to fixed objects or just sitting or standing somewhere for a purpose.
Radical means changing from the root, so radical activism takes place within an understanding of the place of specific issues rooted within a system. Thus, radical activism is aimed at changing the system in whatever way necessary to ensure sustainable transformation. In other words, it’s revolutionary.
We can see, in recent statements by Greta Thunberg, Gail Bradbrook and other leading climate activists that they have become increasingly radicalised. Increasingly we are seeing system change as an implicit or explicit requirement in communications from Extinction Rebellion.
This recognises that transforming society depends on transformation of consciousness, and thus goes deeper than direct and radical activism. In climate activist circles, the experience of grief and anxiety is openly acknowledged as a common part of the deal. Extinction Rebellion has always highlighted regenerative culture as a means of mitigating these, and thus sustaining the zeal of activists. Deep activists may go further than this purpose and see that without transforming the roots of culture in consciousness, meaningful change isn’t possible.
Here, I divide deep activism into three: outer, inner, and secret deep activism. As mentioned above, these are not exclusive and aren’t presented as a hierarchy. The separation is simply for discussion.
Outer Deep Activism
This can come through religious faith. For example, the Faith Bridge in Extinction Rebellion includes groups of activists from Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist faiths. Typically, activists of faith call upon their holy beings such as God or Buddha as a source of power, inspiration, and support in their activism. They use prayer, meditation, ritual, and mantra to invoke this connection, and might call upon the powerful being they worship to help bring about the change they seek.
It is also practised by activists of no faith, invoking deep connection to the earth, the universe, universal love and so forth, as sources of inspiration, comfort, and power.
Outer deep activism, through the agency of the outer Being or beneficent force, helps the activist to feel part of a whole – the whole of humanity, the web of life, nature, or creation. This in turn renders the approach to activism more selfless.
Inner Deep Activism
This recognises the source of the supreme being or universal power as situated within each individual. Theists might talk of ‘the God within’ or soul, and Buddhists of Buddha nature. Sometimes it’s referred to as an inner light. Some feel that all living beings have it; others say it’s only found in humans.
The point for inner deep activists is that through connecting with this basic element within oneself, one may connect to it within every other being. This brings an additional power to meditation and other practices of deep activism, enabling activists to feel a deep interconnectivity with those with and for whom one takes action.
Secret Deep Activism
This is based on personal connection with the innermost essence of consciousness, which transcends one lifetime, together with its ultimate nature, its absence of inherent existence. It is accessed through Tantra (or its equivalent such as psychedelics) and is thus particularly insightful. Moreover, it offers access to transformative energies from within the subtle energy system of the activist, which may be harnessed as agents of change beyond oneself. Skilful actions at this level of awareness require extensive training and guidance.
As said at the outset the purpose here is not to suggest a hierarchy of activism but to offer potential channels for reflection and discussion. Effective activists know where they are coming from and are not fixed in the methods they utilise.
The challenges of our time are so great that we have little chance of success unless we use as much of our personal and collective potential as possible. As mass extinction and societal collapse look ever more likely outcomes of our collective predicament on planet earth, it’s up to each of us who care about that, to become excellent activists in as many ways as we can and offer our service for the good of all.
By Andy Wistreich
Yesterday, while walking along the beach at Studland in Dorset, we were approached by a man who gave us a small piece of flint. ‘Do you know what this is?’ he said and proceeded to explain that after the dinosaurs became extinct, their carcasses etc caused the acidification of the oceans, which led to a proliferation of jellyfish. He said that flint is fossilised compressed jellyfish. The same will happen when we become extinct, he explained.
When we talk about the ‘powers that be’ with respect to this climate and ecological emergency, we mean organisations and their leaders with the power to resolve the crisis. As shown at COP26, they are doing the opposite – enabling things to get worse. This power matrix has various names – ‘the industrial growth economy’, ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘neo-colonialism’, or just plain ‘capitalism’. Regarding the fossil fuel industry, there are corporations who extract fossil fuels, industries that produce the plant and machinery to do this, the massive motor vehicle and aviation etc industries, the road construction industries and many other vested interests.
During XR actions, one of the rebels’ most popular songs has the chorus, ‘Power to the people; people got the power; tell me, can you feel it; it’s getting stronger by the hour.’ This refers to a power not of oppression or exploiting the planet for profit. It’s a shared power. It’s inclusive, equally distributed, and just. It’s revolutionary, because it urges total transformation of the system.
Many people are understandably suspicious of revolutions. Their history isn’t encouraging because they have often led to dictatorship by a strong man who seizes power from the people, with the false promise to manage the chaos that followed the revolution.
So, for many people, ‘power’ has a bad name – it’s being abused now and could be abused in future. A reluctance to address the issue of power sets in, and so, even among activists, an underlying sense of powerlessness prevails. Protests against the existing powers-that-be fall on deaf ears. Burnout and disillusion take over.
However, unless we create a new ecological civilisation, with many features in common with indigenous cultures, with respect to relations between each other and the environment, extinction of ourselves and countless other species follows.
In Tibetan Buddhism, enlightenment is sometimes discussed in terms of three deities – Avalokitesvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani. These embody respectively enlightened compassion, wisdom, and power (aka action or skilful means). Vajrapani generally appears as a wrathful deity, with bulging eyes, fangs, upstanding hair and surrounded by fire. He is the ‘Lord of the Secrets’ because he protects secret mantra – the vajrayana. His power is the power of mantra, of wrath, of ritual protection of the Dharma. It is a power that can be terrifying.
When it comes down to it, this power is simply the power of the completely pure mind, cleared of egoistic selfish compulsion –without self-interest or grasping, acting for the wellbeing of everyone. Its fierce aspect deters the ego-empire-building inclinations of those of us bogged down in samsara, who too easily slip into the mode of power-over-others when circumstances allow.
XR Buddhists often speak of the powerful meditations they experience when sitting in meditation in an XR action. There seems to be an effect on those around, when a group of XR Buddhists meditate in public, an effect that grounds the energy in a powerful way. Arguably, this is the internal power of Buddhadharma, manifesting and pervading the space.
Connecting external and internal power
XR’s third demand is for citizens’ assemblies (CAs) to determine how we can get out of the climate and ecological crisis we’re in. The CA is a form of deliberative participatory democracy whereby a group of citizens is randomly selected through a process known as sortition, to deliberate and propose a way forward which is put to a referendum and then carried out. The CA has access to experts who help them understand the causes of the problem being deliberated. Their decisions are made in the interests of everyone.
Deliberative participatory democracy is quite different from the representative democracy that prevails at many levels in so-called democratic countries. Representative democracy has been hijacked by political parties, professional lobbyists and media friends of wealthy elites and has spawned a caste of professional politicians who are skilled liars. Once every four of five years these politicians secure election by promising to solve everyone’s problems, but once in power proceed to shore up the system that creates those problems.
Deliberative participatory democracy enables ordinary people without vested interests to collectively figure out practical solutions to collective problems. Nevertheless, popular power is vulnerable to manipulation, and in the turbulence situation of social transition, the egoic grandiosity of individuals can disrupt its democratic character.
The emerging ecological civilisation will only succeed if it is founded on altruistic compassion and transcendence of such ego-grasping. Therefore, we need Dharma to help us build a positive resilient future society. Dharma offers the possibility of power beyond power – selfless power.
Right now, we are in a situation of dual power. On the one hand corporate colonialist capitalism and its political institutions hold the strings of external power everywhere. Simultaneously, there is an emerging global consciousness of the nature and roots of the crisis and the necessity to end consumerism, fossil extraction, ecocide, and inequality. This consciousness is manifesting in diverse forms and movements all over the world. It’s a growing internal power with external forms.
Classically, dual power is a stage in revolutionary transition. As a buddhist, I support a non-violent revolution that isn’t rushed but isn’t afraid to acknowledge the issue of power. This requires a power that starts within, abandons ego-grasping and radiates universal love and compassion – a power that manifests the radical inclusivity of genuine participatory democracy. Radical inclusivity accepts everyone and every part of everyone. In radical inclusivity there is no inequality, exploitation, or social injustice. It holds all beings dear.
This stage of dual power is hard to live through, but it points towards a transformation to come. It is the ‘chrysalis phase’ when the caterpillar of the old civilisation liquifies inside the chrysalis prior to reconstituting as the butterfly of the new civilisation. It has been said that the covid pandemic is the beginning of the chrysalis phase of the 21st century global transition.
It certainly feels like there is a meltdown underway as the old civilisation breaks down. Uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety everywhere – it can feel scary. But meanwhile one may feel a groundswell of determination and courage for change. XR Buddhists sit silently on the ground of this rising energy, at one with the pain and yearning of the world. Thus, we participate as agents in the process.
Read Joe’s defence statement to the charge of failing to comply with a section 14. In August this year he was sitting in the road near Leicester Square together with Satya and other rebels and failed to move when asked by the police. He is appearing at City Magistrates Court on Thursday 9th December, and will plead not guilty. This is his fourth arrest.
Update: Joe’s charges were dropped due to lack of evidence just before the trial date.
I am a psychotherapist in private practice, now retired after 26 years in the NHS. I am also a mindfulness teacher in the Buddhist tradition. Over the years of my practice I have developed a familiarity with my inner life which ensures that I do not act impulsively. My decision to occupy the road on August 23rd this year was based on a long period of reflection and discussion with friends.
I will be using the defence of necessity: that my occupation of the road that day was a necessary act to prevent a greater crime. In this case an incalculably great crime.
I would like to give the background to my defence as follows.
For me the central question is this.
At a time when the science has established with compelling clarity that my children’s future and the future of all beings on our one precious planet is in imminent and mortal danger, what should I do? What is my responsibility as a conscious highly privileged inhabitant of this planet?
First I want to briefly refer to the well-known facts of the climate and ecological emergency. Antonio Guterres the secretary general of the IPCC said in August this year:
‘The alarm bells are deafening, the evidence is irrefutable. Green-house gas emissions, fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth and many of the changes are becoming irreversible’
The following is obvious to me now:
First. The media and the Governments are not telling us the truth about the seriousness of the danger we are in. They are not conveying the sense of utmost urgency commensurate to the threat we face. Compare this with the daily messages about the facts and dangers when Covid 19 was at its height; there were daily messages about the extent of the threat, the need for immediate action, and huge sums of money were made available to tackle this. It is this level of honesty, action and leadership that is needed now to address the climate emergency.
Second. Government action on climate around the world, with only a few exceptions, is entirely inadequate to prevent climate breakdown. This was evident from the outcome of COP.
What our Government is doing however, is introducing a law to suppress unrest, to prevent ‘inconvenience’ to the public and to corporations. Through the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill protesters like myself will be subject to imprisonment for the kind of action I took in August. This is a gross misuse of our legal system. If the new law turns out to be an effective deterrent to protest then we all lose. If this legislation suppresses protest as is intended, then ladies and gentlemen, we will all go over the cliff edge into our new world of famine, heat death, floods and ecological collapse, in an orderly and quiet manner. There will be no inconvenient disruption to proper process and business as usual as we tip into the abyss of climate and ecological collapse. Frankly, to focus on shooting the messenger like this in the face of possible extinction, is not what I would expect from an intelligent species. I’m sure we can do better.
Third. Corporations in the fossil fuel and finance sector are actively working to slow action on climate. They are lobbying against decisive action, and using greenwash with their claims to be on board with net zero whilst at the same time continuing to invest in new oil coal and gas. The five largest oil and gas companies have spent over $1bn on misleading climate-related branding and on lobbying since the 2015 Paris agreement. And the banking sector has invested $3.8 trillion in the fossil fuel industry since 2015. Continuing to slow action on the climate crisis while actively investing in more fossil fuels in the full knowledge of the lethal consequences for our planet is surely a criminal act. And from a psychological perspective, if an individual were doing this they would be diagnosed as psychopathic. From a legal perspective I believe it is equivalent to the crime of Genocide as upheld by the International Criminal Court: the difference here is that it is not just human life, but all life on the planet that is effected so it is more properly called Ecocide.
My conclusion from these three considerations – that we are not being told the truth, that our democratically elected representatives are failing to act to keep us safe, and that there are hugely wealthy and powerful organisations which are actively working to push our planet beyond safe limits, is that if I remain quiet, then I am complicit in an act, or acts, of extreme negligence amounting to the most heinous crime imaginable. To degrade and despoil the incalculable richness of this planet we have been gifted, to steal the future from our children and all species in the name of profit and business as usual, to say that it is too difficult or inconvenient to act effectively: words fail me. Perhaps only the silence of grief and shame can hold the weight of truth at this time.
There are those of course who will say that there are existing democratic processes through which I and others can express our concern. Indeed there are and I am very familiar with them: writing to my MP, joining a march, engaging in local democratic processes such as planning applications, supporting NGOs. After 30 years of being an active campaigner in all these ways, the results are plain to see. There have been some wins from all this, but the cliff edge inches closer with every passing hour.
And so what should I do? As a father of 2 children in their 20s, as a psychotherapist, as a Buddhist, but perhaps most of all as a conscious, privileged inhabitant of this deeply beautiful planet. What should I do?
I have spent my working life attempting to relieve suffering. The process of my professional and Buddhist practice has sensitised me to the many expressions of suffering of the human heart. As a consequence of my inner and outer work I find that, with no conscious deliberation, my compassion is called toward the suffering and loss that is, and will be experienced by countless humans and non-humans across this planet as we tip toward instability. Thich Nhat Hanh the renowned Zen master, global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist says that compassion is a verb, an action. Compassion calls us into action and it is my belief and experience that if we ignore this call, if we turn away, something dies in us. Compassion is I believe the deepest expression of our human heritage, it is what is best in us and the deepest expression of our love.
And so to the more explicit reference to my defence of necessity, I recognise that I broke the law in respect of Section 14 by sitting in the road in London, but my action was entirely proportionate to the need to prevent an incalculably greater crime; a crime which even as I speak is continuing. This is a crime, but it is also a betrayal. A betrayal by those in positions of power who have a responsibility to use their power in a manner which nurtures and does not harm.
Compassion calls me to stand against this betrayal, this injustice, this crime. I am not a saint and I am far from perfect and yes I am afraid. But I am here today in alignment with my heart, with my Buddhist faith and with my conscience.
Joe is a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher and one of the founding members of XR Buddhists.
The Barclays bank security guard was loud, flustered and very quickly asked us to leave. Adrenaline surged through my system. Three of us were sitting in silent meditation. We ignored his words and kept sitting quietly with our eyes closed. I heard one of our police liaisons trying to reason with the guard, and then another voice joining in. I half-opened my eyes. This new voice was a police officer in a bright yellow jacket. How had I got here?
“Would anyone like to sit inside the bank?”
I tentatively raised my hand. Two other people put their hands up as well. Okay, I said to myself, I guess I’ll be sitting inside the bank.
Barclays bank are the biggest investor in coal in the UK, they are the most invested in fossil fuels of any bank in Europe and 7th in the world. Since the 2015 Paris agreement they have invested $145 billion in fossil fuels and despite having net zero goals in 2020 their investment in fossil fuels was higher than in 2019…
It’s clear we need an immediate end to fossil fuel extraction, and the environmental and human cost of continuing to use them will be devastating.
We were planning to mindfully walk to the bank, to sit outside in meditation with our banners and placards which read, ‘Barclays the ecocide bank’, and to hand out leaflets and talk to passers-by. If some of us agreed to sit inside the bank it would probably increase the visibility and presence of the protest.
Despite knowing all of that I was ambivalent about ratcheting up the tension by arriving just before the main protest and sitting inside the bank. Lots of positive change throughout history has come about through non-violent direct action – I know that there is value in creating the right amount of disturbance and yet I was wary.
Satya and I had decided to go home a day earlier than planned, and getting arrested would put a dent in those plans, I wasn’t sure of the value of arrest as protest in this context, I was simply tired after a few long days of demonstrating in Glasgow and knew it would be both jangling and exhausting.
I had a mix of reasons for wanting to act. From all of the very good arguments of the value of NVDA and protest, to wanting to feel useful, to competitive parts of me that compare me with other activists, to the parts of me that are flabbergasted at continued investment in fossil fuels and business as usual.
Taking all of this into account I had raised my hand.
In the bank our brilliant police liaison (a demonstrator trained in speaking to the police) continued to talk to both the police and the security guard. The police were asking how they could trust we really were peaceful, and they were letting the liaison know that we were now trespassing as we’d been asked to leave. And yet, they weren’t rushing to speak to us directly. I half-opened my eyes again. There was a police van outside now, and a whole crowd of officers, and a crowd of public, and a dozen or more other XR Buddhists sitting in meditation outside the bank.
I don’t know how much time passed. A few minutes perhaps. It felt both longer and shorter. How long could we continue to sit without risking arrest, I wondered? How much use was it to increase the drama of the protest by being here?
None of the three of us inside wanted to be arrested today, we’d each said that we’d ignore requests from bank staff for us to move, but would move when the police instructed us to.
The police convinced the liaison to pass on the message that we were now trespassing and that it was an offence to stay once we’d been asked to leave.
I stood up and had a chat with the officer. He very slowly ushered me to the door, and I sat down outside with the other XR Buddhist protestors.
We sat for another half an hour or so. I focussed on my breath, and occasionally noticed people chatting to Satya and Joe who were handing out leaflets. Some of them agreed to change where they banked after reading our leaflets filled with facts. One or two were upset with us for being there at all.
Slowly most of the police left.
As my nerves calmed I was able to unpick some of my different emotional responses to that encounter. Anger and frustration at the bank, gratitude for those sitting with me both inside and outside the bank, fear of conflict, fear of an escalation into physical violence (later I learnt one of our police liaisons had been pushed by the security guard), gratitude to the earth for supporting me, for my body for continuing to breathe, for the teachings and traditions and practices that allowed me to remain more or less steady.
The bell rang, signalling the end of meditation. We bowed, gathered up our banners and walked in mindfulness and silence away from the bank.
Later, away from the protest, as my emotions began to settle I noticed a deep well of grief for what we have lost already, the acute personal pain of the Earth’s suffering that was lodged within me, and a deep sense of connection to both the Earth and the XR Buddhists I had shared the day with.
By Dayamay Dunsby
If you don’t stand for something – you’ll fall for anything.
This popular culture maxim never seemed more appropriate than it does in these increasingly turbulent and devisive times. It may sound a bit old and overused but, in light of the current state of things, it actually bears quite a fresh significance.
I spent several days in Glasgow this week, showing my support for Extinction Rebellion in their efforts to maintain scrutiny and political pressure on our world leaders, who seem to require the proverbial rocket up their backsides in order to even seem like they’re doing anything of any consequence towards the existential threat that we’re facing.
The mood in the city felt quite surreal at times. Maybe the effects of a transition for many, from a low level of awareness of all things Climate Change, to an increased presence of the matter in the press, making it all the more difficult to turn away from and maybe enhancing the sense of confusion and frustration that still surrounds the Covid fiasco. The people were mostly very sweet and helpful, and maybe a bit bewildered and overwhelmed by the sudden increase in the intensity of the shift that we’re seeing. I have certainly felt, at times, a decline in my own sense of general wellbeing as a result of being confronted with the prospect of such an uncertain future.
However, it is interesting that when we take some kind of action to address a problem that concerns us, our perspective on it can change and it can somehow, all of a sudden, seem much less daunting. I’m thinking of the Climate Emergency as a primary example here, but have experienced this effect on many occasions in the past. The impact of horror and misery diminished in the face of the kind of courage and humility that transcends our selfish interests and somehow penetrates to the heart of the problem.
In this context(activism), it felt like being removed from the sense of impending catastrophe and somehow placed above it, so as to be able to perceive it from a relative vantage point, thereby reducing its impact without negating the seriousness of it. This effect may be as simply explained as the idea that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. 100,000 people united in the spirit of a single cause is a much less daunting prospect than trying to tackle it alone or in small numbers. But that alone doesn’t really seem to speak to the feeling that I had as I marched through the rain soaked streets with my colleagues and friends along with thousands of complete strangers.
In reality, I never felt closer to the weight of the problem. In fact, in a certain sense, it felt amplified by being in the city, so near the beating heart of commerce, bombarded by the super-cynicism of the heavy hitting profiteers, all falling over themselves to hijack the Climate Change bandwagon and convince us all that their product will be the one that makes a difference, that plucks us from the jaws of certain death as we blindly and apathetically consume our way towards disaster!
Without the unifying effect of the XR brand of activism, I might actually have been overwhelmed by these more spiritually corrosive forces and resigned to playing the victim instead of actually standing up and claiming my rightful place amongst those who commit to challenging the status quo and staying on the right side of history.
Although this level of deceit is disturbing and, in some ways inspiring for me, it probably has a more trivialising effect for a large chunk of the population, who still have little or no sense of the devastation that awaits if systemic change is not immediately implemented. They are as likely to swallow the commercial greenwashing as they are the wanton fallacies that are being spouted by our crooked leaders, who seem to be just trying to bide their time until the story dies down, so they can get back to promoting business as usual.
We heard of a certain high profile, international business that was advising its clients that 2-3 degrees of global warming would be good for their profits, and the sooner we get there the greater the gains. This mentality highlights the naivety, cynicism and misunderstanding at the heart of the problem that we face; Which is only worsened by politicians such as Boris Johnson, who is world renowned for his lack of integrity, claiming Climate Leadership and thereby undermining the authenticity of the whole business!
You might be detecting a hint of anger and skepticism in the tone that I am writing with, but I also, believe it or not, hold out a certain amount of hope for a different future. It may be radically different from the greener and brighter future that we are being promised by the powers that be, but I still firmly believe in the resilience and beauty of the human spirit. And that, there will always be a strong current of love and hope at work in whatever survives and emerges for the prospects of posterity.
As a Buddhist I feel very lucky that I get to depend more on the qualities of my faith, that are not conditional upon societal prosperity, than to have to place all of my hopes and dreams on a system that was always doomed to failure.
Namo Amida Bu.
Dayamay Dunsby is a member of XR Buddhists UK and a teacher at Bright Earth Buddhist Temple
By Joe Mishan
Faith groups in six cities converged on selected Barclays banks on 18th October to highlight their leading role in fueling the climate crisis. In London, Glasgow, Bristol, Brighton, Shrewsbury and Sheffield, Buddhist groups sat in protest vigils, and engaged with the public to bring attention to the fact that Barclays investments constitute a very real threat to our future. They are the highest investor in fossil fuels of any bank in Europe, and in the years since the Paris agreement in 2015 they have invested $145 in coal oil and gas projects across the planet.
The day was part of Greenfaith’s Faith 4 Climate Justice two days of action to send a message to Governments and corporations in the run up to COP26.
The London experience
As XR Buddhists gather in London outside the Tate Modern it’s good to know that we are part of something bigger: that our friends in other cities are with us today. We sit in meditation, and we spend some time connecting with what brought us to engage in this action. If we take time to reflect in this way, we often find that our motivation for any particular action connects both to personal history and to what we hold dear in the world. This is the wellspring of a wholesome and reliable ground from which to act. Without it our actions can too easily become motivated by anger and blame.
As we set off for the slow 20 minute walking meditation down Fleet Street to the bank we attract a lot of attention, most of it silent: people take pictures or turn to look at our placards, some of which show a burning Earth with the words ‘Barclays: the Ecocide Bank’ underneath. This is a reference to the law of Ecocide which the Ecocide foundation, hope to make a criminal offence, along with other international crimes such as genocide.
On reaching the bank we settle down to meditation. As the meditators take their place in a line on the pavement I am struck as always by the quiet power and grace of the meditative posture: so rare and precious in a bustling noisy cityscape. I am handing out leaflets; I am pleased to see that most passers-by glance at our banner. It is hard to miss: it reads in very large script: ‘Barclays: Funding Climate Breakdown.’ I pop inside the bank to hand in our letter to the manager, to be told by the cleaner that they are not in. No police are called. It’s only later that I see someone who is probably a manager (smart suit, Barclays blue tie, definitely ignoring us) hurry into the bank, followed by someone who looks like a security guard.
I hope he looks at our letter some of which reads:
Sitting in silent meditation we bear witness, and bring to the publics’ attention that Barclay’s investments constitute a direct and imminent threat to their future.
We send our kindness and care to the staff of Barclays bank; their lives will also be impoverished and disrupted by climate impacts. But we consider that as a company, Barclays investments demonstrate a reckless disregard of the scientific evidence, the safety of its customers, the planet, its people and the other species with whom we share this world.
I hope this might reach him, but there is no way of knowing. Likewise, there is no way of knowing what is going through the mind of the woman who takes a leaflet and then very deliberately rips it up a few paces further on. What does she find so offensive? Although I find myself thinking I would have liked to speak to her, I doubt anything I said would have changed her mind. A few people stop and talk and are unpleasantly surprised to find they are with banks that have little regard for the future. Many take a leaflet but hurry along without engaging. .
Forty-five minutes later we set off again in a slow paced meditation line to reach a green space near the river. We meditate, reflect and send our gratitude to ourselves, to each other and to all beings on this one precious blue-green planet which we have been gifted.
There is little sign of Barclays grasping the reality of what the future holds and acting accordingly. We are in for the long haul; sustained perhaps by Thomas Mertons words:
Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
What else is there after all, but this?
By Andy Wistreich
The Buddha always links karma with the environment. This linkage can be found in all buddhist traditions. For example, the 14th century Tibetan, Lama Tsong Khapa says, “From the nonvirtuous action of killing, such things in the external environment as food and drink, medicine, and fruits will have little strength, be ineffective, have little potency and power, or, being difficult to digest, will induce illness. Hence most living beings will die without living out their expected lifespans.”
According to the Buddha, the environment we are born into is a result of our karma, our actions in previous lives. The kinds of environments that exist, and the kinds of bodies we take within them, result from causes first activated when a universe appears. The universe is composed of particles of earth, water, fire, air, or space, which interact to produce the various ecosystems of planets, oceans, plants, and sentient life-forms. However, the way these ecosystems evolve and how we experience them is determined by our karma.
Collective karma creates for example the human realm, and then within that, individual karma shapes the way we each experience it. For the Buddhas, the entire universe is always a buddhafield, a pure mandala of unlimited bliss and wisdom, but for sentient beings like us, our collective and personal karma determines the kinds of suffering and happiness that we experience.
Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning action. Our actions are karmic causes that generate potentials which reverberate through time. When these potentials later ripen, we experience the karmic results. Constructive actions bring about positive results, such as good environments, whereas with destructive actions it’s the opposite.
Right now, we are humans on planet earth. Our collective good karma connects us with the abundance, beauty, and generosity of mother earth. Individual karma means we enjoy this abundance to a greater or lesser degree.
Meanwhile, our collective bad karma means that we are presently part of a global culture that is disrupting and degrading the ecosystems of mother earth. Some humans pursue destructive courses of action, while others try to reverse that direction.
Why is it bad karma to help degrade the ecosystems of planet earth? Quite simply, it’s because this harms the sentient beings who live here. To do so unknowingly isn’t necessarily bad karma, but in the current situation, where those responsible for fossil fuel industries, and other systems that harm the environment know very well what how destructive their actions are, their karma is very bad indeed. Ecocide destroys countless lives and opportunities for wellbeing.
Things have come to such a serious juncture that even to do nothing implies consent to the ecocidal culture that infuses our economic, societal, and political structures. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, ‘You have to do something!’
On another occasion, the Dalai Lama said, ’Universal responsibility is the key to human survival.’ This indicates that human survival isn’t a given. ‘Universal responsibility’ is the driving force that motivates action for the benefit of everyone. If sufficient people adopt this motivation, human life will continue.
Thus, in general, the actions of Extinction Rebellion are very good karma, because they are motivated by a concern for all, both now and in the future. Although many XR activists, including some in the XR Buddhists contingent, don’t relate to the Buddha’s teachings on karma, nevertheless, these actions, if motivated by universal compassion, will certainly lead to positive results. Actions motivated by universal compassion and responsibility are the actions of Bodhisattvas.
Following brief involvement in the Impossible Rebellion at the beginning of September 2021 I undertook a personal five-week retreat. During the retreat this article came to me, and I jotted down some notes, from which I have now written it. I dedicate it to the positive outcomes of the actions of XR Buddhists.
Katja and Kaspa – the current co-coordinators of XR Buddhists UK – had a conversation about Buddhism and non-violent direct action at the recent Tri-ratna Earth Sangha conference. Here it is:
Kaspa and Katja, co-coordinators of XR Buddhists UK talk to David R Loy from the Ecodharma retreat centre about the history of XR Buddhists, climate justice, what next for XR Buddhists and activism and Buddhist practice.