kaspalita

Quanyin at the September Rebellion

By Kaspa

Buddhist rebels gather in Parliament Square
Gathering in Parliament Square by Mikey

It was near the beginning of the September Extinction Rebellion actions in London. A dozen or so of us Buddhist rebels sat in a circle in the centre of Parliament Square. Around us other rebels began to appear: people with flags sticking out of their backpacks, or banners folded up under their arms, or carrying instruments. There were tired faces peering into coffee mugs. There were people chatting in small groups. Around the edge of the square there was a scattering of police in canary yellow jackets. Behind me people were meditating and praying. They were lined up against the fence, facing parliament, sitting in the multi-faith vigil. 

We were also meditating. I felt the cool air against my cheeks, the solid earth beneath me, and my heart beating quickly as I anticipated a day of non-violent civil disobedience.

The meditation ended. I opened my eyes and noticed the others here with me. I had been sitting in Zoom meetings with these people throughout the year and I suddenly felt immensely grateful for their company and support.

Did we check in before or after the meditation? I can’t remember, either way at some point each of us said a few words about how we were feeling. Someone asked if we could chant together.

Satya agreed to lead us in chanting a Quanyin mantra. She began by inviting us to picture Quanyin as large as the Statue of Liberty, and to imagine her smiling down at us, or to imagine that we were being held in the palm of her hand. Then Satya began to chant “Namo Quan Shi Yin Bosat.” The rest of us joined in – a circle of Buddhist rebels connecting with the One Who Hears the Cries of the World.

Statue of Kuan Yin, Ming Dynasty, by Chaozhong He
Statue of Kuan Yin, Ming Dynasty, by Chaozhong He, photographed by Mountain at the Shanghai Museum.

I have been reciting this mantra for many years. As a Pure Land Buddhist my main practice is nembutsu – reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha – but like millions of Buddhists around the world I often find it easier to connect with Quanyin (Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit), one of Amitabha’s bodhisattva attendants and a bodhisattva of compassion.

Now, in England’s third COVID lockdown, feeling exhausted by the past year, and knowing I am not alone in my exhaustion, I find myself thinking about a story of Quanyin that I have heard many times.

Quanyin – The One Who Hears the Cries of the World – hears of someone suffering in the world and responds to that suffering. She helps them, and then she hears another person in trouble. She works tirelessly lifting people out of their difficulties. However there is always another suffering being and the work seems endless. Still she continues. One by one she helps everyone that needs it.

Seeing the endless suffering she is overwhelmed and splits into many pieces. Amitabha notices this shattering and goes and tends to Quanyin. He puts her together again, giving her eleven heads and a thousand arms. She goes back into the world renewed, and continues the work of helping people.

If you look carefully at images and statues of Quanyin you will often find an Amitabha Buddha in her headdress.

I know how it is to become exhausted by responding to needs, both in my personal life and as a climate activist where I feel called to respond to the immense need of the earth and her ecosystems for healing.

When I deeply examine my own inner life I find that the things that most exhaust me are emotional responses and impulses that come from self-protection. When I act from a place of anger it is quickly tiring. When I act from a place of rescuing it is tiring. When I am afraid for myself it is tiring. All of these thoughts and feelings have their own good reasons for showing up, and because they are self-protective they take energy from us and leave negative karmic traces.

When I am empty of all of these things, and act from this place of emptiness, it is not tiring.

What remains when greed, ill-will and ignorance empty out? It is love: love without agenda; love that needs nothing for itself; love that longs for the well-being of all.

This all-accepting love is the particular quality of enlightenment that Amitabha exemplifies.

Are any of us fully-enlightened beings? I tend to agree with Suzuki Roshi who said there are no enlightened people, only enlightened moments. For myself, I know that greed, ill-will and ignorance continue to rise.

It was mid-afternoon. A large group of rebels had sat in the road of Great George Street along one edge of Parliament Square. A line of police were strung across one end of the road, stopping us from disrupting the traffic on Parliament Street. Someone noticed that there was a clear space in front of the police line and suggested that would be a good place to meditate. We took our cushions and benches and settled into our mediation postures in front of the police. We were joined by other rebels until there were two dozen or so of us meditating in two lines across the road.

In many areas of my life I often feel ambivalence. Questions as big as should I take on this piece of work, to as small as would I like tea or coffee lead me to a place of self-doubt and indecision.  The decision to sit in the road was one of the easiest I have made.

Blessed by Quanyin, my mind was clear. Blessed by Quanyin, I felt completely grounded. Blessed by Quanyin, I felt a great compassion for the earth.

We sat and meditated in the road for hours.

XR Buddhists meditate in the road, in front of a line of police
XR Buddhists in the road

Every now and again there was a stirring in the police line. One officer left and another replaced them, a message was passed from one end of the line to the other.  At around half past four an officer knelt down and started speaking to someone near the edge of the road, five or six people away from me. After that conversation the rebel stood up and left the road. “Here we go” I thought.

Another hour passed in which very little happened and then officers began speaking to rebels one by one, letting them know Section 14 of the Public Order act was in place, and that if they didn’t clear the road they would be arrested. 

Satya was sitting next to me. Out of the corner of one eye I saw an officer approach, kneel down and speak to her. After a couple of minutes, Satya was carried away by two officers and moments later I was arrested as well.

Later that evening, after a long journey through traffic in the back of a police van with two other rebels, I was signed into a cell at Lewisham Police Station.

The metal door closed behind me. I looked around the cell. A bed with a thin, plastic covered mattress was fixed to one wall. There was a steel toilet in the corner. “Don’t worry, ” I had been told, “the camera can’t see the toilet.” The camera was behind a dark globe of glass in one corner of the ceiling.  The floor and walls were all covered in pale blue plastic. Everything was easy to wipe down.

A fluorescent light offered a flat, too bright, illumination.

I walked up and down the cell. Once, twice, three times. I lay on the bed and looked at the ceiling and remembered the stories I’d heard of Tibetan monks maintaining compassion for their jailers in much, much worse circumstances than this.

I wasn’t feeling much compassion.  I felt anger and frustration at the lack of awareness of the climate crisis in government, and at the position I found myself in.

In chapter twenty five of the Lotus Sutra it says:

If someone is imprisoned, shackled, or chained,
Or if his hands and feet are in stocks,
If he evokes the strength of Guanyin,
His bonds will open and he will be free.

I put my attention on my breath and with each cycle of breath I said the Quanyin mantra to myself. At some point my thoughts started to wander and after a while I fell asleep.

I woke up and shivered. I had no idea what time it was. The light in the ceiling was still bright. I had been promised a meal and no meal had arrived. I had been told I could ask for a blanket if I was cold and I was cold.

I looked at the silver call button on the wall and couldn’t bring myself to press it and ask for a meal or a blanket. A deep seated fear of disturbing authority figures had caught hold of me. I sat on the bed, enmeshed in fear. Sometimes this is how it is to be human. Despite the mantra of Quanyin my self-protective feelings had taken over. 

Sometimes the clouds cover the sun, and all we can do is trust that the sun is still shining in the sky, high above the clouds, and wait for the clouds to clear. The same is true in my practice, sometimes I just have to trust that the strong feelings will clear and then I will see the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas again. And somehow this act of trusting seems to help.

I turned away from the button and continued to recite the mantra silently, following my breath. A police officer knocked on the door and offered me a blanket. Later, I got to speak to my solicitor, and eventually in the early hours of the morning I and a handful of other rebels were let out.

Rebels meditating in Trafalgar Square, wearing placards which say 'In grief and love for the Earth'
Meditating in Trafalgar Square

Early Friday evening, as the light was beginning to fade, around a dozen Buddhist rebels sat in a circle in Trafalgar Square. We had just taken part in a mass meditation with many other rebels. There had been around sixty of us altogether, creating a calm centre in the middle of the busy square.

As we sat quietly I remembered the opening circle just a few days ago. So much had happened since then: sitting in the road, walking meditation through the city and the many different emotions rising and falling within me throughout the whole week.

Each person said a few words about how they were feeling and then the request came again, could we share some chanting together. Satya asked us to imagine Quanyin standing high above us again, perhaps up on Nelson’s Column. We chanted her mantra together.

I was reminded that thoughout all of these actions, and alongside all the suffering in the world, we are supported by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas: there is an unconditional, wise love that flows towards us and through us, and takes root in our hearts.

Without this remembrance, I could not face the climate crisis, and without this remembrance I could not take action.

Namo Quan Shi Yin Bosat

Kaspa Thompson is a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. He is the coordinator of Buddhist Action Month. He co-leads the Bright Earth Buddhist Temple in Malvern.

Racial Healing Event

An event on racial healing for XR Buddhists. We will ask what this means in our lives, for us as activists, and for us in the UK.

This is a response to the current events including pandemic, the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests in the UK and a growing commitment within XR to become more inclusive and diverse. There will be two short presentations by Satya and Avni, time in small groups for reflection on the questions, and Buddhist practice.

This follows on from an event hosted by Satya and Rehena in July

Register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0lf-GppjMuHNUqsxMAvzBv6Y4j3kwul9Bx

Who are UK Buddhists?

We have been thinking about outreach into Buddhist communities in the UK, to find out how other Buddhists are experiencing the climate and ecological emergency and how they are responding to that in their practises and actions. There is a lot we can learn by listening to other people. We expect many Buddhists in different traditions are concerned by the suffering of the Earth. As we think about preparing for the road to COP 26 in November 2021 we have been researching who the Buddhists are in the UK to consider who we are talking to – and who we aren’t.

We have created a couple of charts and tables using data provided by the Office for National Statistics from the 2011 census. To see them click here GoogleDoc

XR Buddhists in Boston, US

I saw a photo of a striking walking meditation shared on Facebook. It was an XR Buddhist action in Boston in the United States. I reached out and asked them if they had any more images, and could share some words about their actions. Jan Surry responded:

“The experience of walking mindfully in silence. The challenge of doing nonconventional action requires strong concentration on each step. Touching the Earth. Standing and walking together to remember and share our deep focus on the climate emergency and on climate justice. It feels good to stand up together and walk for what’s important.

Ringing the mindfulness bell in public – wake up!  Join us in our deep care and compassionate action.

We hand out a card which describes climate injustice and how XR is working for justice and climate change.  We practice silently sending Metta to each person we encounter. A silent heart offering to  acknowledge the suffering each of us and all our children and grandchildren will know.

Our care for all beings generates our action. This meditative practice is very powerful.”

Contact jsurrey@aol.com to find out more

Welcoming new members to XR Buddhists

XR Buddhists are keen to spread the word about the work that we do, and to welcome new people to our group. We had the idea of starting a monthly “induction” session where newcomers could come along and meet some of us, find out what we do, and how you can get involved.

We want to make these sessions interesting and relevant so have created a survey to see what people would find helpful for us to include. So, if these sessions might be of interest to you – you might be new to XR Buddhists or just haven’t made it to any events yet – please complete the survey by November 15th if you can. It’s just 4 questions and should take about 5minutes. Thank you

Click here to begin

Waiting for COP26 or why there is a vigil outside parliament

By Katja

Outside Parliament

As I cycle towards Parliament Square, fond memories of past vigils come to mind- particularly of a chilly february morning at the lent interfaith vigil, and of the rebellion vigil.

When I arrive at the Vigil, there are 8 of us, some familiar and some new faces. This is the first Friday for this vigil, but a group called ‘Westminster Rebellion’ is organising a rota so that different XR groups are present at parliament every day the parliament sits, until COP26. Originally COP26 was supposed to happen this November in Glasgow, but then it got postponed November 2021 at the beginning of the pandemic – the conference centre in Glasgow is now a temporary hospital on stand-by for people suffering from Covid.

But back to Parliament Square. The faith vigil, which is happening mostly online at the moment, is being held in front of Westminster on Fridays, and today I am part of it. After freezing in February, I have  come prepared this time. It turns out my many layers are not needed  as it’s actually a mild day, the sun is coming out for a bit to greet us, it seems. 

Sitting there we do attract some curiosity from passers-by. Some people are walking past, slowing down, looking. When I am not meditating I am trying to make eye contact. A few are stopping to talk to us, either in support or because they have questions.

I am actually doing a good chunk of meditation that afternoon, then I take a break and get into a conversation with a fellow vigiler. We talk about how this is different to meditating for example in front of a police line at a roadblock. Is this an effective action? We are not causing disruption today, but we are working with our minds in meditation, and sending a powerful signal – about unity as an interfaith vigil, and about the importance of acting on climate change.

Photo by Melanie Nazareth

I think for a while I used to run away from interfaith things, weary of difficult conversations about past and present injustices. But I have come to realise that people that are part of a faith or spiritual tradition often have a kind of superpower. At least that’s how I think about it now. Our actions come from a place of very deep conviction, or faith, and we also have the power of being part of a community. And when we come together, we do send a powerful signal of unity in divided times.

And then COP26. People say a major factor will be the next US government. But that’s not within my sphere of influence, so I keep focussing on what I can influence. And that’s why we sit here and meditate. And protest. And have conversations. 

Reflecting that night at home I am being reminded of a sequence of offerings sometimes used for the mandala offering practice.

The outer offering, what other people can see,  is us sitting there outside Westminster – a reminder to the government to act on climate change.

The inner offering, my sense experience, is one of calm and non-violence.

The secret offering, what this means to me, unity and non-separation.

May all beings be happy.

Katja is a member of XR Buddhists

A day with the High Speed 2 (HS2) Protests

By Joe Mishan

Joe at Euston

I’m standing on a green in front of Euston Station on a grey October day. Around and above me are the majestic old plane trees so characteristic of London’s green spaces. Unfortunately, this space is due to be converted into a taxi rank to make way for the new High Speed Rail (HS2) depot extension.  

One of the tree protestors tells me that he’s been up in the trees for 35 days and that he’s prepared to stay there for as long as it takes. He’s originally from Rumania, energetic, articulate, and clearly knows the tree climbing business (he says he can also dig tunnels if he needs to). So far the tree protesters have been left alone by the police but this is going to change when they start wanting to cut down the trees. The Euston site is only one of the many sites along the HS2 route being occupied by protestors trying to stop the destruction of ancient woodlands. The previous week I was at Jones Hill Wood near Wendover, where protestors were camping in the trees and in tunnels, holding out against the aggressive National Eviction Team in miserably damp muddy conditions. The trees there are nothing less than majestic: huge beech and oak trees soaring into the sky. I know it’s cowardly but I’m glad not to be there as they are put to the chain saw, which is likely to be very soon. 

Jones Wood

In Euston the XR drummers start up with their instantly energising and compelling beat, and we troop off up the road to Euston plaza to hand out leaflets. There’s a great little playlette put on by 3 witches who mix a (vegan) brew in their cauldron to magically instill sanity into the decision makers for HS2. I fervently hope it does the job.   

HS2 is a high-speed rail line starting from Euston. The first stage goes to Birmingham and then it branches off to other northern stations such as Leeds and Manchester. It will cut 20 minutes off the journey time from London to Birmingham, and in the process the route will wreck 683 local wildlife sites 33 SSSI’s and damage or destroy 108 irreplaceable ancient woodlands. The estimated cost is £127 billion (yes billion!).  It’s been condemned by a range of environmental organisations such as CPRE RSPB and the Woodland Trust who have described it as ‘environmentally devastating’. HS2 is surely the epitome of the grand old infrastructure project that should have been consigned to the history books long ago. Like a nuclear power station or a motorway, it is a massively expensive project that could be easily discarded in favour of cheaper simpler and less environmentally damaging options. Protesters want the money to be used to improve the existing lines and build or improve local transport options, at a fraction of the cost. 

I leave Euston in awe of the protestors determination skill and bravery. The protest continues. If you’d like to contribute or find more information please go to the website here: https://standforthetrees.org/   

Update from HS2 Rebellion on Twitter:

Still in Rebellion

By Kaspalita

Faceless Bureaucrats

The September Rebellion is over, but we are still in rebellion.

We are in rebellion against business as usual. We root ourselves in the reality of a heating planet, and in the catastrophic consequences of continued heating. We do this in the face of the denial and greed of corporations and governments and the super-rich.

We rebel in our daily lives, making choices based on reducing harm and in improving the health of the world.

We rebel in our conversations and communication, speaking up for the endangered and the extinct.

We rebel by resourcing ourselves: by learning about the impact of racial oppression and institutional greed, ill-will and ignorance on the climate crisis.

We rebel through our continued protests and demonstrations, on HS2 building sites and in towns and cities across the world.

Three weeks ago I dressed as a Faceless Bureaucrat and slowly marched with other rebels through Worcester city, dipping my hands into a globe filled with (fake) blood, before ‘dying in’ in the city centre. Last weekend Satya and I sat in vigil for an hour, in the rain, in love and grief for the earth. Someone will sit in vigil in the centre of Malvern every Saturday between now and COP 26.

Satya and Kaspa in vigil

We rebel through our personal practices and reflections. We investigate what it means to be human and how our own greed, ill-will and ignorance affect others and the world. We practice compassion and love.

We rebel in our thought and planning, asking what will our next actions be? Where do I want to put my energy? How can I best affect change?

We are in rebellion.

For more information on sitting in vigil, visit Earthvigil.co.uk

To find out about local actions and actions across the country contact your local XR group, or the national XR website.

To find out more about XR Buddhists contact info@xrbuddhists.com, sign up to the newsletter, or come along to a Zoom meeting.