Who’d have thought that this sweet little scrap would end up breaking the law. I was always such a good girl, talking-too-much-in-class aside. I worked so hard at that. I still do.
Tomorrow I will tell the judge that I am guilty of breaking the law. I will also say that my conscience is as clear as a mountain stream. I will say that your health is more important to me than our legal system, dear Earth. I will say that all else has failed, and that it is now time for us to speak up with louder voices. With nonviolence in our hearts. With great courage.
I will hang out with Gandhi on the train*. His closest followers trained for 15 years in his ashram before the Salt March. They practiced steadiness, non-reactivity, discipline, patience. They practiced love.
My path is lit by them. It is lit by Martin Luther King. It is lit by those who have placed their soft bodies onto motorways, over and over. I am trailing behind, so far behind, but the light is clear.
We must bring everyone along with us. Those who are causing harm must be stopped from causing harm, of course. And, they must come along with us somehow, sharing your lap with us, darling Earth. How is this possible? How is it possible not to react to violence? How can we continue?
One step. Another. When we’re tired, others will carry our bags. Others will feed us cake and hear our tears. Another step. Don’t forget to listen to the birds along the way. Can you hear them?
You’ll be with me tomorrow, dear Earth. Holding me up, as always.
With much love, Satya
*The Gandhian Iceberg: A Nonviolence Manifesto for the Age of the Great Turning by Chris Moore-Backman
Recently I had to write a reflection for some Buddhist training I am taking. I chose to write about my experience of briefly joining the Western leg of the Camino to Cop. Before sharing that reflection I want to thank everyone that organised (and continues to organise) the pilgrimage, including Mikey from XR Buddhists who has spent a lot of time working on this event over the past year, and Nick from XR Buddhists who helped organise the Marches leg. The Camino welcomes day walkers joining them at any stage, do check out the website for more details.
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Thirty of us walk quickly and quietly along the edge of a field of purple clover. I am surprised by how strong the scent of the flowers is, how it comes up in waves from the ground as our legs brush past the flowers and the too hot September sun heats the soil. We are walking quickly and quietly. Quickly because there are lots of miles to cover. Quietly because we are pilgrims and although for most of the day we are chattering away it is important sometimes to be quiet and listen. We are listening to ourselves, to our own thoughts and feelings coming and going. We are listening to birdsong (not as much as I hoped for) we are listening to each other’s footsteps, and how our breathing changes when we start walking uphill to the top of the Old Hills.
In the silence I bring to mind why I have joined these walkers for a couple of days. Not for a nice day out with friends (although it is partly that) but to support this pilgrimage that started a week ago, and will go on for five more weeks as they walk up to Glasgow for the COP26 Climate Conference.
Scientists tell us that urgent action is required as people of faith we find individual and collective ways of amplifying this message. This walk is one of those ways.
Later as we cross the River Severn, we are greeted by Johnny who is dressed as a polar bear. “I’ve lost my home” he shouts, reminding us of the importance of the message we are carrying.
In the face of the awful news of extreme weather, and the losses and suffering the world has already faced as a result of the climate crisis and ecological emergency it can be easy to fall into fatalism and doomerism. I have fallen into this myself, sometimes, and imagine that I will do again.
When I am in that place I can use the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence to prop up my despair. Everything changes, it’s all impermanent and there is nothing I can do!
When I can approach this suffering and loss with an open heart without falling into despair my experience of impermanence is very different. I think of the long lifespan of the universe and of the earth and how small a time that human beings have been around for. Remembering that offers a kind of spaciousness and relief. Remembering impermanence also suggests to me that change is possible, although some awful effects of the climate crisis are locked in we don’t have to keep making things worse – the habits of consumption, greed and ignorance can also be impermanent. When we meet impermanence with an open heart we feel grief and loss and this quickens the senses and the mind and invites us to take compassionate action.
The Buddha’s teaching on impermanence should not be about taking us out of the world, but about moving us closer to it.
I am sure the key qualities of Buddhas are that they respond with compassion, creativity and energy to whatever circumstances they find themselves in. I find myself in a world in crisis and try to respond with the same qualities. This is why I am walking with these pilgrims, and why I’ll be joining them in Glasgow in November.
I can’t calculate the exact impact of these actions that I take when I join with activists and protestors, with people from all different faith groups and people without any particular faith. I trust that acting compassionately and with a good heart is always worthwhile. The Buddha talked about the value of watering good seeds. For me this joining in this walk is watering good seeds, meditating out in public places in Glasgow will be watering good seeds and even being arrested for meditating in the road is watering good seeds. I don’t know when those seeds will flourish and flower, and maybe I won’t be around to see it, but still I trust in the value of watering them.
I’m reminded of the old zen story* about a monk who kept fishing a scorpion out of the river. Each time he fished the scorpion out he was stung and his friend asked why keep fishing him out? It is in the nature of the scorpion to sting, the monk said, and it is my nature to keep rescuing him.
It is in the nature of the world to be impermanent, it is the nature of people to change, and it is in the nature of Buddhas to respond with compassion.
*I’m not sure if it’s a real Zen story or not. I can’t find a decent source, but it’s online here.
In September walkers set out from London, Bristol and Hereford on a pilgrimage to the COP26 in Glasgow. The Camino to Cop has been organised by members of XRs Faith Bridge, including members of XR Buddhists. Find out more here: caminotocop.com. As the walk passed Malvern Kaspa joined them for a day and a half, and offered this blessing:
Prayer for Camino
When we call to Amida Buddha, we are calling to the Buddha of infinite light. And what is the light? It is the light of love, and the light of wisdom that sees things as they truly are.
This light surrounds us and encompasses us and the whole universe is shot through with it. And when we look deep inside our hearts we discover the same light there.
Sometimes when we call to the Buddhas we call from a place of fear and delusion, relying on the light outside to illuminate us. Sometimes when we call on the Buddhas we call from a place of gratitude and are sending our own light into the world.
As we look at the Buddha and see their infinite capacity for love, the Buddhas look at us and see the potential for the same.
We call on Amida, the Buddha of infinite light that loves and accepts us just as we are.
We call on Shakyamuni, who set the dharma wheel turning in this age.
We call on Kwan Yin whose compassion is the compassion we find in the world, and who inspires us to compassionate acts.
We call upon Tai Shih Chih whose name means arrival of great strength.
We call upon Manjushri whose sword cuts through ignorance and shows us the way things are
We call upon Samantabhadra who goes with us into the most difficult places and helps us to make offerings there
We call upon all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and upon all of the great beings and ancestors.
And as the Buddha did, we call upon the Earth as witness.
We invite the blessings of these holy beings that our hearts may be big enough to hold the suffering of the world, and that we may have the energy to play our part in responding to this suffering. That we may remember that there is a time for speaking, and a time for silence, and a time for moving and a time for stillness.
That we may remember our deep connection to the Earth and that we are human-animals.
We invite the blessings of these holy beings so that all may awaken to urgency of the climate crisis, and the ecological emergency. And we pray that we might remember that, as Shinran says, once we entrust ourselves to the infinite light we are grasped, never to be abandoned.
Kaspa is a Buddhist teacher at Bright Earth Buddhist Temple, and currently one of the co-coordinators for XR Buddhists.
May we remember the beauty of the Earth and of all living things May we remember how much we have already lost May we remember that what we do today can change the future
Stepping out into the city, sitting in the road occupying the places that we are not allowed to be in May we find peace in the midst of chaos May we find energy in the midst of peace May we find equanimity in the midst of noise and surrounded by the police May we find compassion for all beings
Having taken refuge and knowing we are loved May we make space for all of our feelings without being overwhelmed by them May we meet our own anger and grief with compassion and understanding May we meet the frustration and fear of others with love
In the midst of our own difficulty may we remember that protest is not a right shared around the world May we remember the different ways that we are policed in this country depending on the colour of our skin, our accent and the clothes we are wearing
There will be days when we are exhausted. There will be days when we are upset with ourselves and everyone else. Sometimes we will remember to be kind to ourselves and others through all of this and sometimes we won’t. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are present and sending their merit and love and compassion towards us just the same.
May we remember that Buddhas act spontaneously with love and vigour May we be inspired by their example.
In love and grief for the Earth. Tell the Truth. Act Now. Go Beyond Politics.
Satya was released from a police cell yesterday afternoon, after her fifth arrest for climate protesting. This week she’s marching, singing and sitting in the road with thousands of others in London for Extinction Rebellion’s Impossible Rebellion.
I’m here in Malvern, walking the dogs, seeing my clients, running practice sessions at the temple and sharing videos and pictures of the Impossible Rebellion online.
On Monday I spent an hour and a half working out the subtitling software to add words to a two minute video that Joe sent me first thing that morning. I was keeping one eye on social media for news of the Rebellion. Satya hadn’t taken her phone into the city and was expecting to get arrested first thing.
I’ve been to a London Rebellion before, as well as to actions in other places (like the G7 demonstrations in Cornwall). I’ve been arrested once, and I know that there are Rebels looking out for you when that happens. I know that someone from XR will meet you when you’re released from the police station at any time of day or night. I trust the other people there, and I trust Satya and still there was an anxiety in not knowing what was happening.
When Satya went to her first Rebellion in London in October 2019 I was again at home. That week I was glued to live-streams on social media, frantically trying to work out what going on. I was a novice rebel then, with no in the street experience and no way of imagining what it was like to be there.
That year I was massively affected by all the negative comments on social media. It was distressing to read them all, I became fraught and I carried on reading them.
This year they’ve hardly affected me at all. What’s changed? Two things: one, I have had on the ground experience at Rebellions and while I’ve been out in the streets the majority of ordinary people were supportive (we received a very warm welcome into St. Ives earlier in the year, for example); and two that the climate crisis has become so obvious and the effects of extreme weather so profound that it is simply impossible for me to do nothing and maintain any sense of integrity.
Both of those reasons made it a little easier to not know what was unfolding for Satya as well. At lunchtime on Monday I got a text from a stranger’s phone. They said Satya was fine and hadn’t been arrested. Later that afternoon there was another text from a different phone, Satya was sitting in the road and expecting to be arrested soon. Then there was no more news until yesterday morning. As soon as I woke up I saw the message on my phone: Satya was arrested at 9pm and checked into the station at 2am, she would probably be out in the afternoon.
When I got a message from Satya herself yesterday afternoon there was a big sense of relief. I released a breath that I hadn’t realised I was holding in until that moment. That relief was followed by a surge of pride and of not optimism exactly, but a feeling of being pleased to be part of a movement that is trying to create change.
My heart feels full when I think of all the rebels in London, and especially when I think of the XR Buddhists, taking their practice out into the world. I’m looking forward to seeing them in person on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to continuing to act.
There’s a slogan I see flying on flags at XR demonstrations, “Deeds not words.” It comes from Emmeline Pankhurst and is often used by XR’s FINT* community. It’s often aimed at world leaders, but I have taken it to heart myself. Sometimes taking action eases my despair, sometimes taking action gives me hope that things can change for the better and it always leads to a sense of greater integrity and greater embodiment of my Buddhist practice. In the face of such suffering, how can we do nothing?
*Female, Intersex, Non-binary and Trans
Kaspa Thompson is a Buddhist Teacher, psychotherapist and currently co-coordinator of XR Buddhists.
I would like to say what brought me here to this point in life as an activist.
I was waiting in Grafton Street (in Dublin) on the 10th of October 2019 for my girlfriend to pick me up when a lively crowd came marching by chanting about the Environment.
Straightaway I joined the march and the rest is history. My girlfriend found me a couple of hours later and helped me make my glorious XR blue flag for the second day marching.
It has always been important to my own well-being to actively help when I see help is needed. Deep-seated feelings from a childhood of seeing people being bullied at school and finding the courage to stand up for them in their time of need. The realisation afterward of forging respect, trust, and friendships.
Earth is my friend, I have played in the soil, I have eaten food that has grown from it, I have walked and slept on it, drank from its water, and had my first kiss and surely will have my last kiss upon on it. Every time I breathe in the air or sing and hear the notes I feel connected to it. I have held my children when they were babies and had them gaze at the stars and promised them that I would fight for their future.
As a young Entrepreneur, my mission was to help the Earth somehow to recover from the scars of Human behavior upon this Planet, which for some strange, selfish reason, we call ‘ours’, as if we own it.
As the Project Director of my renewable energy company at the time, I attended a meeting about climate change Earth Summit ‘ET 2001’. I managed to prove that the British Government didn’t have their facts straight on climate issues after I asked a few questions to test their knowledge about which energy sectors were mostly endangering our air quality at that present time. Their figures were out of date and so they were concentrating most efforts on the wrong sector, as the population had exploded and Industry had shifted.
One example of the ‘Bully’ is: Thermal energy projects were being blocked by the British Government and no one had the voice or money to fight them.
I am now a singer-songwriter in Ireland and hope to get the message across within my writing and singing, but alas, currently face the fact that the Irish Government has a say in what may and may not be heard on the radio stations. So I have a new battle against ‘censorship’ against the freedom of expression and speech.
May we long keep up the good fight against the Environmental and Censorship Bullies upon this Planet.
XR Buddhist Kaspa has written a response to the IPPC report on his temple’s website:
On Monday morning I sat and watched the beginning of the live-streamed press conference from the IPCC. I listened to a couple of speakers and then I couldn’t listen any more. I stood up and decided to get on with the day’s work. I went into the bedroom to change into my painting clothes, collapsed onto the bed and sobbed.