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.
* * *
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.
Reflections after joining the Barclays HQ action August 27th Canary Wharf London by Tamsin Bishton.
It’s mid August and I’m trying to work out how I’m going to get involved in the Impossible Rebellion. I’m not new to XR or rebellion, but the fear and the way it is influencing my connection to this Impossible Rebellion is. My heart is telling me I need to take part. It is my intention to take part. But the fear keeps whispering in my ear … It’s been months since I’ve been on the streets. It’s a year since I was at the last rebellion in London. Things have been so challenging since then. The police seem harder now. The risks feel greater. I’m stuck.
My friend and fellow mindfulness teacher Abbie invites me to join the XR Buddhists’ action at Barclays HQ and it is exactly the direct connection and invitation that I need to help me step out of my frozen state. Yes. This is something constructive I can do with my fear.
I arrive at Canary Wharf with my husband (there for morale support and to help with outreach) feeling lighter than I have done in weeks. I have found that once you see the climate and ecological emergency, once you really let it in and feel it, it is impossible to shut it out again. Sometimes I am able to carry it with me in a spirit of “active hope” as Joanna Macy terms it. But at other times the grief is almost overwhelming. Through this last 18 months of pandemic and isolation the grief has often won out over the hope for me. So noticing my lighter heart as we sit on a bench and wait for others to arrive, I feel gratitude starting to bubble up.
I’m new to XR Buddhists and this is my first meditation action of this kind. I’m always in awe of the spirit of comradeship, kindness and shared purpose that flows from person to person during XR actions. It’s wonderful to meet this spirit again as, slowly, the pairs and individuals, dressed in black, looking for each other in the young Jubilee Park, recognise each other and form a group with quiet dignity and a few smiles of recognition.
We don’t know anyone else, and my friend Abbie is taking a well earned rest from the rebellion so isn’t here. But within minutes we’ve been greeted kindly, have shared some stories and connected with people. The sense of welcome is generous and compassionate.
Joe’s holding of the group, his hosting and preparation for the action, is so moving and warm. I share my heartbreak about the climate crisis, and what inspires me about it too, with my walking partner (who it turns out is from Brighton like me – small world) in the preparation space. I listen to her words about the same things. For the first time in a while I am really letting myself feel it. And the opportunity to have a real conversation like this with another human being feels so precious. And too rare.
It’s strange how my fear – which had been strong and commanding even the day before – just evaporates. Even though the police presence is very visible and noisy with lots of walkie talkie jabber, as I tune in to my breath and the movement through my body as we slowly begin to walk from the park to Barclays, what I notice is calm, sadness, purpose and relief.
I listen to the wind blowing with some force around the base of the towers all around us. I hear the talk on the radio.
“They are setting off walking” [crackle] [beep] [crackle] “Walking … they’re walking very slowly.” [beep] [crackle]
I almost laugh out loud.
Sitting in front of the Barclays building with my fellow meditators and the blackbirds is like coming home. I don’t know how else to describe it. As we are guided to raise our hands and practice the fearless Abhaya mudra – right hand held up as if to hold hate, greed, destruction, chaos, hopelessness at bay – then later touching the ground and calling on the earth as witness, I experience a flow of energy and warmth through my body even though the wind is blowing cold and my arms are bare.
I think about my privilege. I can take an action like this with a reasonable certainty that my physical safety is assured and that if I’m arrested my legal rights will be upheld in the end. And I know this is a privilege of my white skin and my class.
My mind moves to thoughts of what our fellow rebels might be doing on the other side of the river. I know the plan is to highlight the story of the blood money that has blighted our world and the lives of black and brown people through centuries of exploitation and violence. I send my sense of fearlessness and this energy that seems to be flowing up from the ground into my body outwards towards them across the river. I think of what this river flowing past us has seen. The goods, the plunder, the human cargo from around the planet.
When we’ve finished meditating and are about to walk back to the park, I try to look up to the top of Barclays tower. It’s not the tallest building at Canary Wharf, but I still can’t quite see the top. The glass reflects back, impenetrable. Are there people there inside? Was anyone watching? Does our meditation, our plea, our desperation to try and make people with power make different choices – does any of it make any sense to them?
On the train home I continue to tune in to the spirit of fearlessness that’s flowing through me. I’m so grateful to the people who organised the action, who held us and guided us, and to the life situation I find myself in which means I’m able to take part. I know fear will be back. It’s an unavoidable part of stepping up to the reality of this terrible, inescapable emergency we’re all facing. But I’m certain that active hope will be here for me too. That’s enough.
At the Barclays action on the 27th August 2021 Shantigarbha led XR Buddhists in a mudra meditation which was developed with Nick and Joe. The spoken words are reproduced below. In the action the words were accompanied by the actions of the blackbirds, seen behind the meditators in the photo above. You can read Joe’s account of this action here.
As I ring the bell we bow to the Earth.
We sit in meditation together in alignment with our practice tradition, in support of all people and all species on the Earth who are facing hardship or threat of extinction in the face of the climate and ecological emergency.
We raise our right hand in the fearless Abhaya mudra. By doing this we express our fierce determination to protect and defend all beings from the harm that is threatened them by the actions of Barclays bank and much of the banking sector, which is funding fossil fuel extraction and projects across the world.
We express our determination to protect and defend all people and species afflicted by oil, coal and gas projects. To bear witness and to stand against corporations who support and fund projects that lead to the contamination of our precious water and air. And we pledge to protect and defend those whose land has been colonised for fossil fuel exploitation. And to stand with those who do not have the resources to protect themselves.
We stand firm in the face of this threat by opening our hearts to our love of the world, the preciousness and beauty of all life.
Lowering our arm we feel our groundedness with the Earth, and our connection with our breath which is also the breath of the Earth.
Touching the Earth with our right hand we call upon the Earth as our witness, we call upon the Earth as our witness that we, representing all people, are part of the intimately interdependent web of life on this planet.
We touch the Earth to acknowledge our mutuality with all life. To acknowledge that which harms others harms us all.
The Buddha-to-be called on the Earth to be his witness on the eve of his Enlightenment.
Now we call on the Earth to witness our right to being here in the fullness of ourselves as part of all life, and the right of all people and species to a life free of contamination and colonisation.
Withdrawing our hand we feel our groundedness with the Earth, and our connection with our breath which is the breath of the Earth.
Opening our eyes in a soft gaze, we awaken to clear seeing. We see the truth of the pain and harm being inflicted across our world by Barclays Bank and the banking sector, which supports projects that make profit for the few and suffering for the many. We awaken to the reality of death, and so we see the preciousness of life. We awaken to the suffering of those who have been seduced by the promise of money and power. And we acknowledge the power of this seduction in our own hearts and the dominance of this in our culture. We acknowledge how we have personally benefitted by the use of fossil fuels and we hold this reality. We do not turn away.
Closing our eyes again we remember our groundedness with the Earth, and our connection with our breath which is the breath of the Earth.
We hold our hands together in front of our heartsin the ancient mudra of devotion and salutation. In our imagination we hold the Chintamani, the wish-fulfilling jewel, to our heart. This jewel represents Enlightenment, the potential for collective Awakening. We send our blessings our care and love to all beings who are suffering as a consequence of our industrialised society’s relentless hunger for oil, which is supported by Barclays and our financial sector. We send kindness and care to human and non-human species being devastated by fossil fuel exploitation in the Boreal forests of Canada, in the vast coal mine in Columbia, and in the areas of the USA blighted by fracking.
Releasing our hands we remember our groundedness with the Earth, and our connection with our breath which is the breath of the Earth
As I ring the bell we bow once again to the Earth.
May all beings on this beautiful precious blue green planet, our home, be free of suffering. May all beings flourish once again, free of the taint of pollution and harm. And so with love and pain in our hearts we meditate together…
You can order Shantigarbha’snew book on climate change “The Burning House: A Buddhist Response to the Climate and Ecological Emergency” here.
It was my second day at the rebellion. Up to now I had been engaged but not emotionally. The action at BP HQ changed that, because of the thoughts it stimulated during the meditation.
I have developed the habit of meditating on the four immeasurable thoughts during actions, somewhat as follows:
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes. May I myself bring them to happiness and its causes. Please Gurus and Deities, bless me to be able to do this.
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes…etc
May all sentient beings abide forever in bliss and its causes…etc
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, and its causes…etc
As I started to get into this meditation, I began to think about who the sentient beings involved in BP include. I began with the CEO, maybe sitting in a big office at the top of the building; then all the others in the company involved in making decisions; then the shareholders, investing in order to get a return; then the motor industry, continuing to produce vehicles that consume the petroleum; the construction companies who make the roads; the politicians who facilitate this whole process through decisions about taxation and planning policy etc; and finally, we the public, who wish to travel from A to B.
As I took the thoughts deeper, I reflected on all the karma (action) of creating the causes of mass extinction through the creation of carbon emissions through using petroleum. I reasoned that if people are ignorant of the consequences, as many of us were in the past, then the karmic consequences aren’t so great. However, now we all know. Everyone from the CEO down knows. So, like it or not, all involved in the process are creating the karmic causes of killing on a wide scale.
The Buddha taught that the karmic results of killing are several – rebirth in a lower realm; when born a human, having the tendency to kill again or experiencing being killed; and living in a place with much violence and lack of resources.
What about knowingly generating the causes of mass extinction?
Not far into this train of thought, I started to break down in tears. It happened a few times during our half hour of meditation. At one point I opened my eyes and saw the most beautiful huge trees opposite, in St James Square. This triggered a further burst of tears for all the forests and their inhabitants destroyed by warming.
As I said in the debrief after, I find this unbearable, when it pierces my inner defences. Meditation has the capacity to do this.
I am now going into retreat for five weeks. I will revisit these thoughts and feelings during the retreat, I am sure. For me, this is the benefit of being a Buddhist, that one has a method for facing and working with the grief of the unbearability of what is happening.
The situation calls for the most powerful compassion. Compassion is the basis for action. Whatever action we take, based on such extraordinary compassion, will have a powerful impact, because the mind is powerful.
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.
The Barclays HQ action August 27th Canary Wharf London: by Joe Mishan
As I exit the station at Canary wharf with my friend Elizabeth to join the others in the park, I notice with alarm a rather generous scattering of police; I immediately know that we have been rumbled. I am carrying a banner which is a bit of a give away I have to admit. A minute after sitting down in the park with the early arrivals for the action, the various exits to the park appear to be secreting police and security, some of whom amble casually toward us. I explain we are an XR Buddhist group and that we are constitutionally quiet, and have no intention to break anything; that we will be meditating in front of a bank in an undisclosed location. The police listen doubtfully, issue warnings about damage to property and general misbehavior before sauntering away to form an amphitheater of yellow jackets as we slowly grow in numbers.
I am gladdened to see so many of us: about 36 Buddhists some of whom I have not seen for some time. And a group of the newly formed Blackbirds who are joining us with their bird-voices and movement as a backdrop to our meditation.
I ask the group to pair up and to reflect on the impact of the climate crisis; what breaks our hearts? What inspires us? As I’m standing in the centre of the group amid the murmur of voices, a heavily uniformed policeman approaches me and says that since I don’t have a partner he is willing to hear my reflections! This is a novel situation (which is in no XR training manual as far as I know) and I’m aware of an instant conflict between curiosity, and eagerness to take up the opportunity to see what happens – and suspicion and hostility. I decide on the former course of action, and tell him about my deep concern for my children, how my early life primed me for sensitivity to harm to the natural world, and my guilt at my contribution to the crisis. He seems attentive in a somewhat distant way. He declines to reciprocate though, saying that he is not allowed to share his opinion whilst in uniform. He does tell me however that he’s been in uniform – the army and the police – since the age of 17. I suppose I will never know what his intentions in approaching me were: and I wondered also whether he really knew what they were himself.
We form a column to exit the park. Our placards read: ‘Barclays: the Ecocide Bank’ under a picture of the Earth on fire. It’s pithy and in yer face: and also true. Barclays is the highest investor in fossil fuels in Europe. Since the Paris agreement they have poured $145bn into fossil fuel projects around the world, and despite net zero promises there is no sign of them slowing down. We set off in a slow meditation walk to the deep resonance of a single drum-beat. The sound echoes eerily off the glass and concrete of the streets.
Canary wharf is in my experience a uniquely dehumanised, de-natured place. There is something almost sinister here: a place of rigid angularity, every centimeter privatised, claimed and conquered by the corporate dollar. Gleaming surfaces occupying the vertical and horizontal planes. It was into this arid place that our march took us: the slow heartbeat of the drum echoing the heart-ache of all we have lost in the name of profit.
On reaching the towering bulk of Barclays we were greeted (or intimidated), by the sight of more than 40 police lining the edges of the roads, backed up by metal barriers. Such is the mobilizing power of meditation. We were granted a place to sit at a safe distance from the front doors of the building and we settled onto our places. I was handing out leaflets to the few passersby and was privileged to witness the soft insistent power of lines of meditators sitting in stillness. It was in intensely moving experience shared, so I heard later, by the head of security at the bank.
Shantigarba began the guided meditation as the Blackbirds gathered behind us, performing bird-language curiosity at the unusual stillness of these humans, and then joining in in appreciation with vocal calls and postures which echoed and amplified. The meditation moved through four mudras; the fierce abhaya mudra, the Earth-touching mudra, calling on the Earth to witness our belonging to web of life, then an invitation to open the eyes to see clearly into the pain being inflicting on the Earth. And finally in anjali, the meditators bowed to the Earth and sent kindness and well-wishing to all beings blighted by the impacts of the fossil fuel industry.
As I watched the silent synchronicity of movement flow across the lines of meditators, the grief I had been feeling all week broke through again. It was intensified I think by the unyielding immobility of the police ranks, the locked and closed doors and the empty glass windows of the building behind them. My grief was the grief for the lost heart of humanity; lost beyond reach in a labyrinth of greed and delusion.
After the sitting meditation we walked again in slow procession back to the park to gather again and read the Buddhist Declaration of Interdependence. It was good to be back under the few trees in the park again, their generous shelter and reliable presence.
At this action, like so many others, I was reminded of the exceptional grace and power of our faith and its expression through meditation. I felt honoured to be part of this Sangha of Buddhist activists which has such heart and courage in it.
Thank you to all who took part, and a deep bow to the Backbirds who have flown into our hearts like a blessing.
Namaste to all
Joe Mishan was one of the original co co-ordinators of XR Buddhists and is pictured below.