A letter from Buddhists Across Traditions about earth day

The letter below comes from our friends at Buddhists Across Traditions. We encourage you to attend their short sunrise and sunset meditations that they are putting together for Earth Day on the 22nd of April. They are also coordinating a film to showcase what all the Buddhist organisations are doing for the climate emergency and we will put something together on behalf of XR Buddhists. If you would like to contribute please contact info@xrbuddhists.com by the 27th of March. Please share this letter with your local Sanghas and Buddhist groups and encourage them to respond.

Dear Dharma Practitioners & Elders,

The earth is not just our environment. The earth is our mother. 

(Dalai Lama XIV & Thich Nhat Hanh) 

We hope this letter finds you safe, peaceful and happy. 

The Earth and caring for the earth are fundamental to our Buddhist practice: the Buddha touched the earth on attaining enlightenment. You may be aware already how the destruction of nature and the resources of nature is impacting us all. Our respected teachers attribute this to ignorance, greed and separation from the earth and other living beings.

We are grateful for the numerous contributions Buddhists across all traditions and schools are making to address this. We write to you for us to collectively come together to show our commitment to our practice and the Earth- together we are one.

WE ARE THE EARTH – 22nd April,  Earth Day

We invite you, along with your sangha practitioners, to  come together on Earth Day to sit together and honour the Earth, generating the energy of healing, harmony and peace. 

We are delighted to offer a communal online space at sunrise and sunset for practitioners across all traditions to sit together in harmony.   Please join us with your sangha. We will be gathering to practice for 30 minutes at 0600 (sunrise) and 2000 (sunset) on Zoom. The zoom link for those meetings is here (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83386645643). There will be an opportunity for members to practice in accordance with their tradition. Please find attached some images to promote the event to your membership/practitioners. 

We ask that you also encourage your members to take the opportunity to commit to some action to mark the day. A list of possible actions is included here.

Honouring Buddhist Earth Action Achievements 

For this day we would like to take the opportunity to gather and showcase the numerous projects and commitments Buddhist groups, organisations and networks have been doing around climate, environmental justice and caring for the earth. 

We would like to invite you to showcase your achievements, please send us a short submission (statements/presentations/videos) outlining what you have done/are doing by the 30th March. We will then consolidate all submissions, which will then be shared on social media on the day and also sent to relevant outlets. We will also send you a completed version for your own use on social media or other fora.

We will be honoured to showcase you in this way.  Please do not hesitate to contact us on buddhistsacrosstraditions@gmail.com, should you have any queries. 

We look forward to future collaboration as we work across traditions to take care and raise awareness of the preciousness of our Earth. We will be in touch again to see how we may unite for upcoming milestone events like the G7 conference and the global climate change conference – COP26.

May all beings live in harmony with the earth and one another,

Kamlo, Mikey, Rehena

pp

Buddhists Across Traditions

www.buddhistsacrosstraditions.org
Who we are: Buddhists across Traditions is a UK BPOC/BAME-centered collective (with white allies and currently white-led organisations) uniting Buddhist and Mindfulness groups in service of racial healing, social equity and justice. We recognise that our practices can blossom a radically different society.

ON THE ROAD TO HYDE PARK CORNER

By Mat Osmond

I’m staring at my screen as a handful of American road blockers are all but beaten up by a passer-by on his way to work. I keep replaying his high-pitched, furious shout: “What is wrong with you people?”.

The rebels’ vulnerability is palpable but the scene evokes a deeper sense of frailty than that. The idea, maybe, that obstructing a few commuters might head off the relentless extermination of the living world that both rebels and motorists are caught up in, like it or not. For all its nastiness, a sort of unfunny silliness seems to hover about the scene.

Anyway, whoever those road blockers are, this letter’s for them.

Back in Spring 2019 some friends from Cornwall decided to mark XR’s April uprising by walking the 400 miles from Land’s End to London. They set out on their March for Life with a month in hand, timing their arrival in London for its start. I’d arranged to join those falling in with the march at a West London tube station for its final ten-mile leg. At this point I’d not much idea what that would entail.

We heard the drumming well before we saw them, then caught sight of bright flags swirling above the traffic. Finally several hundred marchers swung into view, flailing drums and yelling. As they approached, big sewn and painted banners showed there were other groups here now – people who’d walked from Cardigan, Stroud and other parts of the West country, hooking up with the Cornwall marchers as they neared the city.

Over the next few hours I got the hang of what these people meant by a march. Among other things it meant occupying whole lanes of the busy dual carriageway into London, and closing down busy roundabouts armed with nothing more than High Viz vests and attitude.

At some point I fell in with a ten-year-old girl and her grandmother. Somewhere else in the crowd the girl’s mother was here too. The next time I saw the two of them was a week later on the BBC as they spoke about watching the mother get arrested on Waterloo Bridge, and how proud they both were of her.

As we came to the last stretch through central London, heading for the muster at Hyde Park Corner, the police presence became much more intense. By the time we reached Kensington High Street their motorcycles were buzzing and weaving round us like wasps at an August picnic. In the midst of all this a formidable and likeable Welsh woman at the head of the column – the kind of person you might want beside you, faced with an angry motorist – swung round as we entered the intersection of Kensington High Street and Church Street and announced in her booming Welsh lilt that it was surely time that ‘we all sat down for a nice little rest’.

So along with two hundred others I did as I was told. (It seemed best.) A minute later we were squashed up shoulder to shoulder, our ragged circle filling up the space between four sets of traffic lights. And within seconds, of course, we were surrounded by backed-up traffic.

Ten minutes later we were still sitting there. The police had begun remonstrating with the march stewards, but to my surprise they weren’t moving in to arrest anyone. Everything that unfurled over the next fortnight seems to be right there, looking back. The heady triumph of ‘taking’ a busy junction, when the truth is surely that we were being given it. And for me, at that point, an uneasy sense of the ridiculousness of it all – sitting in the road as people attempt to get to wherever they’re going. The arrogance of it, even.

Then a man in his 20s began to speak. He asked us to join hands and called for a two minutes’ silence. A pause to remember the non-human species being driven to extinction, right now, by human civilisation. 200 species vanishing every day, he reminded us. One of those best-guess abstractions that gesture towards a too-big-to-touch grief. Towards a dying so all-pervasive that most of us struggle to even get it in focus, let alone act upon it.

For that two minutes, hands held in silence as an ever-growing number of engines revved on all sides, it felt like a deep well of calm fell open within the city’s endless hubbub. Even the police stood in silence now, waiting. I think those two minutes were when I got Extinction Rebellion. Or when Extinction Rebellion got me, maybe. And as we finally climbed to our feet and headed for the Knightsbridge junction where the game would begin all over again, a half-jesting idea popped into my head – one that, silly or not, seems to have stuck there. That what I was watching, sat there in the road, was the birth some new species of religion. So new, in fact, that it was just beginning to work itself out. As if in capital cities around the world, something was trying on one shape after another as it worked out what sort of creature it might be exactly. And as it puzzles its way through each absurd little gesture of resistance, what’s becoming clear is that most of the old rules for how religions are meant to behave are no longer of much use.

‘Here’ it seems to say ‘it really doesn’t matter what name you address your prayers to, nor what you do or don’t believe about them, nor what you choose to call yourself. Here, there’s just one rule to steer our emerging communion (shall we call it that?): that we come together only when and only by physically obstructing the extinction-engine that our culture has become.’

And because no one quite knows how this is meant to work we keep getting it wrong, and will presumably continue to do so. All we have to go on, after all, is that at this point any gathering which does nothing to hinder our culture’s murderous trajectory no longer speaks to our shared need.

I said that this letter was for that handful of American rebels. I hope they had good friends on hand to support them and didn’t lose heart. But I think I was wrong leave out the passer-by.

What does prayer mean to you? Whatever reply comes easiest to your lips, may it set you down between that man’s perplexed rage and the defiant, reedy voices of those young women blocking the road with their uncertain singing. And may it quietly open you to what holds them and all of us within its dark belly: the looming grief which these scrappy encounters keep calling out to passing traffic with no real idea of what to do about it. And may that prayer allow you to remain there in the uneasy space between them without pretending to have an answer, and to see this moment – which is to say, our moment – for the precious opportunity that it surely is.

Note: this is a light edit of a letter I wrote to friends at The Way of the Rose, a loose knit inter-religious rosary fellowship.

Mat Osmond, Mid-Cornwall XR

Mat Osmond’s a writer and visual artist based in Falmouth, with a long-standing sense of connection to Pureland Buddhism’s grounded understanding of prayer. His most recent essay for The Dark Mountain Journal, The Schoolgirl and the Drunkard, picks up some of the threads spoken of here. Much of Mat’s spare time currently goes on helping to further the regenerative groundswell that is XR, within his local community and beyond. He’s convener for Art.Earth’s 2021 creative summit at Dartington, UK, Borrowed Time: on death, dying & change.

What Would Buddha Do?

By Joseph Mishan

Here is the video and transcript of the talk Joe gave at the What Would Buddha Do? people’s assembly on 3rd Feb.

A commentary on 3 questions:

  • What are appropriate responses to the Climate and Ecological Emergency
  • What can climate activists learn from Buddhism
  • Where does Buddhism and XR-style activism converge and diverge

As Buddhists we are asked to face into the truth of the way things are. I think it’s really important to enter this discussion with full awareness of what is at stake; with awareness of the extent and gravity of the Climate and Ecological Emergency that we are facing. Otherwise it can become an interesting absorbing, even fascinating discussion that is divorced from the real world and so lacks urgency and reality.

I’m sure a lot of you perhaps all of you, will be familiar with the facts of the Climate and Ecological Emergency, but I know from my own experience that it’s so easy to forget and to drift into complacency or into numbness.

So I’m going to do a very brief whistle stop tour of the facts of the crisis

We now know that the rate of extinction of species means that we are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event. Human activities have caused the world’s wildlife populations to plummet by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years. And humans plus domesticated livestock now account for 96% by biomass of all life on Earth.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is approaching a level not seen for at least 800,000 years. On our current trajectory we are heading for a global average temperature increase of at least 3.2%C which could occur as early as 2060 according to a recent UN report. This would intensify mass extinction and large parts of the globe would become uninhabitable. We can expect starvation, intensified extreme weather events mass migration and armed conflict. We have 8 years to reduce CO2 levels by 45% if we are to have any chance to avoid this.

The Earth’s oceans are acidifying, heating up and rising as a result of atmospheric heating and the C02 increase. Acidification is causing mass die-offs of coral reefs which are the breeding ground for many species of fish and feed a large proportion of the population. Half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached to death since 2016. We can expect further escalation of extreme storms, storm surges and flooding. This will effect coastal cities and communities across the planet.

And it is important not to forget the fact that poorer communities and countries around the world are the first to experience these impacts  although they have done least to contribute to the problem.

James Hansen former director of NASA, who is outspoken on climate crisis, has said that the Earth’s warming has brought us to the “precipice of a great tipping point”. If we go over the edge, it will be a transition to “a different planet”, an environment far outside the range that has been experienced by humanity. There will be no return within the lifetime of any generation that can be imagined, and it will exterminate a large fraction of species on the planet”

Is there hope in all this?

Yes. There is hope. The chief of the UN Environment Programme this:

‘Is it possible to avert disaster: Yes? Absolutely. Will it take political will? Yes. Will we need to have the private sector lean in? Yes. But the science tells us that we can do this.”

And I think the new Biden administration in the USA is looking really impressive and hopeful, with the climate issue being embedded in the structure of Government, new initiatives and jobs, and a lot of consultation and involvement of impacted minorities. There are also many signs from industry;  from car manufacturers to even the banking world that world is waking up to the crisis.  But action needs to be swift and radical. We will see what COP26 in Glasgow brings: XRBuddhists will be there making it happen of course.

It’s against this background then that I’d like to share a few reflections on the questions in front of us. I hope this will be food for thought.

I’m going to offer some reflections drawn from my own personal experience and perspective of activism which I hope will provide some fertile ground for the discussion we are going to do in our groups.

The climate crisis is, and will be, the cause of widespread suffering, particularly within communities that are often largely ignored. This includes non-dominant cultures in the global south and non-human species across the globe. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or numbed out by the statistics, and to forget about how much suffering is, and will be, experienced.The image of a koala bear wandering listlessly as if bewildered, in a burning forest in Australia last year with its fur smouldering, was so painful to watch. The fact that now only 4% of all life on earth by mass is wild, is a devastating statistic, and the image of hundreds of endangered sea turtles washed up dead coast of Mexico last year because of early floods was just really hard to look at.

So what can I do? Referring back to the first question What are appropriate responses to the Climate and Ecological Emergency?’

You may be aware that the phrase ‘an appropriate response’ is from Zen master Wun Yen in the 9th century. It was a typically pithy Zen response to the question from a student which was “What are the teachings of your entire lifetime?” and Wun Yen simply said, “An appropriate response.”

I think there are 3 points when addressing the appropriateness question (which I take to be a koan): firstly, what is an appropriate response to the level of urgency, secondly what is an appropriate response in view of our personal capacities, and thirdly what is an appropriate response in view of our alignment with our precious faith tradition.

I’m going to look at each in turn.

Starting with the level of urgency. The threat to the planet is imminent. It would surely be foolish to sit in the path of a No 52 bus whilst contemplating the essential emptiness of all phenomena. It is appropriate to do what we can to get out of the way. You may be aware of the Pali word ‘samvega’. Samvaga means ‘spiritual urgency’  – ‘a chastening sense of our own complacency in the face of suffering’. It refers to waking up to the realities of old age sickness of death, of how we have been living so blindly and complacently. Biku Bhodi has said that in the light of the climate and ecological crisis that: “we are invited not to panic, but to fiercely and decisively response”. This does not determine what we do, but does  informs the urgency and energy with which we do it.

Second, what is appropriate to our personal capacities – our talents and our passions? There are many and varied ways we can engage in this crisis, and it makes sense to find a way to engage which is in alignment with our abilities, our interests and our life circumstances. We need most of all to engage with what moves us; what evokes our passion and our compassion.  As  Howard Thurman the civil rights activist has said:

“Ask what makes you come alive, and go and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

And thirdly, how we act needs to be appropriate to or in alignment with our our faith tradition; because our faith is an invaluable and irreplaceable sustaining and guiding force, especially in this time of crisis. With its depth, its richness and its clarity our faith is an indispensable compass which we can return to time and time again.

And to now speak to the question ‘what can climate activists learn from Buddhism’: I’d like to show you some images from our actions. And I’d invite you to be aware of what is evoked in you when you see these photos:

wwbd1

Image 1 of 7

What I see in these images is embodied equanimity in the face of threat  – the threat from police ranks or a disapproving public; and equanimity in our willingness to face into the threat of the climate emergency. And I would submit that the Buddhist deliberate cultivation, and capacity for equanimity as an embodied experience is a key quality that is perhaps unique to Buddhism . Although I would be interested to hear from other faith traditions on this point.

I’d like to add though that engagement in NVDA is also a means by which our practice develops and deepens. Perhaps in particular our capacity to hold strong emotions like fear, agitation or intense excitement are stretched and challenged during engagement. So while we approach action with equanimity our equanimity is also developing. It is after all when are challenged that we make progress on the path: insight and development is rarely the result of an easy life. I have to add that In my experience it is surprising how often joy and love arises as we witness the courage and beauty of our fellow activists.

A few comments now on Where do Buddhism and XR diverge and converge.

Is being a nuisance to the general public, being loud, or openly opposing something, which are all part of the XR approach to activism, in keeping with our faith? How does it sit with us?

Perhaps this partly depends on how we frame and approach what we are doing. The felt experience of seeing ourselves as simply being in opposition to is radically different I think than taking a stand for something we hold dear. Even though they might both result in the same action. An oppositional stance is aimed at the wrongness of the other – the damage done by oil exploration for example – and can lead into by blame and outer-directed anger. Taking a stand against oil exploration on the basis of the damage and pain inflicted upon wildlife or indigenous people comes much more from compassion, and results in the quality of fierce passion.

But there may be actions that XR do that we feel after reflection, are beyond our vows to non-harming or right speech or action. This is for each of us to determine in conversation with our Sanghas. And can we include the possibility that there are times when we are clinging to our faith or hiding on our cushions rather than just taking refuge? So instead of using our faith and practices as a root from which we grow into the world, we stay safe and protected. This goes back to the question of personal appropriateness again which I referred to above: have we found what really matters to us in all this; and what is right for us at this time in our lives?

There is also the question, what is activism actually anyway? Is talking to friends about the climate crisis, or engaging in forums like this part of activism? Is sitting in vigil in our gardens or a public place a form of activism? My own decision to risk arrest was undoubtedly the culmination of an internal  movement which started with less direct actions. Perhaps we might think about our contribution, what ever it is, as a small stream or tributary – one of many such streams – that feeds into a powerful river. We should not lose sight of the fact that we are all a part of something much larger than ourselves.

So to conclude

It is often said that there are two wings to the Buddhist path: wisdom and love, which suffuse and balance each other. Drawing upon these resources we can be steady and powerful. From this place of interconnection beyond our small sense of self, from our experience of the lived reality of interconnectedness, we can perhaps if we listen deeply, get an inkling of what our earth needs of us and what our heart needs; and perhaps find that they are after all, the same. This is to invite our Buddha nature. To ask what would the Buddha do is also to ask: how does the Buddha within speak to us from our hearts when we listen, in those rare and precious moments of deep silence, when we contemplate the terrible suffering that is already being afflicted upon our world.  And when we contemplate too , the beauty of the potential that is within this human form, and which is reflected in the life forms with which we are privileged to share this world?

So these are some thoughts and reflections which I hope might be of some use as you go through the next hour or so.

My invitation is to listen deeply, to listen patiently without expectation to what emerges in you. There is no right or wrong feeling or thought. Only the invitation to remain as far as possible in contact with yourself as we  lean into the realities of this crisis; into this suffering world which yet still so alive, and so astonishingly complex and so achingly beautiful. 

Outcomes of our ‘what would buddha do’ community enquiry

Buddha head with foliage in the background

There were six groups who came together to address the main theme of ‘What would Buddha do?’ by sharing reflections on the  talk given by Joe, and responding to the questions’ What are appropriate Buddhist responses  to the emergency?’’ What can Buddhism offer  climate activism?’   and ‘Where do Buddhism and XR action converge /diverge? ‘

All groups touched on the theme of compassion pointing out that it is appropriate for Buddhists to put compassion first, and that Buddhists are more likely to focus on compassion than rage. Wisdom also needed to relate compassionately to those suffering, and that Buddhists can help others to turn towards difficult truths with compassion. Buddhism can provide a unifying soothing balm, and compassion and mindfulness are  expressions of regenerative culture.

On the theme of unity and interconnection, it was said that collaboration and interfaith action help to change the shared narrative. It is appropriate for Buddhists to respond by supporting others, joining together, emphasising interconnectivity, expressing interbeing  and sowing seeds of hope  Also we can help our communities, including our own Buddhist communities, to get on board. Using tantric precepts, we can care for our own energy and the energy of others in the climate activism movement. 

Regarding taking non violent direct action,  people felt that our practice can help us to define our authentic edge with this, and respond with honesty , and also that a sense of urgency  should accompany the underlying sense of compassion and love. Being out of our comfort zone is itself part of our practice, as is reflecting on the personal practice that relates to inconveniencing others, and these help us to grow. We can find ways to exercise respectful remonstration when needed. Buddhism is itself a revolutionary approach to life and radical action can take many diverse forms. We can each reflect on how to be most effective: by trying to wake others up, or by focusing on waking ourselves up ?  

People felt that the qualities that Buddhists can bring to climate activism, through sitting and walking meditation and our general presence ,  include:-

stillness; peace; silent witnessing: embodied equanimity; dignity; determination ; the power of bearing witness; non violence and deescalation.

Finally with regard to the Buddhist faith itself, in relation to activism, participants mentioned the importance of taking refuge over and over, reliance on faith and practice, inclusion of  devotional aspects into activism , and the inspiration of the timeless quality of the teachings of the Buddha.  

If you would like to keep in touch with XR Buddhists you can sign up for our newsletter at www.xrbuddhists.com/newsletter or you can join our Telegram channels (chat and broadcast). 

New XR Buddhists Action Group

Members of XR Buddhists sitting in the road in Parliament Square in front of lines of police.

2021 is going to be a big year for actions (pandemic willing!).  And XR Buddhists want to be prepared for it.   We’ve taken part in many actions as a group, including mass meditation, closing down banks for the afternoon, arrests for sitting in a road as well as online actions.  When we had our recent workshop on ‘how will XR Buddhists change the world in 2021’ I was really taken with the number of ideas people had for things that we could do.  These included:

  • Massive die in to show that climate change means suffering and death
  • Action in tufton street/think tanks
  • Earth day action in spring
  • Earth overshoot day action
  • Ordain trees
  • Rebellion of One
  • World Water Day
  • Action around flooding
  • Meditate outside Newspaper/Media Corporations
  • Meditate in Parks during lockdown with an info board
  • Coordinated actions (vigil/sits/ silent march) in different geographies on same day: i.e. Earth day or Nov UN Climate Change Conference
  • Mass chantings at the next Rebellion

We’d like to get a group together to discuss how we can turn these things into reality.  You don’t need to be arrestable to join this group!  Actions require lots of people, including people to take photos, to update media, to be a Legal Observer, to steward, to offer wellbeing and more.  

If you would like to keep in touch with this group please join the new actions Telegram channel here.  If you aren’t sure what Telegram is then you can email info@xrbuddhists.com. We will have our first meeting on Friday 5th March at 1700 and you can join that on zoom.  As ever, details of our events can be found on our events page. 

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.

Dharma Warrior Training: Practice at the Front Lines

By Vulpes vīrya 

It’s 6am, two hours before sunrise, raining lightly when we pick up my friend. With masks on and phones off, he asks, “So, what is the plan?” We have twenty minutes until showtime. He has no clue, having committed to the general plan the night before and gone to bed early. Not that he slept well, he tells us. Like myself, his heart was racing, granting only shallow sleep and vivid dreams. To calm his nerves and soothe his mind, he tells me, he chanted the paramitas. Myself, I visualized Vajrasattva and did tonglen practice. 

Breathing in, I breathe in fear.

Breathing out, I breathe out fearlessness. 

Breathing in, I breathe in uncertainty.  

Breathing out, I breathe out clarity.

The basic components of the plan were simple, but we’d heed our intuitions once in action. Once dropped off on the side of the highway, we removed the ladder from the trailer and descended the embankment into the forest, eventually sloping to the rail tracks. Neither of us had been here before, but we knew that our destination was accessible this way, plus we’d be in the shadows. Trying not to clank the ladders, we navigated a sea of blackberries, and eventually found a slippery watercourse by which to descend the steep ravine. In stealth, we moved towards the guarded enclosure topped by razorwire. I whispered prayers to the trees we were there to protect. 

Our overarching goal was to get past the razorwire and secure the tree house perched in the branches of a massive cottonwood tree. The general plan, we reviewed, would involve a two-piece aluminium ladder, and it could go two ways depending on how close the fence was to the scaffolding around the tree. 1) We’d lean the first ladder against the outer fence, I’d climb up, he’d pass me the second ladder, which I’d slide down the other side and use to descend into the enclosure; or 2) the ideal scenario, the fence would be close enough to the scaffolding, such that we could lean the assembled ladder directly onto it, snubbing the fearsome razorwire altogether. From either of those points on, my comrade would run for it and evade arrest, and I would race up the scaffolding, get into the treehouse and lock myself in place for as long as possible.

Trees behind razorwire with construction workers in camouflage trousers and yellow jackets and hats.  There is a sign about it being 'Trans Mountain property' and warning people not to obstruct.

After leaving the highway, our approach to the enclosure took about 15 minutes. As we stumbled through shrubs and thorns, over logs and streams, our silence was absorbed by the white noise of the highway. I murmured the Green Tara mantra, recalling the fearlessness she evokes in the midnight forest, and opening my heart to her boundless support and love. Although nervous, I was comforted by the darkness. I also felt confident by the non-verbal communication with my friend. Although I didn’t know him very well, I knew that he was a committed meditator with a love for Mother Earth. Wasn’t it paradoxical that, from a group of over 70 activists dedicated to “Protect the Planet Stop TMX”, this gutsy mission was taken on by the two Buddhists? It made me laugh out loud.

From August 2nd through to autumn, we had successfully delayed tree clearing for construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) pipeline at Holmes Creek, in Metro Vancouver. Four individuals had taken turns occupying a portaledge hung from the trees, with a base camp of constant support. Living in a one-person tent suspended 30’ above the ground for several days is not for everyone, but it’s not so bad, and the generosity and inspiration the action galvanized in others was remarkable. [See my Youtube videos under #stopTMX, from my 5 days on the portaledge. Also, for an excellent video about the tree house, search Youtube for “The Highest Treehouse in the World!?” of Dec. 11, 2020.] Summer at the Holmes Creek protection camp had been blissful. 

According to the TMX construction schedule, tree clearing and pipeline construction would resume after December 10th. So, after celebrating our small victory, we’d set about preparing for winter. Notably, a new tree dwelling emerged at Holmes Creek.T, an energetic young Québécois with a love of nature decided to build it, and what emerged was a masterpiece. Affectionately known as the Hilton, the tree house was built around the branches of a large cottonwood, about 70’ off the ground. Accessed by a rope with ascenders, its occupation would be limited to trained climbers. The Hilton featured a roof and walls, windows, a little propane stove, a fold-up sleeping ledge and a trap door, as well as provisions. For December 9th, we’d scheduled a climber training/ refresher, and the first overnight occupation would commence that evening. 

A group of people climbing a tree, there is a wooden platform at the top of the tree. The sky is blue and the perspective is looking up at the trees from the ground.

T had been working on the treehouse until 11pm on Dec. 8th. If only he’d slept there! In the early hours of Dec. 9th, the Holmes Creek Camp was raided by TMX with the force of three private police agencies (CN Rail, BNSF Rail and RCMP). In the blink of an eye, our beloved camp was surrounded by secure fencing, injunction tape and signage; the Hilton secured and fortified. With the tip of an arborists chainsaw, the portaledge came down. It was a tragedy. We’d lost not only our stronghold, but also our beacon of resilience, optimism and hope. 

As the days progressed, we drummed and smudged sage; sang and shouted; did road blockades with signs and banners held to the traffic. Like disempowered ants, we scurried around our quashed nest and watched everything we held dear destroyed by a colossal military power. All the while, the Hilton cottonwood become enclosed by layer upon layer of fencing. Soon scaffolding started to go up around the tree. By Sunday Dec. 13th, it had reached the base of the treehouse and we knew the Hilton would be disassembled the next day. 

My thinking that Sunday was clear. If I could find someone to help me with the ladder, I was willing to try my best at this final chance of winning back the Hilton. If successful, we would delay construction, add to the steadily inflating project expenses and gain some media attention. If unsuccessful, I’d get arrested, possibly injured. I was willing to risk it. The writing is on the wall, with more good reasons to cancel this pipeline by the day. Yet this federal project is behaving like a tanker lacking a navigator. Even with federal statements on its lacking profitability; even as markets vanish and shipping ports close; as the expenses to the public purse grows and as covid outbreaks become the norm at its man camps; even so TMX continues to drive forward, terrorizing and criminalizing indigenous peoples protecting their unceded territories, destroying critical habitat of species at risk, all the while expanding tar sands infrastructure, and diverting funds away from necessary social investments. I was intent to do what I could to stop the needless destruction.

Back to the pre-dawn of Mon. Dec. 14th , I find myself in this absurd situation, hiding in the shadows and preparing to confront razor wire, heavy security and intense physical exertion. As we hid behind the wide cottonwoods near the enclosure, prepared to assess the feasibility of our mission, the Shambala Warrior mind training echoed in my veins. 

Firmly establish your intention to live your life for the healing of the world. Be conscious of it, honour it, nurture it every day. Be fully present in our time. Find the courage to breathe in the suffering of the world. Allow peace and healing to breathe out through you in return. When you see violence, greed and narrow-mindedness in the fullness of its power, walk straight into the heart of it, remaining open to the sky and in touch with the earth. 

Trees.  There is scaffolding in the trees and at the top of a tree there is a wooden treehouse. There are a few people in yellow jackets moving up the scaffolding.

I could feel my posture and breathing steadied by years of Dharma practice. I felt that I was in the right place at the right time, stepping up to do what needed to be done, like a Bodhisattva in training. I was here on behalf of the trees, the water and air, and all the wildlife reliant on this green corridor. I was here to speak and act for the present and the future (maybe even for the past); for the children in the 26 schools along the pipeline’s route; for the salmon runs that had rebounded against all odds. I was here as an expression of humanity, to protect and connect with all my relations of life; to honour and nurture my indigenous roots, colonized so many generations ago; to decolonize my heart-mind.

In our moment of decision, I was not afraid. I felt calm and grounded, and wholly prepared for whatever would follow. As we peered out from behind the trees, we saw more security inside the enclosure than we’d expected. Whereas the previous five days had featured only one, today there were several security figures, with at least two uniforms, patrolling inside the enclosure. We also saw numerous blinking coloured lights, and understood these were motion-detection and other forms of surveillance. As if to settle our decision beyond doubt, a guard inside the enclosure approached the fence nearest us and pointed a small box in our direction. I slipped back behind the tree for a few minutes and breathed quietly. Peering slowly out again, the guard had not moved and was still pointing the object in our direction. I guessed it was an infrared camera. Having noticed some movement that implied guards might be leaving the enclosure and moving in our direction, we didn’t need to discuss. We exchanged only one word: “Run.” After crossing the rail lines, we found a slope amenable to descending to the greenway below. From there, it was an easy 2 km to where we’d be collected, still under cover of darkness.

As we walked, we talked about our mission through the lens of the Dharma. We both felt happy that we’d tried, grateful that the decision had been so clean and easy to make, and glad that we were not attached to outcomes. We reflected on how the Buddha had been an activist, 2500 years ago, and that we were expressing this lineage. Granted, we are deluded to the extent that we can’t know everything, including how “things” are meant to go in this crazy world. However, we reflected that we are informed on current science, economics, and politics. Those profiting from this harmful project are also deluded, yet the effects of their actions have profoundly destructive consequences that extend vastly beyond their reach as individuals. Our small act was one of healing; for all of us; for all beings.

Do not set your heart on particular results. Enjoy positive action for its own sake and rest confident that it will bear fruit. Staying open, staying grounded, remember that you are the inheritor of the strengths of thousands of generations of life.

When we venture out from the prison of self-concern, in service to life on Earth, Joanna Macy recalls two gestures that grant empowerment. The earth-touching mudra (Bhumi sparsha) gives us the authority that we are grounded in dependent co-arising with all things, and that our inseparability from all life gives us power to act on behalf of all beings. From that profound understanding comes the Abhaya mudra, the fearlessness gesture of right hand raised, palm forward. This mudra means “fear not: you will never be separated from the web of life, for that is what you are”. (In On Being With Our World, p. 178) 

Staying open, staying grounded, recall that the thankful prayers of future generations are silently with you. Staying open, staying grounded, be confident in the magic and power that arise when people come together in a great cause.

As a citizen, I have engaged in several forms of communication with my government and its agencies. I now feel impelled to civil disobedience because I have witnessed and tasted the corruption, systemic racism and violence of this state. It’s become clear that petitions, letters, and other forms of polite democratic engagement will not achieve the changes we require quickly enough. With my conditions as they stand, I am grateful for the opportunity to step up and actively challenge the greed and ignorance that is driving this fossil fuel enterprise. The risks are high, but they are worth it.  

Staying open, staying grounded, know that the deep forces of Nature will emerge to the aid of those who defend the Earth. 

As a Buddhist, I subscribe to the notion that effective action will be rooted in wisdom and compassion. Wisdom enables us to diagnose and address the dangers of climate breakdown by seeing it as a whole, identifying its underlying causation, and determining what can be done to remedy it. Compassion allows our heart to feel the danger vividly and personally; to expand beyond our limited self and embrace all those exposed to harm .  Just as the Buddha prescribed the middle way of moderation, effective activism occurs in a continuum between extremes. If we consider that there is a spectrum in which to express resistance to corporate greed, capitalist dysfunction, genocide and/ or ecocide, then any expression that manifests compassion and wisdom can be celebrated as precious.

In the crucible of meditation, bring forth day by day into your own heart the treasury of compassion, wisdom and courage for which the world longs. Staying open, staying grounded, have faith that the higher forces of wisdom and compassion will manifest through our actions for the healing of the world. 

Unlike grief, horrified anxiety, righteous anger or irrational guilt, compassion is caring tremendously for the suffering of others, as though it were our own. The development of love and compassion through activism is a massive opportunity for personal growth that is often overlooked. The Dharma makes it crystal-clear that anger and hatred are poisons or afflictions, even dis-ease, that lead to suffering and nothing else. Whereas many activists insist that love and rage go hand-in-hand, the Dhammapada is unequivocal “Hatred will never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone will it cease. This is an eternal law” (v5). While a genuine passion for justice is beautiful – something needs to be done! – when this call to action percolates up through our psyche and our conditioning, including our in-born hatred, it will only emerge as a scream, which is not pleasant or helpful; it just hurts. “Hatred is terrifically powerful, but one thing more powerful is compassion”. Both come from the same source, but hatred is twisted and warped, which affects its power. Although the power of hatred may seem potent, the Dharma assures us that there are greater powers available to us. “Fathomless power emerges out of a clear and loving heart, out of our buddha-nature when it is free of distortion” (ibid p. 107).

Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it.
Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that. 

By 7:30 we were in our respective homes. After some breakfast and a shower, I lay down for a deep, long nap. My mind required no verses to fall asleep this time. Having put the mind training into practice, my whole being was suffused with contentment.

When you see weapons of hate, disarm them with love.
When you see armies of greed, meet them in the spirit of sharing.
When you see fortresses of narrow-mindedness, breach them with truth.
When you find yourself enshrouded in dark clouds of dread, dispel them with fearlessness. When forces of power seek to isolate us from each other, reach out with joy. In it all and through it all, holding to your intention, let go into the music of life. Dance!”

~ Excerpts from the Shambhala Warrior Mind-Training, by Akuppa (2005)

 Vulpes vīriya is training for ordination with the Triratna Buddhist Community. 

Protest and spiritual practice

By Yogaratna

A group of red rebels reach out as a woman dressed in green, with a wreath of leaves around her head is dragged through the street with a rope around her neck.  The woman holds a large earth in front of her as she walks
Photo Credit: Keith Hepple/ Cambridge Independent

A lady dressed in green, with flowers in her hair, is holding a big blue planet Earth in her arms. She has a rope around her neck, and she’s being dragged through the streets of Cambridge (UK) by some scary-looking monster academics, complete with black gowns and mortar-boards — and very black hands. Dancers all in red are miming their grief. There’s a samba band, and a procession of people with banners and placards, many of them with black hands too.

It’s the Oily Hands Extinction Rebellion protest, drawing attention to the University of Cambridge’s long-standing refusal to take approximately £400m out of investments in fossil fuel extraction, and to sever its many links with the climate-wrecking fossil fuel industry.

I’m nervous. We’re right under the noses of many police. As we get near Trinity College (the College with the largest fossil fuel investments) I make sure I’m near the front of the procession. Suddenly I’m jumping over a low parapet and heading for the nearest part of the College, fumbling in my bag for the chalk-spray can. I put my left hand on Trinity College’s wall, and spray around it like a stencil, leaving an image of my hand just like people did in the Stone Age. I manage this 5 times, before feeling a gentle but firm grip round my arms, and a deep voice saying something about arrest.

A man in a blue boiler suit stretches out his hand against an old stone walled building.  He is using his hand and black chalk paint to create outlines of his hand against the stone.
Photo credit: Cambridgeshire Live

9 of us were arrested and charged, mainly with ‘criminal damage’ — despite the fact we deliberately used chalk spray, which is very soluble in water, and the images were cleaned off almost immediately.

Yoga on the ground in front of some industrial gates.  He is wearing a mask and has a D lock around his neck and attached to the gates.  He wears his kesa around his neck.
Photo credit: Anon

That was 28 August 2020 — near the end of a summer which had felt quite busy for me. I’d d-locked my neck to the main gate of the Schlumberger Research Centre (infrastructure support to the fossil fuel industry) for 4.5 hours. I’d mimed in an inflatable dinosaur suit (mocking Darwin College for failing to evolve and divest from fossil fuels). On a hot busy Saturday afternoon,along with 15 others, I had stood completely naked for 40 minutes outside Kings College (the Naked Truth about our vulnerability to climate and biodiversity breakdown). And so on.

Outside a brick building Yoga wears an inflatable grey dinosaur suit, a lady in academic robes reads a proclamation, someone dressed in a fake beard and top hat approaches Yoga with a small butterfly net.
Photo credit: Jeremy Peters

Some Buddhists see this kind of activism as nothing to do with Buddhism. Some Buddhists feel that they do want to take direct action on these issues, but aren’t sure how to do that in ways appropriate to their spiritual practice.

I’m in the second category, but the question of how to respond appropriately is very live for me. I agree that the climate/natural world breakdown, and the global structural racism underpinning it, is a desperate emergency. I also agree with the XR emphasis on ordinary law-abiding people speaking out non-violently in many different ways, including disruptive actions risking arrest and imprisonment. But exactly how to speak out? How far to go? Is everything that is non-violent OK? And what is non-violence?

Starting from first principles, I think as Buddhists we need to respond in ways appropriate to what’s actually happening around us. When he came across the sick monk, the Buddha did not say to himself: I will benefit the world more if I spend the next hour teaching meditation and giving a Dharma talk. He himself cleaned up the sick monk — and then gave one of his most memorable teachings about responding to suffering. (Vinaya Pitaka, Mahavagga 8.26.1-8).

I’m not suggesting that Buddhists should do nothing but various kinds of social work and activism. Personally I do see activism as a crucial part of my spiritual practice, not the whole of it. But I think that things are so urgent today, that people of faith in particular need to speak out. And it’s important that we do that from as resourced and as skilful a place as possible. We need to go on retreat, to meditate, to do traditional Buddhist practices. But we need the life of activity, as well as the life of calm. We need to ground our practice in reality, to test the qualities and insights we develop, by challenging what is going on.

Outside an impressive stone building (Kings College, Cambridge) a group of people lie naked and semi naked on the grass as if they are corpses.  Someone is covering the people on the ground with a white sheet.
Photo credit: Jeremy Peters

You might agree with all that in principle, but still question the efficacy, or even the ethics, of these slightly confrontational direct action tactics. And isn’t it all a bit undignified — even un-Buddhist?

Well. I do wonder if we sometimes get into a somewhat etherealized notion of Buddhism, or even the Buddha. The Buddha of the Pali Canon was on occasion perhaps surprisingly down-to-earth. At one point, for example, the Buddha criticised his cousin Devadatta in very forthright terms. He later argued that what might seem harsh speech was, in this very particular case, a lesser evil (Abhaya Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 58). The wisest way of responding in that particular situation. The Buddha also spoke out against some of the most sensitive and tightly-held beliefs supporting the social power-structures of his day, including the caste system.

I wonder if sometimes we want to escape from samsara by turning our backs on samsara. Perhaps we just don’t want to get our hands dirty with the world’s problems. Some Buddhists of my kind of age-group (I’m 54) seem to see activism as a youthful phase they’ve long since grown out of. I’m just referring to negative tendencies we can all slip into. I accept that we all need to rest from engaging with the world’s problems from time to time (I do anyway) — and traditional practices can be vital spiritually. But majoring on them exclusively can also be a negative turning away from the world, a mask for inertia and fear.

I do accept that there can be serious ethical issues around direct action. People can be seriously inconvenienced, or even feel bullied, by roadblocks for example. People can feel personally attacked when an institution is criticised. But to me it seems like there is a fire, and we need to shout to get peoples’ attention. Shouting will annoy people, at least momentarily, but that really is a lesser evil compared to not raising the alarm.

The global response to the pandemic graphically demonstrates how most people have not got the message about climate and biodiversity breakdown, as well as the global structural racism that underpins it. Coronavirus has been front page news every day since March 2020, economies and businesses have been turned upside down, not to mention the ordinary lives of billions of people. But the breakdown of the Earth’s living systems is a far bigger problem, which calls for this kind of response as a bare minimum, and that is not happening anything like enough.

The Earth’s living systems, and issues of global justice, are talked about in contemporary politics, but with almost no positive results overall. So how do people’s worldviews change? How do important institutions change? There is some similarity with women in the UK 100 years ago being excluded from the political process. The mainstream ‘common sense’ view was that women should not have the vote, that women were not even capable of thinking politically. Does anyone think that women would have been given the vote, if they hadn’t spoken out, argued and campaigned for it?

Protest can make a difference. On 1 October 2020, the University of Cambridge announced that it would divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030 and cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2038. That was after a five year campaign by Zero Carbon Cambridge, and many people. It’s hard to believe that change happens without people speaking up for it.

Having said all that, I don’t think that any tactics are justified. Of course we should be non-violent in the sense of not hurting people physically. But what about emotional non-violence? I think certain tactics, such as perhaps breaking things, can provoke so much revulsion that the tactic stops being a lesser evil and becomes counterproductive. There is a sweet spot: enough disruption to raise people’s awareness and hopefully lead to dialogue eventually, but not so much that people turn off and completely shut down. It’s a hard thing to assess. And the people causing the disruption will always be unpopular, all the more so when they’re bringing bad news.

In my own life I have been emphasising this more ‘spiky/spicy’ end of activism, risking arrest and so on. But that hasn’t always been and (I hope) won’t always be the case. Useful and meaningful resistance is a wide spectrum, which for me definitely includes all Buddhist practices. Writing letters, holding up banners, theatre, music, going on marches and so on can all be effective ways of making a point or getting dialogue going. There are myriad ways of doing activism, or supporting it. Some of the best activism might be trying to skilfully talk about these issues with anyone we know personally.

Whatever form of speaking out, resistance, activism is right for you — I wish you well with it.

Can activism be a real spiritual practice?

I think what is spiritual practice will be different for every person. But here are some thoughts about my own experience. I think activism has helped me develop deeper metta, equanimity and even insight. I notice that I generally feel much less angry about these issues than I did when I first got really concerned about climate breakdown back in 2006. And I’m glad not to be so angry! Anger can be a positive energy for me, but can also take me into tiredness and depression — especially if the news isn’t good. I’ve had to really reflect on my own views and states of mind. I’ve encountered people with opinions and worldviews diametrically opposite to mine, or just different to mine. Like many activists, I’ve been shouted at, criticised in the local press and on social media, and physically assaulted. I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the conditionality of those people, on mine, on the impermanence of everyone and everything I love — including the beauty and impermanence of the natural world itself.

So I’ve been trying to help preserve what I love, whilst also trying to accept that there will not be a happy ending, almost certainly there will be a great deal of human suffering and destruction of the natural world.

The situation has almost forced me to move towards my fears. I’m not just afraid of what will happen to the world, myself and people I love in the future. I also just feel afraid of speaking out, of being seen as wrong or even criminal — afraid even of being seen.

I think under the pressure of my ongoing activism my Buddhist practice has helped me let go of my negative emotions, such as fear and anger — to some extent! And I’ve been almost forced to clarify: what do I really think, what are my values, what do I really care about? I’ve been almost forced to look after my heart, to nourish and connect with my spiritual inspiration — a deeper energy.

And my heart has opened, keeps opening more, to the power of sangha. The extraordinary beauty of other people’s idealism, which inspires and sustains me.

There are many ways of practising, many ways of doing activism, and there can be a grittier side. At the time of writing this, I’ve been charged with criminal damage (for chalk spraying on a wall). I’ll be self-representing at my trial in a few months time. I’m pleading not guilty, but will probably be convicted and have to pay a fine, compensation and court costs, possibly have to do community service, and the prosecution is seeking a Criminal Banning Order. In the longer term, I will have a criminal record and that might threaten my job as a carer. And I am surprised at how much this one case is affecting me (and my partner). Partly I find there’s a sort of emotional weight to the whole thing of being called a criminal.

Now, all that might sound a bit daunting, and there are limits to what I’m happy to give. But I’ve almost no regrets so far, and this still feels the right direction for me. It’s how I feel free, richer, happier, and more authentically myself. I do actually feel like I have been touching the Earth more — coming into a closer relationship with reality both internally and externally. In the end, I need to speak out somehow.

Diving into Autumn

By Joe Mishan

A woodland floor in late Autumn, a carpet of yellow and brown fallen leaves.

I walk around in aimless circles in the old woodland, squeezing damp fallen leaves and mud beneath impatient feet. Maybe if I keep pushing on I’ll outrun the heavy density and restlessness in my body and my tumbling thoughts. My senses are battered by the incessant manic metal chatter of heavy machinery from across the lane to the north. Thousands of houses are being built to meet Government housing quotas. I sense the pain and tug of the earth dragged at by massive metal teeth, carving and reshaping the rolling landscape I have grown to know as home.

Two perfect pine cones lying amongst the soft splendour of moist autumn leaves bring me back to earth. I pick them up and cradle them in my palm, gazing at the intimate complexity of their tiny branches. I clutch one in each hand like precious talismans from an ancient  living power that might ward off the encroaching urban sprawl which is spreading over this soft green world. Some yards further on In the welcome embrace of a dark path between rhododendrons and tall elms I am greeted by a small plastic skeleton hand lying on the woodland floor, severed from its skeleton body and fallen here, a plastic exclamation mark announcing mortality. Not far beyond a thin metal tombstone leans askew against a hawthorne tree, and nearby, with a coincidence which is beginning to seem like a conspiracy, two plastic containers of something called hypochlorite acid, adorned with graphics of injury poison and death. A tableau takes shape. I place one of the pine cones in the plastic skeleton hand supported by the poison container. The gravestone marks this place of deathliness and life’s renewal. 

Meanwhile as if in reply, the cathedral of trees above me toss their branches in the strong wind. Nature levered from its natural easy rhythms, roused toward boiling point. Like the wind that rammed into my house last night with the force of a bus. Inspired by this reminder of nature’s raw power, its endless capacity to rebound, to survive and regrow, my heart fills with the fierce triumphant power of this wild Earth. I want to pour myself into the trees, into their dense rooted insistence of being, into the muscularity of trunk and branch. I want to wrap myself in the soft Earth of autumn, to sink into the darkness, to enfold myself in its musky embrace and sleep deep and full the whole Autumn through.

Oh never have I found a home so complete. A resting place, a belonging. A love as true as this.

Joe Mishan is a co-coordinator of XR Buddhists.