Barclays Action

On May 13th Members of XR Buddhists sat in meditation and protest outside Barclays Islington. Here are some images from the action, and our letter to the bank manager.

Letter to the Manager

Dear Manager  

Members of Extinction Rebellion Buddhists UK will be sitting in protest meditation vigil at your bank today.  

We are sitting to bear witness to the suffering and loss being felt by those at the front lines of climate instability being funded by your bank. Barclays has invested almost $167 billion in the last 6 years, into coal oil and gas projects and industries. The evidence is now irrefutable that fossil fuel emissions are causing climate and ecological breakdown. People of the global south, and indigenous communities are bearing the brunt of these impacts whilst having done the least to cause them.  

India is now in the grip of a record-breaking heatwave, and the Horn of Africa is facing one of the worst droughts on record. Your bank is also funding projects with direct effects on local and indigenous groups such as:  

  • the Correjon coal mine in Columbia, notorious for human rights abuses  
  • the Enbridge tar sands pipeline in North America which cuts through pristine lands of the Chippewa and Ojibwe tribes  
  • Arctic Oil and gas projects in the fragile Arctic, threatening the lands of the Gwich’in Athabascan peoples 

We send our kindness and care to the staff of Barclays bank; their lives will also be disrupted and impoverished by climate impacts funded by their bank. But as a company it is evident that Barclays’ investment policies are complicit in systemic ecocide, injustice and racism.  

Sitting in meditation we display placards which bring the unseen faces and the unheard voices of our fellow beings in the global south into the light of compassion and respect. We acknowledge that these peoples; their knowledge and traditions hold essential teachings in our relationship to the Earth which we ignore to our peril.  

We urge your bank to immediately disinvest from fossil fuels and to invest in clean energy projects that can offer a future to all the inhabitants of the Earth wherever they may live.  

Yours sincerely  

Members of Extinction Rebellion Buddhists  

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An open invitation to Buddhist Faith Groups from Extinction Rebellion Buddhists

People dressed in black, sit meditating in front of a bank. They are wearing placards which say 'Barclays: the ecocide bank' and show a world on fire.  The meditators sit with their eyes closed but with one hand raised in a mudra.

Many Buddhists are concerned about the climate and ecological emergency (CEE) and are wondering what to do about it. 

We are a group of people who have come together as Buddhists to practice compassion for all beings. We recognise that we all have an important role to play in addressing the CEE and developing a fairer and more just world. XR Buddhists (XRB) has been in existence for three years: we have sat in meditation, organised vigils with other faith groups, joined non-violent direct actions and provided a supportive community for Buddhists who are equally concerned about climate change. 

We became part of Extinction Rebellion (XR) Buddhists because we felt strongly that our Buddhist wisdom teachings offer something unique to this movement which has allowed us to offer a powerful presence, stability and a place of refuge to other members of Extinction Rebellion. We were also drawn by Extinction Rebellion’s principles, which reflected the Buddhist principles of non-violence non-blaming, a regenerative culture and inclusivity.  

On the 9th of April, we are meeting at Hyde Park in London as part of a series of events and protests organised by Extinction Rebellion. This will specifically be a day of outreach, training, and meditation: it will not be disruptive to the public. The events will carry on throughout the following week and to the Easter weekend. We welcome people at any time, but Saturday the 9th is a particularly good day to join us if you are new to XR Buddhists. 

We would very much like to extend a warm invitation to members of your sangha and people from your tradition who would like to come along. You can either meet us at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park at 0930 on the 9th of April (we will be the ones with meditation cushions and an XR Buddhists banner!) or join our XRB Rebellion Telegram group to get updates on where we are.  

We would be grateful if you could pass this invitation on to members of your group, and if anyone wants to find out more, they could look on our website,  which includes some pre-rebellion events which might be of interest. Or they are welcome to contact us at info@xrbuddhists.com

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CARNIVAL AND FAITH

By Yogaratna

Vajrayoginī in the form of Nāropa’s Ḍākinī

I want to focus on two ways we can respond with positive emotion to the overall situation (of climate change, biodiversity loss, authoritarianism in the world.  Ways of responding with positive emotion  which can be cultivated.  The two ways are to do with playfulness or humour (or what I’m labelling ‘carnival’) — and faith.

Why am I talking about ‘carnival’?  I think it has a very useful range of meanings and associations.  According to the dictionary: an annual festival, typically during the week before Lent in Roman Catholic countries (which happens to be now), involving processions, music, dancing, and the use of masquerade or dressing up.  More generally it can be an exciting or riotous mixture of elements.  Historically carnival sometimes involved playful inversion of hierarchy: servants becoming masters.

Carnival and theatre have been influential in how protest is done, especially in the last twenty years or so.  At Seattle in 1999 (protests against global trade agreements) the police were sometimes heavy-handed in their response to peaceful speaking out.  The police had apparently been trained in the expectation that they would be facing violence.  On some occasions they really didn’t know how to respond — when, for example, all the protestors suddenly sat down.  And there were also ‘Pink Blocs’ of protestors dressed in tutus armed with feather dusters for tickling the police.

This is an example of something I think is very important — an ethically positive, playful or carnivalesque response to what may seem overwhelmingly difficult situations, and abuses of power.  Mikhail Bakhtin once wrote: ‘laughter must liberate the happy truth of the world from the veils of gloomy lies spun by the seriousness of fear, suffering and violence’.

Laughter can be a very strong and deep energy — and of course not all laughter is good laughter.  Laughter can be very unskilful, even abusive.  But it can be highly skilful (the laughter of enlightenment in the Vajrassatva mantra for example ‘ha ha ha ha ho’).  It’s important why we’re laughing, and how.  

But play, carnival, laughter can be ethically positive — and maybe loosen us up if our worldviews have got a bit rigid or polarised.  I’m going to use Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita as an extended example of what I mean.  It’s mainly set some time in the 1930s, and tells the story of what happens when the devil (and his very mischievous cat) visit the rigidly atheistic Soviet Union.  It’s a very knowing and witty parody of Soviet society at that time: wildly carnivalesque, full of magic, religion, and the romantic.  The satire is against repression of freedom of thought and of speech — against an authoritarian society’s dismissing of the imagination, of religion itself and the mythic dimension.  And yet nobody seems responsible for the way things are — the characters in the story don’t come across as particularly bad.  Even the devil character doesn’t actually seem bad — far more mischievous and subversive, maybe a symbol of a society’s repressed energy.  I’d say the novel itself ultimately celebrates romantic love and people caring for each other — and the energy of the human imagination.

 So I think Bulgakov’s novel was written to some extent against Stalin’s Soviet Union — the authoritarianism, the millions of State-sanctioned murders, the violent repression of free speech and different points of view.  And it was written against fear itself.  It is deeply serious, but also great fun, a celebration of some of the wilder human energies.

Hard to know what would have happened if Bulgakov had tried to publish this novel (as he intended), since he died of natural causes (in 1940) as he was finishing it. This was the time when writing a satirical poem about Stalin could get you executed — which is pretty much what seems to have happened to the poet Osip Mandelshtam. But The Master and Margerita lived well beyond its creator – secretly passed from hand to hand, it was known and loved by many thousands of Russians decades before it was finally published in the Soviet Union in 1968.

 When faced with what can seem an overwhelmingly difficult situation, all the positive human qualities matter.  But perhaps this satirical energy and wild, magical but ethically positive vision are particularly valuable in cutting through what might be a repressed, cowed, fearful state of mind.  Skilful laughter is so opposite to cowed and fearful.

In our own time, right now, the far-right seems to me scarily influential and close to dominance in the USA and Europe, and we may well be on the unstoppable ride of runaway climate change. In some ways, things are looking even grimmer than in Bulgakov’s lifetime. Hopefully, things politically won’t go too far in that direction. On the other hand it seems worth considering that one day we might need to think in terms of resistance rather than outright opposition – of keeping positive vision alive in covert forms, like bulbs in the ground surviving winter.  Which is what Bulgakov’s novel was part of back in the 1930s. Maybe even our Buddhist practice itself will need to be more covert and under the radar. 

If we’re going to face the big picture, we’re going to need inspiration and emotional sustenance — to keep our souls and spirits alive.  Obviously, we can find inspiration in our friendships and relationships, in our practising the Dharma, in the sangha.  But it might be helpful to deliberately cultivate more symbolic, non-rational sources of inspiration (aka the mythic context) – perhaps there are parts of us which can only be reached this way.  Maybe all great poetry, art, music by tapping into the mythic, has something of this liberating and inspiring function.  By the way I’m sure we are all already doing this, I’m just suggesting that it’s really important at a deep level for long-term emotional resilience.  So how might we do this in practice?  We all probably have our own ways.  We could maybe try something we haven’t done before, which might be a clowning workshop, or action theatre (a very in-the-moment, embodied and self-aware form of improvisation where you come up with stories and maybe respond to other people as they improvise).   We can listen to and be inspired by carnival (in the sense I’ve been evoking) as it manifests in the arts: books, films, dance etc.  

So that’s a bit about carnival.  What about faith?

In fact the Buddhist tradition does have its own wild and playful sides.  One of many examples (from the Tibetan Vajrayana in this case) is Vajrayogini. She’s a sort of archetypal Enlightened deity figure. She has the form of a beautiful young woman, naked apart from a few symbolic bone implements. Her skin is red, the colour of unconditional, universal loving-kindness.

She’s ecstatic and free, dancing in the sheer void of ultimate reality – sometimes she’s represented as dancing on (or trampling) bodies representing greed, hatred and delusion.

She takes no prisoners. If we dare to dance with her (perhaps by engaging in years of spiritual practice) she will destroy us utterly – and make us into something far beyond what we were.

Vajrayogini might sound a bit much!  Not everyone’s cup of tea maybe.  But meditating on Vajrayogini is just one example  of a Buddhist faith practice — which can be more of a slow burn, or long fuse.  Such an important and deep energy.  Our heart-response to our ideals of love and compassion.  During meditation I sometimes visualise the Buddha, with golden light radiating from his heart to mine.  Very simple and undramatic.  But it works — I feel it physically, and in my depths emotionally.  If my values or interests have been maybe getting subtly superficial, materialistic, self-centered — then faith practices like this one help remind me, reconnect me with what I really care about at a deep level.  And that can feel like a deep relief, and release of positive energy.

There’s the saying that faith can move mountains — and it’s true.  It does.  It’s what motivated Martin Luther King, the suffragettes — so many heroic people who changed the world for the better.  Maybe we aren’t heroic, it’s ok not to be a hero! tho I suspect many of us are in reality more heroic than we think we are.  But whatever or whoever we are or think we are — we can all play, we can all harness that deep wild playful energy.  We can all draw on deep skilful inspiration, wild energies, and we can all cultivate faith.

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Mother Nature’s Children

By Andy Wistreich

In Mahayana Buddhism, the wisdom understanding emptiness is sometimes referred to as the mother. This is because the beings liberated from samsara – arhats, ārya bodhisattvas and buddhas – are all born from the wisdom realising emptiness. Because emptiness is the ultimate nature of everything, we might call these highly realised beings mother nature’s children, because they have realised directly through meditation the final nature of all things. 

Conventionally speaking, mother nature refers to the natural world, the environment, and mother earth. All life on earth is born from this mother, through interaction with space and the sun, thereby producing earth’s atmosphere. Because we are all, along with everything that grows and moves on planet earth, children of mother earth or mother nature, we are siblings of all humans, other species, trees et cetera.

Is there any link or correlation between these two mother natures? Very much so. All evolution is a process of cause and effect. Ecologically every life-form is interdependent with many other life-forms and elemental substrata. Because of cause and effect and interdependence, nothing exists independently. The absence of independent existence is what we buddhists call emptiness.

Generally, people mean the natural environment when they speak about nature. In buddhism we can talk about relative nature, for example the hardness of the earth element, and ultimate nature, the lack of independent existence, or emptiness. 

Relative and ultimate natures are sometimes called the two truths, and everything that exists always has both these truths, depending on which way you look at it. So, for example, if you look at a tree, relatively it is a tree and ultimately it is emptiness.

As Buddha said in The Heart Sutra, “Form is empty; emptiness is form; emptiness is not other than form; form also is not other than emptiness.” Realisation of this fundamental non-duality of form and emptiness is what liberates us from suffering, samsara.

With the pandemic, mother nature has brought her human children to their knees. We have collectively been shown that mother nature is more powerful than us. Not surprisingly, people get back up again, and many try to forget that this mother is in charge of her family. 

This is unfortunate, because the climate and ecological crisis is much more devastating and powerful than the pandemic, and unless we begin to live by the natural laws, our mother will destroy us.

The natural laws are simply the laws of cause and effect of actions, what we commonly call karma. If you heed the teachings of the buddha and other sages, you will not perform destructive actions. Instead, you will practise non-violence and non-harming towards other living beings and their environments.

The ecology is governed by natural laws of cause and effect, and our happiness and misery are also so governed. If we practise kindness towards our relative mother nature – the environment and living beings – and practise wisdom towards our ultimate mother nature by abandoning false notions of independent existence, all will be well. Thus, we will live harmoniously with everything.

I was inspired to write this by our XR Buddhists retreat. It became increasingly clear to me during the retreat how our problematic relationship with mother earth may be healed through the Dharma – the teachings of the Buddha – if we only take it to heart. I am deeply grateful to XR Buddhists for providing me with this insight.

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Dedication of merit from our recent retreat

Kaspa Thompson wrote and read out a dedication of merit prayer to end our recent online retreat with. Here it is:

We call upon all of our ancestors. We call on our birth ancestors and the ancestors of our chosen families.We call upon Shakyamuni Buddha, who set the dharma wheel turning in this age, and upon all of his disciples. We call upon the celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

We call upon our activist ancestors, those who had courage to act and speak and have gone before us.

We call upon ancestors from oppressed groups across the world, whose wisdom we pray we can honour and appreciate. 

We call upon the great sages of all spiritual traditions. 

We who are practicing today will become the ancestors of tomorrow. We invite our ancestors to add their merit to our own.

We pray for the well-being of all living creatures. We pray for the well-being of communities in the global south and indigenous communities who are already deeply affected by the climate crisis and ecological emergency. We pray that voices from those communities will be heard both on the world stage and in our own hearts.

We pray that we will become more and more aware of the systems of oppression and control that are around us and inside us, and that we are able to let go of those systems to make way for genuine connection, loving kindness and equity.

We pray that we can build strong communities of activists that include people from all over the world, and that we can find wise and courageous responses to the climate crisis and ecological emergency.

We pray that we will find the courage to tell the truth, to act now and to be the change we want to see. We pray for an immediate end to the use and extraction of fossil fuels. 

We dedicate the merit of our time and practice together to living beings throughout the world affected by the climate crisis, and to climate activists from all communities.

May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering.

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Varieties of activism

By Andy Wistreich

XR Buddhists meditate outside a Barclays bank

There are various kinds of activism, and thus various kinds of activist. Moreover, one activist can engage various kinds of activism either at different times or simultaneously. 

Activism is comprised of specific actions aimed at identified results in the world. Here we are concerned with activism for the benefit of all (as distinct from for example far-right activism which seeks the benefit of one group at the expense of everyone else.)

As you read through the following descriptions of types of activism, you may recognise elements of your own journey as an activist and locate where your personal emphasis seems to lie right now. Remember that activism requires flexibility to the moment, and shapeshifting, so it’s advisable not to feel too fixated in a single type.

The varieties of activism described here are not in a hierarchy. The transformations required in our time require all the powers and forces available, from every possible type of activism. In practice, successful collective actions include many kinds of activists working together alongside one another. We can’t generally tell by looking at anyone, what kind of activism they are practising.

This article divides activism into three main types – direct, radical, and deep. There is a further division of deep into outer, inner, and secret. As indicated above, this taxonomy is not exclusive, simply a method to explore the overarching topic of activism, to help support the processes of all activists.

Direct Activism

It’s called direct because it pinpoints a specific situation, methodology and purpose, and focuses directly at that point. Traditional methods include strikes, occupations, pickets, blockades, and marches. It may be volent such as engaging in fighting police or opponents of the action, using weapons, such as Molotov cocktails or not. It may be non-violent as in the non-violent direct action (NVDA) practised by Extinction Rebellion, which includes disruptive or obstructive actions, which might involve lock-ons, gluing oneself to fixed objects or just sitting or standing somewhere for a purpose.

Radical Activism

Radical means changing from the root, so radical activism takes place within an understanding of the place of specific issues rooted within a system. Thus, radical activism is aimed at changing the system in whatever way necessary to ensure sustainable transformation. In other words, it’s revolutionary. 

We can see, in recent statements by Greta Thunberg, Gail Bradbrook and other leading climate activists that they have become increasingly radicalised. Increasingly we are seeing system change as an implicit or explicit requirement in communications from Extinction Rebellion.

Deep Activism

This recognises that transforming society depends on transformation of consciousness, and thus goes deeper than direct and radical activism. In climate activist circles, the experience of grief and anxiety is openly acknowledged as a common part of the deal. Extinction Rebellion has always highlighted regenerative culture as a means of mitigating these, and thus sustaining the zeal of activists. Deep activists may go further than this purpose and see that without transforming the roots of culture in consciousness, meaningful change isn’t possible.

Here, I divide deep activism into three: outer, inner, and secret deep activism. As mentioned above, these are not exclusive and aren’t presented as a hierarchy. The separation is simply for discussion.

Outer Deep Activism

This can come through religious faith. For example, the Faith Bridge in Extinction Rebellion includes groups of activists from Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist faiths. Typically, activists of faith call upon their holy beings such as God or Buddha as a source of power, inspiration, and support in their activism. They use prayer, meditation, ritual, and mantra to invoke this connection, and might call upon the powerful being they worship to help bring about the change they seek.

It is also practised by activists of no faith, invoking deep connection to the earth, the universe, universal love and so forth, as sources of inspiration, comfort, and power. 

Outer deep activism, through the agency of the outer Being or beneficent force, helps the activist to feel part of a whole – the whole of humanity, the web of life, nature, or creation. This in turn renders the approach to activism more selfless.

Inner Deep Activism

This recognises the source of the supreme being or universal power as situated within each individual. Theists might talk of ‘the God within’ or soul, and Buddhists of Buddha nature. Sometimes it’s referred to as an inner light. Some feel that all living beings have it; others say it’s only found in humans. 

The point for inner deep activists is that through connecting with this basic element within oneself, one may connect to it within every other being. This brings an additional power to meditation and other practices of deep activism, enabling activists to feel a deep interconnectivity with those with and for whom one takes action.

Secret Deep Activism

This is based on personal connection with the innermost essence of consciousness, which transcends one lifetime, together with its ultimate nature, its absence of inherent existence. It is accessed through Tantra (or its equivalent such as psychedelics) and is thus particularly insightful. Moreover, it offers access to transformative energies from within the subtle energy system of the activist, which may be harnessed as agents of change beyond oneself. Skilful actions at this level of awareness require extensive training and guidance.

Summary

As said at the outset the purpose here is not to suggest a hierarchy of activism but to offer potential channels for reflection and discussion. Effective activists know where they are coming from and are not fixed in the methods they utilise.

The challenges of our time are so great that we have little chance of success unless we use as much of our personal and collective potential as possible. As mass extinction and societal collapse look ever more likely outcomes of our collective predicament on planet earth, it’s up to each of us who care about that, to become excellent activists in as many ways as we can and offer our service for the good of all.

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