By Andy Wistreich 

Interview with an arya bodhisattva on a distant planet in 150 years’ time from now

Q. It is said that you are an arya bodhisattva. What does this mean?

A. It signifies that my mind has directly realised the nature of reality and is pervaded by uncontrived altruism.

Q. Very good, but how can you sustain those?

A. Because I have achieved samatha, I can sustain these realisations indefinitely when I meditate, so consolidating a regenerative inner resource for helping others.

Q. It’s also said that you can recall your previous lives, and that this is the first time you have been born on our planet. If this is true where were you before you were born here?

A. On a planet called Earth. I was reborn there successively many times, in many different cultures and life forms. It was my home and habitat for many lifetimes.

Q. Why did that all stop?

A. Humans and other species became extinct there, so I couldn’t take a human rebirth again there. Being human is the best form for benefiting others.

Q. How did the extinction come about on Earth?

A. The humans destroyed their planet by excessive buring of fossil fuels, excessive livestock farming and widespread deforesting, thereby heating up the planet beyond the point where food could be produced any more. In such ways they destroyed their planet and its resources. Eventually everyone starved to death.

Q. Didn’t they realise what was happening?

A. By the time enough people took the crisis seriously it was already too late. The facts had been known for some time, but people either didn’t believe the evidence, or were too hooked to short-term goals to make wise decisions. There was a general addiction to consumption and economic growth, generated by a culture that put accumulation of wealth by a few people above the needs of everyone else. This culture generated unsustainable use of resources and human lifestyles.

Q. Why did you decide to become an arya bodhisattva?

A. I learned from my teachers that arya bodhisattvas are best able to help those around them, so I decided to engage in the recommended inner work to become one. It was hard work. You must be very determined and have a lot of conviction. The work involves cultivating renouncing attachment to worldly pleasure, altruistic aspiration for enlightenment, and wisdom realising reality, speeded up by the two stages of tantra. We were amazingly fortunate that these teachings and methods were available at that time, because the lineages were still alive. Few people knew, and even among those that did, laziness often held them back. Not everyone who heard about the path recognised how very precious and meaningful it is.

Q. What sort of help can an arya bodhisattva offer in such a situation?

A. As the climate crisis escalated and food production declined, society fell apart – sometimes this was gradual and sometimes there were sudden shocks. The collapse was actually economic and political disintegration which caused a sort of collective mental breakdown. Many people lost their minds, because they lacked the inner resilience to cope with the crisis. Some individuals, groups and nations used violence to grab and hold onto scarce resources. Some people just died from despair. Regimes of heavy repression fuelled by mob hatred sprang up to prevent the starving millions from the hottest parts of the world from reaching places where life was still possible. In such situations, arya bodhisattvas naturally, calmly maintain inner equilibrium, self-discipline and compassionate motivation. Thus, they guide the people around them to non-violent compassionate actions, away from harming and hardening their hearts towards others. Those of us doing this work were not enough of us to save the planet and people, but still we did what we could.

Q. Didn’t you get distressed or overwhelmed by the challenges?

A. Of course it was very sad to witness what was happening, and one could only provide a fraction of the help needed, but it was great to be able to offer support, care and good advice amidst so much confusion and anguish. And some people were helped. Those who could hear what we said could create causes for good future rebirths, by practising virtue and avoiding non-virtue. They could help those around them to some extent, with kindness and generosity. Some of those people are here on this planet living happy lives right now.

Q. Do you have any advice for the people of this planet, given what you experienced on Earth?

A. Avoid harming others, and wherever possible, help them. Live life contented with what you have. Find joy in things without needing to possess them. Avoid grasping for stuff you don’t really need. Remember that the natural environment is precious because it sustains life. Don’t believe humans to be superior to other species – every living being has the right to be treated with respect. Don’t eat animals or steal from them. Don’t allow any section of the community to claim supremacy. Create harmonious social structures free from exploitation and oppression. Teach peace and kindness to your children through your example. Ground your culture in knowledge of reality. If you can do these things, all will be well.

Andy has been studying, practising and teaching Buddhism within the Gelug Tibetan tradition for 40 years. He joined XR in 2019, and is active in his local XR group in South Somerset.

How Extinction Rebellion Buddhists happened

By Joe Mishan

XR Buddhists emerged as an active group in the October 2019 Rebellion. Its roots were in Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE). DANCE itself was the brainchild – or more accurately perhaps the heart-child – of a group of dharma teachers based in Gaia House in 2013. The intention was to provide a ‘a forum for the wider sangha to explore bringing Dharma responses to the climate crisis.’ It emphasised a ‘commitment to kindness and compassion, to live from an understanding of our interconnectedness, and interdependence.’ (see DANCE website) There are a number of DANCE groups, but it was London DANCE that initiated the formation of XR Buddhists. DANCE had taken part in the early XR action in November 2018, most notably an occupation of Barclays bank in Piccadilly Circus where we meditated for 3 hours (finally being physically removed, but surprisingly not arrested). Then during the larger rebellion in April 2019 DANCE led protest meditations in the roads, and took a leading part in organising the Regenerative Culture workshops during the uprising.

Members of DANCE occupying a Barclays Bank

The decision to form an XR Buddhist affinity group was made before the October 2019 rebellion. Members of DANCE felt that at the next rebellion we needed to be more recognisably XR and more integrated with the XR organism. (The problem with the DANCE acronym is that it is often confused with the moving about kind of dance which is clearly not a good way to describe sitting quietly with the eyes closed). And so XR Buddhists was born.

Members of DANCE had not really thought through what would happen to the XR Buddhist group after the rebellion; but two weeks of activism on the streets and in a wet tent in Trafalgar Square formed a strong and enduring bond within the group. And so DANCE now remains to provides a wider forum for Buddhists activists who may not want to be identified with XR, but both XR Buddhists and DANCE share a strong belief in the uniqueness and importance of a Buddhist contribution to climate activism – and many folk belong to both.

I am confident that as the climate movement unfolds in the years to come, that the presence of meditators will continue to bring the message of peaceful determination and grounded spirituality to the streets of our towns and cities.

Joe Mishan
April 2020


Written By Joe Mishan, for XR Buddhists, before the October ’19 rebellion

XR Buddhists stand with our fellow Buddhists and all faith groups in Extinction Rebellion at this most momentous of times.

The climate emergency brings both the most terrible of possibilities and the most transformational. The possibility of mass extinction of life on this planet is forcing upon us a truth long forgotten by the so-called developed world: that all things are connected. We have lived too long in a delusion of separation, isolated from the astonishing grace and beauty of the life forms with which we share our world.

This delusional state has paved the way for the mortal damage our economies have visited on the Earth. And in our hearts we have also paid a heavy price: a sense of meaningless, and of personal and spiritual loneliness has become pervasive. The climate crisis demands that we choose between awakening to the truth of interdependence on each other and the non-human world, with all the beauty and gratitude this brings, or face terrible consequences.

Walking meditation at the October Rebellion

And the way to this awakening is love. In Buddhist practice, as in many faith traditions in different forms, we invite this blossoming of a loving heart through meditation, ritual, and our wisdom teachings.

With our dear friends in this emerging and courageous movement, we sit and walk in the light of love and the spirit of the awakened heart.

May wisdom and love prevail