Tag Archives: Climate Action and Dharma

A Conversation with Buddhist Leaders on Climate Change

It is a transcendence of ego, not the planet, that is needed. We don’t need to let go of our beautiful earth and the many species living with us, but let go of our ego and the ways we think we need to live, and what we think we need to have. Santacitta Bhikkhuni

When I first envisaged the series Mindfulness / Dharma and Climate Action, my primary intention was twofold. First it is important for Dharma teachers to set an example by speaking out about climate emergency. Second, I hoped all of us would be inspired to take the conversation into our local communities and sanghas however challenging that may be. What I didn’t expect was how moving it was to hear each of the teachers communicate such a deep sense of concern with intelligence, compassion and urgency. Through the five conversations with the input of 16 teachers, many topics were touched into which gives us a “library” to continue to draw from. During our last call of the series on Sunday, Ayya Santussika and Ayya Santacitta really brought home the urgency of our situation, while David Loy gave us a very clear template for placing and managing the dire nature of our times. You can hear the whole conversation here.

Seth Levinson We were sorry that Bhikkhu Bodhi could not join us due to a health issue that morning. However, I really can’t emphasis enough his extraordinary leadership in Buddhist engagement in social justice and climate emergency issues.

Bhikkhu Bodhi is a guiding star. Please do check out B.Bodhi’s writing and also Buddhist Global Relief which he initiated and which is an amazing organization supporting people across the world who are marginalized and struggling with few resources.

David Loy – “The Bodhisattva Path – A perfect template for our times.”

David called on us to re-examine our own tradition of Buddhism in the light of the climate crisis, reflecting how difficult it has been to date to bring about a more progressive response to environmental concerns. He mentioned that a book he and John David-Loy-175Stanley co-edited “A Buddhist Response to Climate Emergency” had been mostly ignored. Going deeper, David talked of an ambiguity at the foundations of our tradition, which really needs to be addressed. That due to the idea of transcendence, nibbana (peace) becomes a goal that is understood as indifference to the world; so rather than engage the world we check out. He then went on to say that a primary perspective of Westernized Buddhism has been its fruitful interaction with psychology and psychotherapy. That while there has been much good that has come of that, it tends to encourage the idea that “my” problems are in my own head, and if I work on that level then the basic problems of my life will be solved.

David pointed out that the danger of both approaches discourages the kind of engagement with the world that we really now need. We also need to understand that in reality our experience of the world is the ways we construct it due to our dualistic understanding that makes us feel separate. Deconstructing a dualistic relationship with the world also needs to be done, not only personally, but also collectively, on a social level — that when we talk of dukkha (suffering) we are not only talking about individual dukkha, but also on an institutionalized level.

David finished by pointing out that within Buddhist tradition we have an archetype that speaks directly to what we now need. This is the Bodhisattva Path. Rather than view this in the usual sectarian way, we need to rise about that and realize it offers a particular orientation that addresses the situation we find ourselves in now. What is so special about the bodhisattva focus is it offers a double practice that is actually two sides of the same path. One is our inner practice and the other is outer engagement. It is not enough to settle for inner peace, there is also a need to respond to a suffering world. In finding this balance, while being called on to do the very best we can, not knowing if it will make a difference, we can also practice inwardly. As we begin to wake up and realize we are not separate from the world we move into the bodhisattva path – which involves pretty big vows. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, what makes it possible is returning to a place of equanimity or emptiness. This is beautifully articulated in the teaching of Nisagardatta Maharaj, Wisdom says “I am nothing” while compassion says “I am everything” between these two banks, the life of the practitioner flows.

Ayya Santussika Bhikkhuni – “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

Ayya Santussika said she wanted to reflect on what kind of actions can we take as bodhisattvas, putting our bodies, hearts and minds into action. Ayya said her primary focus was on building a Buddhist movement. Why do we need a movement? ayya_santussika-175Because our leaders have lost their moral compass. On a corporate level if they were truthful regards the impact of their products — which is the kind of ethical stance we need to make sure our environment and biosphere is healthy — then we wouldn’t need a movement.

Who is it that is meant to ensure that business acts ethically? Ayya said she doesn’t like to say corporations have power; it is the people running corporations that have power. Every decision we make creates karma. If we really understand that and take that in, then we really don’t want to have any investments in fossil fuels, we don’t want to encourage the use of fossil fuels, we want to move away from them as quickly as possible – even though we still have to use them at the moment because we don’t have sufficient alternatives, we what to mobilize those alternatives as rapidly as possible. What we want is governments that protect the people rather than exploit them – governments that keep business in check when its lost its moral compass.

However government has lost its moral compass. So when that happens the people have to get together to make their voices heard. We have to rise up! When hundreds of thousands of people demand ethical leadership, then things start to change.  Ayya went onto say that right now we are dealing with a lot of misinformation. The idea that governments are doing what they can about climate change is erroneous. If so they would ban fracking and the extreme extraction of fossil fuels. As this is not happening, we have to get involved.

Ayya Santussika then went on to lay out a number of ways we can be involved:

  1. Reach out to other Buddhists on a national/ international level – connect with each other – inspire each other, be ready to mobilize for mass mobilization when needed. (Please contact Ayya directly to sign up for more info: santussika@gmail.com)
  2. Join together with other people of faith such as Our Voices, an initiative of Green Faith, which is organizing to have millions of people sign on, expressing our love for the earth and our children, for all beings.
  3. Our Voices is aiming to a) Spread awareness about what spiritual & faith groups are doing. b) Help spiritual groups with their own call to action. c) Organize days of prayer and action.

For example December 7th is Light for Lima. Also check out Pledge to Mobilize. When many, many people take actions like this, then those in negotiations are encouraged, inspired and pressured – and that’s what we need to stand up to the billions of dollars in the industry that is furthering the destruction and leading us into disaster and catastrophe.

Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg address talked about; “A government Of the People, By the People, For the People” Now we have a government: Of the Billionaires, By the Billionaires, For the Billionaires! Because of this we need to stand up – to do what we do from a place of practice, of depth, according to the bodhisattva vow – As we do so, to move from a place of connection. It’s a joyful thing to do!

Ayya Santacitta Bhikkhuni – “The people united will never be defeated.” (From a song composed on the Peoples Climate Train)

Ayya Santacitta followed on by encouraging us to act on what is happening – to make a difference. But we have to start where we are. If we have a sense of despair and confusion, we start with that – but the important thing is that we start – We Santacittacan no longer be only with our own experience and stop there, we need to see what holds us back from full heartedly engaging the conversation and stepping out. The world at the moment is holding up a very big mirror to us. The way we are living is no longer sustainable. The worldview we have been living in for a long time is clearly not working. A world view based on fossil fuels – we are dressed, eating, living, transporting ourselves within and by fossil fuels – they are all over our life, every where, every corner. On the other hand we want to stay below 2 degrees warming. For that we can only burn 550 gigatons of fossil fuels – but industry has identified 2800 gigatons – about 5 times more. Already we are in a very dire situation.

Ayya Santacitta, as did Ayya Santussika, emphasized that we need to organize – to pressure our governments to make clear decisions. We don’t have much time left and we have already gone too far. Making the transitions needed is going to be difficult – we can’t assume this is easy – but we need to wake up to the fact that if we don’t take action its going to be impossible for civilization to continue. It’s simply not going to be possible! Ayya then went on to say that she appreciated contemplating old age, sickness and death of a worldview that no longer serves us – a view that needs to change. To bring this change about we need to demand action from our politicians and support those politicians who are trying to bring about change.

Ayya said if we don’t know what to do, then join with others. She also pointed us back to the Buddha who left a very strong framework, starting with the five precepts. Even if we observed the first two (to refrain from taking life & to not take what is not given), then that would be a powerful impact. Ayya also encouraged us as Buddhists to step out, and make our voices heard. I particularly liked the way Ayya Santacitta picked up on what David said earlier, addressing the distorted understanding of transcendence, which no longer serves. For so long transcendence has been favored, but it is a transcendence of the ego, not of the planet! We have to outgrow the worldview we now have as the planet cannot support it.  Ayya also mentioned Pennie Opal Plant, a 1st Nation elder, who likened those of us “rising up” as the immune system of the planet. Again emphasizing the need to speak out, that even 7 – 10% of the population can make a difference. We can do this (and we can “let go” once we’ve done all we can!)

earth touching mudraAyya finished with the archetype of the Buddha in his Earth Touching Mudra; when hefearless mudra
touched the ground on the moment of his enlightenment, he touched the earth. We belong here and so therefore we have the authority to speak on behalf of the earth. The Buddha also used the Fearlessness Mudra when walking in the world – This perfectly symbolizes the balance of both inner and outer. Ayya finished by saying we must “connect with each other and live the Buddha’s teaching fully.”

Mindfulness & Climate Action (3) Inner Alignment to Pathways of Action by Thanissara

“Action absorbs anxiety & wise action is contagious.” Chris Cullen

I am aware that we have moved into the heart of our series with Sunday’s conversation (19th October.) As we have listened to each teacher over the last few weeks, it has felt like receiving a beautiful jewel of authentic truth, however challenging, alongside embodied, empowered and inspirational ways forward in response to the severe degradation of the Earth’s biosphere, lands, oceans and forests. Last Sunday it was wonderful to hear friends from England — Catherine McGee and Chris Cullen — and friend and founder of many visionary initiatives, James Baraz. I also appreciated Lou Leonard’s input and will post Lou’s contribution throughout the series in a separate blog post the last call on November 2nd.

“Where the Silent Sage & Passion of the Activist Meet” – Catherine McGee

Catherine began with the question – a deep inquiry she has been with over time – What is the meeting place of the silence of the sage and the passion of the activist? How to hold both the timeless refuge of Dharma with the real urgency of the times?


Action comes from intention, intention is informed by view (right or wrong view), and this heads up the Eight-Fold Path. With this opening Catherine gave the powerful perspective of right view as understanding ourselves as an “open system.” Everything effects everything else and so with that understanding we sit at the interface and meeting place of inner conditions and the outer world. Can we learn to rest at that interface – which is sacred – and not push anything away? Catherine went on to talk about a statistic from Lou and Kritee Kanko’s science paper: To stay within 2 degrees warming (already extremely dangerous) we can only burn 565 more gigatons of fuel, yet the fossil fuel industry has 2,790 already in reserves ready to burn. Such a reality is “bone jangling.”

Grounded in the imperterbable silence while willing to be perturbed – willing to be altered by the information – here there are  more ways to see into the situation and understand skillful action. We breathe and soften out of tightness and move into ease and sense and see how our heart /mind (citta) is teeming with life, is ever receptive, restoring itself and constantly revealing more and more. This is where we can meet as sangha, and from where action can flow. To receive the full beauty, truth and power of Catherine’s sharing, I encourage you to listen in.

“Acts of Hope” – Chris Cullen

Chris, like Catherine, is a dear friend, who is doing wonderful work teaching Dharma and mindfulness in schools and more recently to members of the British Parliament. Chris framed our work as reconnecting out of the tragic disconnect we are Chris-Cullen-175currently in, and related that process to the work of Joanna Macy in the book, co-authored by her and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope. With clarity and passion, Chris re-iterated pathways of practice and action through walking the following 4 steps:

1.  Coming From Gratitude – The Buddha, gazing at the Bodhi tree after his awakening with appreciation and gratitude, receiving the gift of a tree, of a forest – the 1st Nation People know this as right relationship, which opens us to reverence and love. Wherever and however we are in relationship to climate change — numb & disconnected or on fire and in a flow as an activist, or burnt out, in despair and fatigued — there is deep value in making a practice of mindful and grateful being within nature and of centralizing thanksgiving within our climate practice.

2. Opening to Personal & Collective Pain – As we come into relationship with the pain of what we have done to the biosphere – reflecting, what aspect of this experience is showing up as pain for us right now. Learning to hold pain, anger, fear, with mindfulness and also to resource ourselves, while “dropping the storyline of the bad other” and open to the raw energy of what is here. That we can be in disconnect through the daily demands that keep us out of contact with climate crisis and the impact on front line communities. That we can stay at a privileged distance and so it is imperative to educate ourselves. Self education around the issues of climate change is an important practice. Chris noted that while 80% of people in the UK accept climate science only 14% act accordingly. (This reminds me of living and working in South Africa in the midst of the AIDS crisis where information didn’t necessarily translate into behavior change. There are lessons to learn from the process in SA, which I aim to blog about later, as its relevant to our current climate focus.)

3. Seeing With New Eyes / Transforming View – That the Dharma teaches us to consciously practice ways of looking into deeper truths of connection and interdependence – which we can widen out to include all creatures. Chris also talked of releasing from clinging to outcomes and feeling the truth of the work itself.

4. Going Forth – I found going forth an interesting term as its a monastic phrase that is used when someone takes on the robes and precepts of a monk or nun. For each of us going forth is an ongoing process as we continue to awaken. Chris talked of this as reconnecting the contemplative practice with action – that contemplation and action support each other as Andrew Harvey speaks about in his Sacred Activism work. That action absorbs anxiety and wise action is contagious. Again, I encourage you to hear all of Chris’s presentation and his suggestions for wise action.

“The Power of Holding an Inspiring Vision” – James Baraz

James talked of the importance and power of holding a positive vision for energizing and mobilizing response — the process of acknowledging suffering while also engaging transformation from a place of love. That while he had spent many JamesBarazyears teaching about joy and happiness, he was stopped in his tracks on reading Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth. That it took about a year for James to absorb the information and pain and begin to consider what to do, which led to the understanding that “This is my Dharma practice – to take this on without being overwhelmed.” And to remember that the Buddha’s words are about moving from suffering to peace and to work for that. The Buddha said, “Whatever one thinks and ponders upon, that becomes the inclination of the mind.”

James realized that he was thinking more and more that there was no hope, that we’re doomed, which was very discouraging. Instead, understanding neuroscience’s “confirmation bias” (we tend to affirm our beliefs by how we see the world) that it was important to move to an inspiring vision, and in doing so James noticed he had more energy for addressing this problem.

James shared those he is inspired by, including Bhikkhu Bodhi’s A Challenge to Buddhists. Referring to Andrew Harvey’s Dark Night of the Species, we have the opportunity to face our deepest fears and to understand we’ve been living in unsustainable ways and something needs to change. (That we are in a race between fear and consciousness – or Lou’s “Things are getting worse and worse, better and better, faster and faster.” ) Going through this challenge together is an opportunity for a great awakening. Quoting from the renowned British historian Toynbee (who said one of the most significant developments of the 20th century is Buddhism coming to the West) and contemporary leading sustainability expert Bob Doppelt that the Dharma holds the key to transformation. (James also mentioned Bob’s help with the Teachers’ Collaborative Statement on Climate Change.) This is exciting – that we are conveyors of the attitudes, principles and practices – we can we  help shift consciousness.

Without being naive James reflected on how quickly things can change, that we don’t know what can happen. Thinking about same sex marriage – even climate change in the last 2 years – these kinds of shifts in conventional wisdom can make things change very quickly. Like the divestment movement – which has gained momentum, including divestment from the Rockefeller family – that 10% of the population can change conventional wisdom. That Mr Mandela talked about the multiplication of courage, as we inspire others, we also become agents of inspiration.

So may thanks again to our wonderful teachers. Next week we welcome Bonnie Duran Chas DiCapua, Vinny Ferraro. Do join us, it’s not too late to sign up! Here is the theme of our focus next week. “See” you then!

The Dharma shows us that all things are interconnected. This is the principle behind Dependent Co-arising, which teaches, that is like this because this is like that. If this changes, that changes. This is so glaringly obvious, yet ignorance of this truth has become wide spread among the human population. This ignorance has lead to humans becoming increasingly separated from each other and from the rest of the natural world. The consequences of this separation are being revealed.

Waking up to, and re-establishing our innate connection to each other and the natural world is a crucial aspect of engaging with Climate Change. We must look and see how we are already connected with all of life, not just the parts we like or want to be connected with. With our connection with all of life as a foundation, we will be supported in finding skillful ways to change the tide of Climate Change. What is interesting is that Climate change will bring us together, either in solving the problem, or in the desperate struggle for survival that ensues if we don’t. One way or another, we will be forced to connect.

Thanks to One Earth Sangha & Maestro Conference

Peoples Climate March – Journey to New York by Thanissara

I’ve created this new blog to share my journey to New York to join in the historic Peoples Climate March, along with tens of thousands of others, including over 1,000 organizations.  Here’s the info if you missed it!

I’ll be leaving next Monday on the California Zephyr to travel with 170 Climate Activists and People of Faith on a 4 day, 3 night journey across America – via Chicago – onto New York.


I’ll keep you posted on the journey – what’s happening – events on the train, folks joining in, and so on. We arrive on the 18th – rest up, to start the events.

I’ll be in NY for 10 days, there’s a lot happening – If you can’t make it, I hope you can join me on this journey via this blog. They’ll be Faith gatherings, an event at NY Insight with myself and Santacitta, Santussika, Pannavati Bhikkhunis, Bhikkhu Bodhi, David Loy, Wes Nisker…They’ll be activist happenings – like Flood Wall Street – I’ll  keep you posted with pics and updates.

Here’s our Banner for the March


The Peoples Climate March is just the beginning (well, not exactly, environmentalists have been at this a looong time), but this is the beginning of the Peoples Movement to secure a sustainable planet. Join us, as we become an unstoppable force.

OK – see you “on the road!”

Thanks to Diane Wilde of Sacramento for designing our Buddhist Banner – and thanks to Valerie Love of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Ayya Santussika Bhikkhuni, for arranging the Climate Train.