Thanksgiving Reflections

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This past Sunday I attended an interfaith Thanksgiving service at the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Peekskill, New York. I spoke extemporaneously. This is a polished version of my talk.

Thanksgiving is a time when we all gather to give thanks for the blessings we have received over the past year. Here, in the US, we have much to be thankful for, but as I reflect on the blessings that I have experienced, I also realize that almost every one of them represents a privilege that I enjoy but which too few people in the world share.

First, I realize that I live in a country that has not been subjected to devastating military assaults, and thus I enjoy relative security in my physical person. When I recognize this, I think of the millions upon millions of people around the world, especially in the Middle East, who do not have this sense of security. I think of the civilian populations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan who have seen their own countries shattered by war, their homes demolished, their livelihoods destroyed; whose loved ones have been killed right before their eyes; who have had to flee their native lands for distant shores, often at great peril, or who stay behind, where they live in the shadow of fear and danger. I realize that I should not take my own security for granted, knowing that it is part of a global system that entails devastation and despair for many millions.

Next, I reflect on the fact that I am a white male. When I consider that this accident of birth guarantees me some degree of social and economic security, I think of the many African Americans and other people of color who are deprived of this privilege merely because of their skin color or place of origin. I think of the many young black men—and women as well—who have to worry what will happen to them whenever they step out on to the street or ride the subway train. I think of the shocking accounts of young men, women, and even children who have had their lives snuffed out merely because their dress or demeanor or gestures provoked an over-volatile police officer. I think of those who live in degrading poverty, unemployed or under-employed, herded into soul-less housing projects, their humanity slighted, their potential blocked.

I think too of the subtle war against the poor: the low wages, the reduction in social services, the cutbacks in food stamps, and maybe most appalling, the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act by a Supreme Court decision, reversing decades of inspired struggle. And I wonder why, as the wealthiest nation on earth, we can’t recognize the inherent dignity of every human being and give everyone the resources they need to unfold their potential.

Then I reflect that although I am a monk, and thus have renounced material possessions, I live in a beautiful monastery, I have sufficient clothes to keep me warm, and I never have to worry about where my next meal will come from. Each day, the gong will ring twice, and I need only walk to the dining hall to find food awaiting me. I don’t even have to cook for myself.

This leads me to think of the 900 million people around the world who are plagued by chronic hunger and malnutrition, and also of the billion more who subsist on sub-standard diets. I think of the six million people, over half of them children, who die each year from persistent hunger and related illnesses. While I give thanks that I do not share their fate, I wonder what kind of world we have created that allows a few to live in exorbitant luxury while billions must stumble at the edge of survival.

Next I consider that I’m a male, and thus don’t have to face the challenges that women face all around the world. In this country, I think particularly of the recent attempt to undermine Planned Parenthood, which provides essential health services to women. While on ethical grounds I personally don’t approve of abortion except under extenuating circumstances, I believe that women should have the right to make their own choices in such matters, and I recognize how crucial access to these services is especially for poor women.

Yet now I see access to critical health services being blocked off by the meddling hands of politicians, backed by religious zealots. In so far as I can determine, the purpose of these legal maneuvers is not to protect the right to life—if it were, one would expect the advocates to show equal enthusiasm for abolishing the death penalty. The purpose rather, in my opinion, is to punish and humiliate women and ensure that they remain under the thumbs of a patriarchal social order.

Finally, as a Buddhist monk, I realize that I have found a spiritual path that gives my life a deep meaning and purpose, a teaching that aligns my life with a transcendent ground of truth and value and leads to wisdom, contentment, and inner peace. As I give thanks for this, there comes to mind the affluent oligarchs, especially here in the US, who lack any vision of a higher purpose in life than the accumulation of wealth and power. In my mind’s eye I also see the wider population blindly revolving in the merry-go-round of consumerism. I think with sorrow of those whose entire happiness depends on getting and spending, who see no deeper source of meaning in life than the acquisition of material goods and the enjoyment of fleeting pleasures. And, I wonder, perhaps it is for them that I should feel the strongest compassion.

At Thanksgiving I am not at all inclined to revel in the blessings I have enjoyed this past year and in years further back. Instead, I believe the way I can best demonstrate thanks is by creating opportunities for others to enjoy blessings. This means bringing the light of wisdom into regions shrouded too densely in darkness, contributing to the emergence of a more peaceful world, a more just and respectful society, and a more equitable economy based on life values rather than naked market values.

The Walk in Willington

A Participant

I just wanted to drop you a short note regarding last weekend’s “Walk Against Hunger” fundraiser at the Lao Lane Xang Buddhist Temple in Willington, CT in support of Buddhist Global Relief.  This is the fourth year I have attended the Walk in Willington and each year I am more inspired than the last.

It was so nice to see so many smiling faces joining in to support this wonderful cause.  There must have been at least 60 participants this year. I saw many new faces.  I even bumped into a couple of people from my home town who, unbeknownst to me, are supporters of Buddhist Global Relief and were participating in this year’s walk.  What a pleasant surprise!

Like last year, the walk itself was amazing.  “Walking meditation” in the quiet New England countryside is a sublime experience.  The smell of freshly fallen leaves, the warm sun on your neck, a dog barking in the distance, and the muffled sound of leaves gently giving way to a long line of people slowly, very slowly, walking in silence, is glorious.

Then the lunch….again, it was superb.  I am so grateful to the members of Lao Lane Xang Buddhist Temple, who provided this beautiful meal for the walk participants.  They are very generous and compassionate supporters of Buddhist Global Relief and it was a joy to be guests at their temple.

Finally,  my thanks to Bhikkhu Bodhi.  His work to create Buddhist Global Relief and to put into motion his vision of “compassionate action” to help the poor is a blessing, and I feel privileged, in my small way, to support this work.  His description of the various relief projects that BGR supports all around the world (including a couple in New York City) is inspiring.  In particular, I believe the work that BGR does to help ensure the education of girls and women in poor, traditional, societies is exactly the right approach.  This work really does promote the idea of “teaching one to fish rather than just giving one a fish,” and I believe it is transformative.

Some more photos of the Connecticut walk–each step expressing conscientious compassion (all photos by Suzanne Grella):


Connecticut Walk to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

On November 8th, BGR held its fourth Walk to Feed the Hungry in Willington, Connecticut. This walk differs from other walks in that it is not held in a place with public exposure but on the property of the Lao Lane Xang Buddhist Temple, set on a quiet road in the woodlands of rural Connecticut. Our host was the abbot of the temple, Ven. Bounlieng Sychoumphonh. Monks from Nepal and Sri Lanka also participated, as did the nuns from Chuang Yen Monastery. About 50 laypeople from different parts of Connecticut and vicinity turned up for the walk.

Group Photo

This walk is conducted differently from other walks: not as a procession through the streets or park, but as a slow and silent walking meditation, in single file, winding around the extensive property of the temple.

Alongside the Woods

The walk started at the side of the temple, continued alongside the woods, then around the back of the property, onto the road in front of the temple, and then toward the back, in an oblong shape.

File Along the Road

The walk was followed by a sumptuous meal generously offered by the Lao Buddhist community connected with the temple. Monks recited blessings before the meal, and then Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke after the meal. He explained the inspiration behind BGR and described several of the projects supported by donations from the walkers.


Reciting blessings.

As in previous years, the walk in Connecticut was organized by Yuhui Alison Zhou, with assistance from her friends.

Receiving Blessings

Lay devotees, Yuhui Zhou in foreground.

Youngest Walker

The youngest walker.

NYC Walk to Feed the Hungry

Sara McMahon

On our 6th annual NYC Walk to Feed the Hungry we were blessed with excellent weather—a little chilly at first, but the sunshine soon made it perfectly comfortable.​ About 150 people turned up to support this event!

Group Photo

Echo Bonner of the Dharma Drum Retreat Center ​got everyone warmed up with a mindful movement meditation, formally known as the Eight F​orm​ Meditation.

​Participants then gathered as ​Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi ​spoke of the history of the Walk, and read a ​special ​message of support from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Dear Friends:

I am pleased to join Buddhist Global Relief in welcoming everyone to the Walk to Feed the Hungry in New York City.

New York is a profoundly diverse City where residents from all backgrounds and walks of life are united by a shared commitment to lift up their neighbors. Today, Buddhist Global Relief exemplifies that quintessential New York spirit as it gathers friends and families from all faith backgrounds in Riverside Park in a shared commitment to end global hunger. I am delighted to express my appreciation to all of the participants: every step you take this day is a step toward a more equitable world. My administration is using every tool at our disposal to support families and build a brighter and more just City, and we are grateful for the community members and organizations that share our commitment to this cause.

On behalf of the City of New York, I offer my best wishes for a successful event and a productive year ahead.

Bill de Blasio

Following this announcement, we ​then ​began the Walk at the southern tip of Riverside Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, at the 79th street entrance.

Walkers Head of Line-1

​Many of our friends had come to join us, including the Muslim Women in Research & Development, a recipient of partial proceeds from the Walk. Among the many Buddhist groups that came to the Walk were representatives from Chuang Yen Monastery, the Shantideva Meditation Center, Buddhist Church of New York, the New York Buddhist Vihara, the Burmese Temple of Brooklyn, the Open Mind Zendo, New York Insight, and others.

Sylvie & Muslim Women

The ​Walk ​ended at the Holy Trinity Catholic Churc​h. As in past Walks, the Church generously provided us with a space to feast on the delicious vegetarian food provided by volunteers and donors. The Pastor welcomed us with kind words and expressed his appreciation for the purpose of the Walk.

Roshi Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts, from Heart Circle Sangha, emceed a program that was one of the most inspiring parts of the day.

Joan Hoeberichts

Roshi Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts

BGR Secretary Marcie Barth gave an overview of how our programs have grown from just four in 2008 to more than 26 programs in 2015.

Our friends from the Muslim Women’s Institute of Research and Development, Adam Bucko of the Reciprocity Foundation, Harry Mcneary of Urban Rebuilding Initiative, and Liz Gilbert of Helen Keller International also shared with us about how BGR’s support contributed to the growth and fulfillment of their own programs.

Adam Bucko-2

Adam Bucko of Reciprocity Foundation

Harry Mcneary of Urban Rebuilding Initiative

Representing the Sangha, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki spoke as President of the New York Council, and BGR Chair Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi explained the principle of “conscientious compassion” that animates the work of BGR. The day ended with a beautiful chant by the nuns of Chuang Yen Monastery, followed by Sri Lankan monks reciting chants to bless the assembly.​

Nuns Chanting

Youtube videos of walk highlights are available here: .

Click on the Youtube logo on the base line to access all ten videos.


BGR Walk in San Francisco

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Gold Mt Monastery

Group at Gold Mountain Monastery

Last Saturday (Oct. 24) I led the BGR Walk to Feed the Hungry in San Francisco. The walk started out from the Gold Mountain Monastery in Chinatown and proceeded up a very steep hill, with a pause for photos in front of the Grace Cathedral.

Starting Out-2

The Steep Ascent Uphill

We made our first stop at the Buddhist Churches of America on Octavia Street. Here we were treated to refreshments and were brought up to the stupa on the roof to pay homage to the relics of Shakyamuni Buddha and the chief disciples Sariputta and Moggallana. We also learned about the long history of BCA, the Buddhist organization with the longest continuous history in the US.

Buddhist Church of America

The walk then continued on until we reached the Vietnamese Buddhist Association, where again we were given refreshments and had a chance to hear about the history of the temple. Finally we ended at the Mindfulness Care Center, where we did a short meditation of mudita, rejoicing in the goodness of our actions that day, and shared the merits with the devas, nagas, spirits, and other beings.

Sharing Merits

Final Sharing of Merits

Excellent photos of the walk were taken by our Bay Area California photographer Kevin Cheung here:

San Francisco


Climate Change and Food System Shocks: Threats of Cascading Catastrophe

Charles W. Elliott

Food System Shocks
A global pre-eminent insurance market is waving red flags about the risk of climate-change shocks to our world food system that could quadruple the price of basic food commodities, cause widespread famine and social instability, and  bring down governments. Are world capitals paying attention?

Adding to the chorus of voices warning of threats to the global food system caused by climate change is global insurer Lloyds, which recently issued its report, “Food System Shock: The insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply“.  Food System Shock is one in a series of Lloyd “emerging risk” reports that address risks that are “perceived to be potentially significant but which may not be fully understood or allowed for in insurance terms and conditions, pricing, reserving or capital setting.”  This is not the first risk report on climate change issued by Lloyds (see, Lloyds’ Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change (2014)), nor the first to address global food security (see, Lloyds’ Feast or Famine (2013)).  But it is the first by Lloyds to connect these two, explicitly addressing the impacts of climate change on food production and follow-on effects to society in a globalized economy.

As with other Lloyds’ emerging threat reports, Food System Shock employs scenario modeling, in which events occur that are based on plausible expert data-based assumptions.  In this case,  a “production shock” is posited to occur within one year affecting several agricultural commodities in various regions of the world:

Experts in the fields of food security and the economics of sustainable development were asked to develop a plausible scenario of a global production shock to some of the world’s staple food crops, and to describe the cascade of impacts that could result.

The climate-change event driving the scenario is a strong warm-phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)  in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean.  Climate models indicate that climate change increases the probability and amplitude of these events. See, e.g.,  “Climate Change Could Double Likelihood of Super El Ninos.” The scenario event causes flooding in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, drought in India, Australia, and Southeast Asia, and intense rainfall in Bangladesh and eastern Pakistan that submerges cropland.  As a result,  severe impacts to agricultural production of rice, soybeans, corn, and wheat occur.  The analysis modeled the impacts to global commodity prices as a result of these production losses and export control responses by individual countries. In the scenario, corn and wheat prices rise to triple from 2000 prices; rice prices rise 500% in India.  Countries on the World Food Programme (WTF) food insecurity watch list become unable to import food.  Food riots break out in urban areas across the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America. Government instability results in a number of countries.  The U.S. stock market falls by 5%; main European markets fall 10%; more than a $1 trillion of market value is wiped out.

As the report tersely concludes:

In summary, quadrupled commodity prices and commodity stock fluctuations, coupled with civil unrest, result in significant negative humanitarian consequences and major financial losses worldwide.


There is little doubt that a systemic production shock to the world’s most important food crops as described in this scenario would generate a cascade of economic, political and social impacts. What is striking about the scenario is that the probability of occurrence is estimated as significantly higher than the benchmark return period of 1:200 years applied for assessing insurers’ ability to pay claims against extreme events.

Masked by this dry language, the insurance industry is, and should be, deeply worried. Our global connectedness is both a strength and a deep vulnerability. We are reminded that we are all interconnected in fundamental ways. What happens in one ocean affects us all. The cascading consequences revealed by this scenario modeling demonstrate an urgent need to build more robust resilience throughout the global food production, supply, and distribution system.

But even this is likely to enable only a weak adaptive response to the impacts of the climate change dynamics already “baked into” the levels of CO² we have released and will inevitably release into the atmosphere. What we need, of course, is collective action that will swiftly end the burning of fossil fuels and prevent the worst effects from emerging.

Absent from the Lloyds’ report is any sense of the scale of human suffering that would be wrought from these consequences. It is as though the sheer magnitude of the damage and chaos that would result cannot be directly spoken of. Yet we should not speak of a million starving people without pausing to understand what that truly means for each person, each family, each community that would be so badly hurt.

The world’s climate change negotiators will descend upon Paris on November 30, 2015 for the 21st U.N. Conference on Climate Change.  After decades of delay and inaction, we hope that they will finally keep in mind the millions of the poor and those most vulnerable to climate change disasters, most of whom have never burned a gallon of gasoline or a pound of coal their entire lives.

Solidarity “Walk for the Hungry” in Uganda

BGR Staff

Our friend, BGR adviser Ven. Uganda Buddharakkhita, the first Theravada Buddhist monk from Uganda and founder of the Uganda Buddhist Centre in Entebbe, writes:

To join your noble effort, the Uganda Buddhist Centre sponsored the “Walk for the Hungry” yesterday.  The walk started at the Uganda Buddhist Centre. Led by Ven. Dhammakami (a Buddhist nun, dressed in pink robes), it was our first walk of this nature.  Because the people who participated in the walk are very poor, they did not raise any money. However, by their walk, they raised awareness of the work of Buddhist Global Relief. You will notice that I am not in the picture; this is because I am spending the rain retreat overseas.