Category Archives: Buddhist social ethics

Worldviews Clash at Standing Rock

 Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The standoff at Standing Rock offers a choice between two worldviews: one that can lead to a new economy of shared prosperity and one that will hasten the devastation of the planet.

 

The struggle to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline marks not only a difference in economic policies but a contest between two radically different orientations to life. The struggle, which pits Native Americans and their allies against a company that constructs oil pipelines, has a profound significance that extends far beyond the plains of Standing Rock. The contest is both ethical and existential, and how it is resolved may well determine the future of human life, whether for harm or for good, on this beautiful but fragile planet.

On one side of the conflict stands Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation that is building the pipeline. If completed, the pipeline will extend 1,200 miles and will transport approximately 500,000 barrels daily of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to existing pipelines in Illinois, from where it will reach markets in the Midwest, the East Coast, and the South. The pipeline will thus be a vital artery in maintaining an economy powered by fossil fuels. Construction of the pipeline, however, cuts across land sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe—land they claim was recognized as theirs by the US government in a treaty going back to 1851. Moreover, the pipeline does not merely cross sacred land. If construction continues, it would pass beneath the Missouri River, putting at risk the water supply of the Native Americans and millions of other people living downstream who also depend on the river for their water.

So far, environmental assessment of the pipeline’s impact has been called “seriously deficient.” Such a hasty assessment is precarious enough, but even when they have passed rigorous scrutiny, oil pipelines have split, leaked, and even exploded, sometimes seriously enough to pollute the waters they traverse and leave behind a trail of toxic waste. These chemical spills are far from innocuous. For those living close by, the pollution has caused cancer, strange illnesses, permanent disabilities, and premature death. Birth defects and childhood leukemia are also possible dangers caused by exposure.

The pipeline represents a worldview that sees the earth as in essence a source of raw materials to service our economy. From this perspective, humanity’s task is to exploit the earth and bend it to our purposes, primarily the production of commodities to feed the fickle appetites of a consumerist culture. It is a worldview that prioritizes monetary profit over a vibrant planet; that puts immediate gain over the needs of future generations; that commodifies everything it sees and looks with disdain at the very idea of the sacred.

Those who subscribe to this worldview give little heed to population groups outside the citadels of corporate wealth and power. Without concern for the consequences, they would extract and market all the oil they can find for the purpose of enhancing the company’s bottom line. The results of such a worldview appear in the once-fertile lands that are turning into deserts, in the transformation of seasonal rains into irrepressible floods, in the long droughts and brutal heat waves, in the threat to the world’s food supply. The results are also manifest in the movements of people who choose to migrate from their traditional homelands to strange and sometimes hostile countries, preferring a dangerous sea passage to the risks of drought and famine.

Those arrayed against the pipeline—the Native Americans and their allies—hold a different worldview that entails a different set of priorities. This is a worldview that esteems life values over market values. It is a worldview that understands water is the source of life, an irreplaceable substance far more essential than petroleum. It recognizes that, with sufficient funding and political will, we can obtain all the energy we need from the sun and wind and geothermal sources. And it sees the ideal relationship of humankind to the earth to be one of care, stewardship, and reverence rather than reckless exploitation.

The stakes in this struggle are high. Deep ramifications lie just below the surface, beneath the daily skirmishes that erupt between the pipeline staff and the water protectors. Although the Dakota Access Pipeline can be viewed as just one pipeline among a multitude of others, circumstances have turned the project into a symbol for the crossroads at which humanity has finally arrived, the juncture where the road of energy development branches off in two different directions. If we stand up against the demands of Big Oil and reject the pipeline, we can pivot away from the old economy that feeds on the resources of the earth toward a new system that offers untapped promise. We can turn away from the barren moonscapes of destruction, away from the maltreatment of peoples whose lands are stripped from their hands, whose lives are ruined by oil spills and pools of toxic waste. We can stop heating up the planet in ways that imperil the future of humankind. By shifting to a new worldview, we can hasten the emergence of an economy that promotes a shared prosperity within the limits of the biosphere. We can adopt a new outlook on the earth, one that reveres the majesty of its mountains, the splendor of its forests, the sanctity of its natural rhythms.

The choice between these two orientations has grown starker over the past decade, ever since the reality of climate change impinged on public consciousness. The two alternatives have come to a head at Standing Rock. Denial is no longer tenable. Either we go on burning fossil fuels without concern for the impact, or we finally say, “It’s time to change course.” The choice now rests with President Obama. It’s up to him to show courage. It’s up to him to choose wisely, mindfully, and compassionately. And we can let him know what we want. We can send him a petition asking him to reject the Dakota Access Pipeline, to reject it once and for all. Let’s act skillfully, remembering that our future is at stake, that our action now affects generations as yet unborn, both in America and throughout the world.

BGR Provides Emergency Aid to Haiti After Hurricane Matthew Hits Hard

BGR Staff

(Photo : NASA/Public Domain) Hurricane Matthew as captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite hours after the storm hit the southwestern region of Haiti.

BGR began its relationship with Haiti in 2010, when we launched a partnership with the US-based What If Foundation to provide meals to hungry children in the Tiplaz Kazo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince–children who were left mostly homeless by the powerful earthquake of 2010. Since then our relationship with the island-nation has grown ever closer, and we have formed partnerships with several other organizations working in the island, including Oxfam America, the Trees That Feed Foundation, and the Arts Creation Foundation in Jacmel. This past April, our vice-chair and treasurer, David Braughton, visited the country to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Father Jeri School established by the What If Foundation to provide free education to children who would otherwise never have had the chance to attend school.

Just last week, Haiti was slammed hard by Hurricane Matthew, which swept over the island, leaving in its trail widespread devastation, shortages of food and fresh water, power failures, and a death toll of over a thousand. BGR responded immediately to the disaster. Meeting by email, we decided to provide emergency aid to three organizations. We made a $5,000 donation to the What If Foundation for food assistance through its partner on the ground, Na Rive, in Port-au-Prince; a $5,000 donation to CARE for emergency relief to the Jeremie and Southwest regions of the island, which were hit especially hard; and a donation of $3,000 to BGR partner, Trees That Feed, to assist with its feeding program and general recovery.

Though BGR is not an emergency aid organization but sponsors long-term development projects, we will closely monitor recovery efforts in the country after the hurricane to see how we can help most effectively in ways that correspond to our mission of combating hunger and malnutrition.

BGR Provides Emergency Donations to Help Syrian Refugees

BGR Staff 

ALEPPO, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 11: A Syrian 2 year old baby Zehra and Eye Halip, who fled bombing in Aleppo, are seen with their mother Belkiz Halip at a tent city close to the Bab al-Salam border crossing on Turkish-Syrian border near Azaz town of Aleppo, Syria on February 11, 2016. Russian airstrikes have recently forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes in Syrias northern city of Aleppo. (Photo by Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A Syrian 2 year old baby Zehra and Eye Halip, who fled bombing in Aleppo, are seen with their mother Belkiz Halip at a tent city close to the Bab al-Salam border crossing on Turkish-Syrian border near Azaz town of Aleppo, Syria on February 11, 2016. Russian airstrikes have recently forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes in Syrias northern city of Aleppo. (Photo by Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In late August, Buddhist Global Relief made emergency donations of $5,000 each to two respected aid organizations assisting refugees fleeing from the fighting in Syria. One is Oxfam America; the other is CARE. Driven from their homes, many families daily risk their lives in a dangerous flight for safety. Millions of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries– many of them children – travel long distances to other lands where they hope to find a place of safety and refuge. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people, both within Syria and outside, are in critical need of adequate food, shelter, healthcare, and warm clothes.

BGR’s donations to CARE and Oxfam will:

  • Deliver food baskets, baby items, and other emergency essentials to families cut off from supplies.
  • Provide access to clean water, including water purification tablets for individual families.
  • Increase access to health care for pregnant women and communities affected by conflict.

Readers who wish to help Syrian refugees should contribute directly to these two organizations, or to other organizations with a similar mission, rather than to Buddhist Global Relief.

Giving Girls in Nicaragua the Gift of Education

BGR Staff

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A partnership between Buddhist Global Relief and the North Country Mission of Hope is enabling ninety-four girls in Nicaragua to attend school. The Nicaraguan government mandates that children must wear black enclosed shoes and a uniform with their school insignia in order to attend public school. Considering that rural poverty is a staggering 67%, many poor children in the country are unable to attend school. A family will spend its precious financial resources securing food rather than putting shoes on the feet of their children. Purchasing a school uniform for their children, particularly a girl, is not a priority for survival. Over a third of adults cannot read or write, so they will have little interest in providing their children with the opportunity to obtain an education.

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Sadly, over 50% of babies in the country are born to teenage girls. Young mothers become completely dependent on the males in their community. The penal system in Nicaragua lacks laws protecting the rights of women and children, and therefore domestic violence is rampant. Without the opportunity to attend school and receive an education, this cycle will never end for the young women in Nicaragua.

The North Country Mission of Hope and Buddhist Global Relief have recently joined hands to help break this cycle. The North Country Mission of Hope sponsors nineteen rural schools in the barrios surrounding Chiquilistagua, providing a daily school meal, renovating and repairing the facilities as needed, and providing equipment such as school desks, blackboards, chairs, and tables. Through funding provided by BGR, ninety-four girls received sponsorship paying for their school shoes, uniforms, insignia, school supplies, backpack, and bi-annual parasite medicine.

The global partnership between BGR and the North Country Mission of Hope is a demonstration of what can be done when the power of compassion joins hearts in a common cause. The partnership offers these girls a safe haven to go to every day where they receive the gift of an education, necessary nourishment, and the chance to socialize with other children their own age. This generation of females will graduate and secure employment, which will give them financial freedom and a chance to make an impact upon their communities, society, and nation. In the faces of these girls one can see our future leaders—young women who will help make the world a better place for everyone.

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This article is based on a report from North Country Mission of Hope.

Sending a Message with Our Feet

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Yesterday, on July 24, 10,000 people came together in Philadelphia to join the March for a Clean Energy Revolution, held on the eve of the Democratic Party’s National Convention. In Philadelphia, the temperature broke the 100 mark, but marchers remained undeterred. Their  purpose in coming together was to urge our political leaders to act quickly and effectively to ban fracking, keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop dirty energy, transition to 100% renewable energy, and ensure environmental justice for all.

Food & Water Watch_Media Mobilizing Project

Scene in the courtyard of Philadelphia’s city hall (Photo: Food & Water Watch_Media Mobilizing Project)

Members of the BGR team and other Buddhists were among those on the march. BGR participants included Sylvie Sun, Charles Elliott, Marcie Barth, and Regina Valdez. Also joining were Rev. T.K. Nakagaki of the Buddhist Council of New York, Ven. Ru Fa of the Chinese Buddhist community, Bob and Sarah Kolodny of Buddhist Climate Action Network NY, and East Coast members of the Plum Village Sangha.

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L to R: Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, Sylvie Sun, Ven. Rufa. (Photo: Regina Valdez)

The heat wave hanging heavy over North America this past week is just one of thousands of manifestations of climate change. We see other signs in blistering droughts, more violent hurricanes, destructive wildfires, and rising sea levels. Some 25% of the world’s animal species face extinction. Climate change threatens the world’s food supply, turning fertile land into dust bowls and deserts, triggering deluges, and reducing the yields of staple grains. If we don’t act quickly, millions of more people will be subjected to terrible food shortages, malnutrition, and even starvation.

To avert the worst imaginable consequences, incremental measures are not enough. We need to make an all-out effort to shift away from polluting and destructive fossil fuels and adopt clean renewable sources of energy. Millions of people around the country, and hundreds of millions around the world, have recognized the danger and are demanding a rapid and total transition in our energy systems. The march was but one expression of concern about the climate, one that brought together people from all around the country—I met some even from California—to voice their aspirations for a sustainable world by walking together through the streets of Philadelphia, starting from City Hall and ending at Independence Square.

Clean Energy March-BGR

The banner does not quite fit, but it is the one we have. (Photo: Regina Valdez)

An interfaith service in the inner court at City Hall preceded the actual march. The service began with a smudging ritual and invocation by members of the Lenape Native Community. This was followed by short presentations (all under five minutes) by representatives of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. I was privileged to be the Buddhist representative at the service. Here is the text of my prepared remarks. A video of my presentation is here.

Since I spoke extemporaneously, my actual words were a little different from the prepared text.

First, visualize as if from space a heat map of the earth as it might have looked in the 19th century, with prevalence of blue and green bands. Then visualize a heat map of the earth as it is today, with increasing bands of yellow, orange, and red.

Now let us focus in on real life situations on the earth, among those most badly affected by climate change. In each case, do not merely think about these communities, but bodily identify with each one, as if you are that person.

(1) You are a child in a family of small-scale farmers in Senegal. The land is parched and barren, livestock are dying. Your parents decide to migrate to Europe. You leave behind everything you know and travel overland to the Mediterranean Sea, risking your lives to cross the sea. You look back at the land you are leaving behind—your home country, all your relatives, all your memories—and look ahead at the sea before you, facing an uncertain future.

(2) You are a farmer in India. The monsoon rains have failed this year. The rivers run thin, as the glaciers have been shrinking due to the rise in temperature. There is insufficient water to irrigate your crops. You are heavily in debt. You look at the can of insecticide. You have a wife and four kids to support, but your situation is unendurable. You wonder: Is this the only escape route?

(3) You are the parent of two children in the Philippines. It’s a nice day and your children went our to play on the beach. Suddenly a typhoon arrives, fierce and powerful, and sweeps over the entire village. You look out from your porch, and see your children bewildered as the waves rise higher and crash down on them. Then, helplessly, you see your children being swept off by the flood.

(4) You live in a nice house in a quiet rural community in Pennsylvania. Life has been uneventful here for years, but just a few weeks ago some trucks arrived, bringing heavy equipment. A line of natural gas has been discovered beneath the shale formations a few miles away, and now each day there is the rumbling noise of trucks. Before long, you hear blasting noise and a natural gas well rises on the horizon. After a few months, the noise and odor become intolerable and the water from your well has started to take on a strange benzene-like taste.

Now return to your own body, to your own identity. Let us realize that we ourselves have the capacity to prevent these tragedies. It all depends on our own will, our determination to act. But to have any hope of success, we must act not along, but together, in ever larger numbers, to exert pressure on our government and institutions to heed our will. What we are doing here today is a beginning, but there is still so much to be done. (Moment of silent reflection.)

 

 

Defending the Forests in Cambodia

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Cambodian Monks and Trees

Photograph: Chantal Elkin (Flickr) for Alliance of Religions and Conservation

Forests are the lungs of the world. Their trees suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breathe out oxygen, thereby controlling carbon emissions and helping to maintain a viable planet. They serve as homes to countless varieties of animals, birds, insects, and plants, many with rare medicinal properties. In tropical countries the forests provide a blanket of coolness that protects against the heat of the day. And for centuries the forests have given shelter to Buddhist monks, who resort to them to pursue their quest for peace of mind, wisdom, and the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice, nibbāna.

Yet all around the world the forests are in danger. With the growth of global population and the need to expand agricultural production, the world’s forest cover has shrunk drastically. In almost every continent, trees are being cut down at alarming rates by loggers, land developers, and large agricultural firms in order to make room for mono-culture plantations and industrial-scale farms.

Deforestation has been occurring especially rapidly in Cambodia. According to the human rights organization Licadho, between 2000 and 2013 14.4 percent of Cambodia’s jungle disappeared. Over 12 percent of the trees were cut in protected areas. The loss of forest cover portends danger for people, animals, and the climate. As in so many poor countries, profit takes precedence even over survival, as people pursuing short-term aims recklessly undermine the prerequisites for our long-term future.

But the forests have a determined corps of guardians who have risen to their defense: Buddhist monks. The German news agency DW recently posted an article about an organization of Cambodian monks—the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice—that is battling to save the country’s forests. The organization’s leader, Venerable But Buntenh, explained: “No one has told me that I should go out there to protect the forest, but for me it was a logical thing to do. I am doing all I can to save it. I plant new trees, I help the people who live from the forest, I am reminding the government of the promises they’ve made.” A younger monk named Horn Sophanny, who was inspired by Buntenh to join the movement, states: “It is our job to lead society to a better place. We are the symbol of compassion. The pagodas are the roots of our knowledge.”

The monks hold workshops at which they teach local people how to use social media to protect themselves and the jungles near their homes. They receive staunch support from the villagers who live near the forests but have faced strong opposition from the authorities. They have been spied on, threatened, and sued; their workshops are interrupted by village chieftains; their temples have been raided by the police. Even the supreme patriarch of the Buddhist order has criticized them, saying that monks shouldn’t be involved in protests.

But the monks remain undeterred in their determination to protect the forests. Buntenh says: “I don’t think I’m a good monk, because I am mean to the police and to the military. But I’m ready to give everything for my people and the forest. If I have to give my life for it today or tomorrow, then I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

Seeing Haiti with My Own Eyes

David Braughton

DB_Meals on Steps

The children started filling the large cafeteria 90 minutes before lunch. They came, two, four, nine at a time and squeezed quietly 10 to 12 onto row after row of wooden benches. By the time the food was ready, over 600 kids, and the occasional mother cradling an infant, packed the room. Late arrivals were directed outside to large concrete steps where they sat unshaded beneath the afternoon sun or stood in line hoping that there would be enough food to go around.

Before the meal, adults led the kids in songs and repeated in unison, “Piti piti na rive!” The old Creole saying is a testament of hope and means “Little by little, we will arrive!” Then the other volunteers and I were instructed to form four long lines stretching from where the plates were prepared down the aisles and, like a fire brigade, started passing steaming plates of red beans and rice and a small chicken drumstick to each other and then along to the waiting youngsters. Continue reading