Category Archives: Interfaith action

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.

Phillie-BC-NY

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.)

 

 

Marching on Behalf of the Planet

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Photo credit: jomilo75 via Flickr / Creative Commons

Walking in unison can be a powerful means of social and political transformation. Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 challenged British authority in India and began the long process of civil disobedience that culminated in India’s independence. African Americans in the 1960s won their civil rights by undertaking long walks and marches through the South and in the nation’s capital. Millions of people in the 1960s marched against the Vietnam War, and again in 2003 to protest U.S. plans to attack Iraq. Just two years ago, almost half a million people converged on New York City to join the Peoples’ Climate March, showing that climate consciousness was no longer the concern of a minority. The March for a Clean Energy Revolution, to take place in Philadelphia on July 24th, continues this practice of using our legs to express the ideals that stir in our hearts. Continue reading

The Revolutionary Message of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the half-century since his tragic death at the age of 39, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been turned into a national idol. His birthday has been made a public holiday. His memorial stands in the heart of our capital city, close to the memorials of our greatest presidents. His name is invoked by politicians on both the left and the right, treated almost as sacrosanct. In the process of being glorified, however, King has been domesticated, sanitized, and tamed. His powerful voice, which once sent tremors down the spines of the power elites, now speaks in muffled tones. His speeches are quoted selectively, stripped of their fiercest and most insistent words. Nowadays we can even visit his memorial in D.C., read the quotations blazoned on the walls, and still chat blandly about the weather and the baseball scores.

MLK is most remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech, which in the mid-1960s became the anthem of the civil rights movement. But King was more than just a civil rights leader representing the concerns of African Americans. He was above all a man of deep faith who was ready to follow the call of conscience no matter where it led him, even into dangerous waters. He stood up against all travesties of human dignity, against all violations against the integrity of the human person, without concern for the identity of the victims.
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On Hope and Hype: Reflections on a New Year’s Tradition

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

2016 New Year's at CYM

At the dawn of a new year it’s customary to suspend our habitual cynicism about human nature in order to express joyful hopes for the year that lies ahead. While this practice helps to spread good cheer, at least for a day, it often seems to me an exercise with no practical consequences. How, I ask myself, can declaring my hopes to others make a dent in a world oblivious to our dreams? How can we expect the mere change of a date to alter the conditions under which we live?

The practice, I fear, may not be very different from a drug habit. Both seem to serve a similar purpose. If I find my life’s circumstances intolerable, I may try to numb my pain and frustration by taking a drug. If I perceive the world descending into chaos, I  try to console myself and cheer up others by declaring that this year things will be better. In this way, hope may turn out to be little more than hype: a psychological hypodermic needle filled with a mind-numbing narcotic, a hyperbole that obscures the grim reality that engulfs us all.
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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.
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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


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BGR Walk in Michigan

Maureen Bodenbach

Some 125 people joined the fifth annual Michigan Walk to Feed the Hungry on Sunday, September 27, held in the Kensington Park in Milford. Participants came from more than a dozen Buddhist groups from across Michigan. These ranged from Sri Lankan and Thai monasteries to a Korean Zen temple, the Chinese Chan and Pure Land traditions, members of several Vietnamese temples and students of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. They also included Westerners from various insight meditation groups in Ann Arbor, Lansing, and the metropolitan Detroit area. And there were lots of kids! Bringing families out was one of the goals of Ven. Haju Sunim of the Ann Arbor Zen Temple, so our youngest “walker” was just learning how to stand up from a crawl!

Walkers with banner
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