Tag Archives: Bhikkhu Bodhi

Buddhists Roll On Together to the People’s Climate March

The scene at the U.S. Capitol building. People’s Climate March, 2017. Photo by Caroline Contillo.

Stepping off the Buddhist retreat bus in D.C. on Saturday, two things were apparent: the 2017 People’s Climate March was going to be huge, and it was going to be hot. The record-breaking 92-degree heat seemed to enhance the energy of the staggering crowds that had convened to march from the foot of the Capitol Building to surround the White House.

I’d chosen to march with the Buddhist contingent as part of the Faith Bloc, situated between the Science bloc and Fossil Fuel resistance groups that gathered to surge down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was Trump’s 100th day in office, and over 200 Buddhists from around the world had shown up to make their voices heard with another 200,000+ people. The common message was clear: we know the climate is changing, and we want to address this.

The 2014 People’s Climate March in New York had been a groundbreaking moment for inter-sangha cooperation. While it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see politically engaged teachers like Bhikkhu Bodhi and Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara at a demonstration, coordinated action was relatively new. Representatives of various sanghas and concerned practitioners stepped up. Bob Kolodny, who practices at New York Insight and coordinates the New York chapter of the Buddhist Climate Action Network (BCAN) would use many of the connections he’d developed at that time to contribute to Bhikkhu Bodhi and Regina Valdez’ vision of a whole new form of engagement for the 2017 version of the march. “We’re seeing people galvanize across the country to face a number of issues. I don’t think the Buddhist community is that different. People are concerned and want to respond,” Kolodny told me. He also credits Bhikkhu Bodhi and David Loy for helping people realize that taking action is consistent with Buddhist principles. “More and more people have been inspired to take action. It certainly seems like a threshold has been crossed,” he said.   What the Triple Gem retreat offered was a space to be in solidarity with other Buddhists from various traditions and take our practices out of the meditation center and into the world.

I found out about the “Triple Gem Rolling Retreat” through a BCAN email. There would be four buses, each led by a renowned Buddhist teacher who would offer teachings and give a sense of ceremony to our trip from New York. I felt motivated to attend the march because I believe it’s important to get out from behind my laptop and be in the presence of others who want to address the huge social and environmental issues of this era. I also try to treat each demonstration, each rally, and by extension each moment of my life as an opportunity to bear witness. The Zen Peacemakers’ three tenets are something I try to live by, where we empty our minds of preconceived notions, bear witness to suffering, and then transform that suffering through compassionate action.

What the Triple Gem retreat offered was a space to do all this in solidarity with other Buddhists from various traditions, so we could share our different interpretations of each principle, and help build a case for taking our practices out of the meditation center and into the world.

Members of Buddhist Global Relief at the Washington, D.C. People’s Climate March, 2017. Photo by Caroline Contillo.

The bus caravan to DC was organized by Regina Valdez, outreach coordinator for Bhikkhu Bodhi’s organization, Buddhist Global Relief. A practicing Buddhist of eight years, Valdez had become concerned with what she perceived as a need for Buddhists to engage their practice with social and environmental issues. The idea for a rolling retreat, with Buddhist teachers and monastics giving a sense of ceremony to a trip to the Climate March, stemmed from her group Compassion NYC, which she founded to implement the Buddhist Global Relief missions of economic and climate justice on a local level.

“I thought it would be wishful thinking, to have this rolling retreat to Washington, but it’s been a trip! A day and night mission,” she told me over the phone before the retreat, which she had been working on since January.

I gravitated to Buddhist practice to grapple with the despair I felt after learning about climate change. I had studied climate science, the history of its discovery, and its presentation in science journalism as an undergrad at Hunter College. I was left feeling that I’d need not just a meditation practice but an ethical framework to confront my fear about the future. Buddhism offered very practical and elegant tools for this endeavor. Through an understanding of my own suffering, I could connect to others and work to let go of my tendency to project stories of worry into the future. After changing my relationship to myself, I could relate to the world in a way that was less driven by the momentum of anxiety and even work to help alleviate the suffering caused by social and environmental justice.

Carrying the BGR Banner at the People’s Climate March

I gravitated to Buddhist practice to grapple with the despair I felt after learning about climate change. I had studied climate science, the history of its discovery, and its presentation in science journalism as an undergrad at Hunter College. I was left feeling that I’d need not just a meditation practice but an ethical framework to confront my fear about the future. Buddhism offered very practical and elegant tools for this endeavor. Through an understanding of my own suffering, I could connect to others and work to let go of my tendency to project stories of worry into the future. After changing my relationship to myself, I could relate to the world in a way that was less driven by the momentum of anxiety and even work to help alleviate the suffering caused by social and environmental justice.

Climate change is on one hand framed as a problem we can overcome by finding the right solutions and by showing up at protests. On the other hand, the climate is the very thing we live within, and touches every aspect of our lives. It is an intricate network of feedback loops and interconnection. It points to the fact that no issue is actually isolated. In Buddhist practice we call this interdependence. In social theory, the term intersectionality has gained popularity, pointing to the way that no social issue or aspect of identity exists in isolation. What I’m sensing is that we are becoming more able to think in terms of systems, and understanding climate change can be a catalyst for that.

Reverend angel Kyodo williams, the second black woman to be ordained as a teacher in her lineage, led a retreat bus for people of color and accomplices, a word that references more active participation than the conventional idea of being an ally in the struggle for justice. This explicitly intersectional approach to the march and to Buddhist practice took the principle of interdependence and asked us to make it concrete by acknowledging that people of color and indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental racism. The changing climate touches all of us — but some people are more vulnerable to the harm it causes.

The morning of the march we lined up at 6am along 34th Street in Manhattan, checking in with a well-organized team of head teachers, bus captains, and other volunteers. I was assigned to Roshi Enkyo O’Hara’s bus. Buddhist Global Relief provided us with breakfast bags and instructions for what to do once on the ground in DC. After a DVD introduction to the Rolling Retreat featuring Bhikkhu Bodhi’s impassioned plea for compassionate action, Enkyo spoke to the politically engaged nature of her tradition, Soto Zen. Teachings continued throughout the four-hour bus ride, including commentary from Reverend T.K. Nakagaki of the Buddhist Council of New York, Michele LaPorte of the Shambhala and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, and Reverend Doyeon Park of Won Buddhism New York. It was a unique opportunity to hear a number of Buddhist perspectives on the necessity of engaging Buddhist practices to confront what Bhikkhu Bodhi explained as a challenge and crisis that faces the entire global community.

We had the opportunity to share with each other about our own practices and a little about the things that motivated us to participate in the march. Some common themes included a desire to ensure a hospitable climate for future generations and a commitment to being with others who have similar values. As my bus neighbor Marilyn Ivy, an anthropology professor at Columbia University, said, “being around other people makes confronting these challenges seem more doable.”

Many different Buddhist traditions were represented on my bus alone, including Pure Land, Chan, Won, Shambhala, Nyingma, and we were joined by a member of the Baha’i faith. Some wanted to be actively engaged in democracy, and there were monastics on the bus who said that as people of conscience, they wanted to make sure Trump knew that his actions were being witnessed. The common thread was feeling the need to respond to the climate emergency from a place of compassion.

Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, with fellow marchers, protecting himself from the hot sun at the Washington, D.C. People’s Climate March, 2017. Photo by Caroline Contillo.

Heading towards the starting point from the bus parking lot, the sheer volume of the march was striking. The streets and the sidewalks around the National Mall were packed shoulder to shoulder before we began marching. The density of the crowd made it difficult to stay together as a consolidated group so, once the march started, I moved through the crowd, attempting to talk to different factions within the Buddhist contingent. Aside from the participants who’d come from New York, I was told there were over 200 other Buddhists who had come from as far as Japan and Taiwan for the march.

I had the opportunity to ask Bhikkhu Bodhi what he felt the Buddhist basis for participating in the climate march might be. Under the intensity of what felt like a summer sun in August, he spoke about what equanimity means. “Equanimity does not mean withdrawing from all the events taking place in the world and cultivating indifference,” he said. “True equanimity should co-exist with the wisdom of cause and effect. Through wisdom we understand the causes of suffering and out of compassion we are motivated to act in ways that will eliminate those causes at different levels.”

At 12:30, we began marching. Sometimes I’d find myself having fallen behind amongst the Quakers and Mennonites. When I’d try to catch up with the Buddhists I’d go too far and end up in the midst of the Science Bloc. This ended up being a beautiful pilgrimage in itself, a tour of different ways of relating to the crisis of climate change.

At 2 o’clock, we all sat down to perform a “collective heartbeat” by tapping on our chests. Or at least, that was the plan. Due to the size of the crowd and the swiftness of the collective action, I missed that part, but we all managed to get back in synch and let out an enormous roar. “This is a sense of solidarity we rarely experience,” a woman behind me said to her march companion.

A Thich Nhat Hanh-inspired sign at the People’s Climate March, 2017. Photo by Caroline Contillo.

The ride back to New York was more subdued, with chanting at sunset by Reverend Nakagaki, and a reading by Michele LaPorte of the Sadhana of Mahamudra. We talked to each other about action points and next steps, urged by Roshi O’Hara to consider the “bonds of spiritual friendship” forged on our pilgrimage.

In the hopes of stoking the energy of a growing Buddhist climate movement, Bob Kolodny encouraged us to act as point people for our home sanghas. If each of us volunteered to announce information about future actions related to the climate, we could take what Roshi called the good feelings cultivated on this march and integrate them with the necessity for resistance.

Debra Keehn, who practices at Zen Center for Contemplative Care in New York, mentioned the idea of bringing our Buddhist principles with us to other sorts of political action and civil society group meetings. Her feelings about the march captured what many of us felt: “very grounding, despite the heat!” As the motto for 2014’s climate march said, “to change everything, we need everyone.” If Buddhist practitioners and other meditators are willing to bring our practices to meet the crises of this era, I think we stand a chance of meeting this moment of extreme change with a unique set of tools and a grounded perspective.

This article originally appeared on the website Lion’s Roar here. It is posted here with permission of the publisher.

The author, Caroline Contillo,  completed the Dharma Immersion Program at the Interdependence Project in 2011. She has been interested in using the lenses of mindfulness, improv comedy, direct action, and science fiction to see how we might co-create a just and joyous world. She teaches meditation at MNDFL, a new studio in Lower Manhattan. She lives in Queens, and invites you to check out her personal site spacecrone.com or follow her on twitter, @spacecrone.

 

BGR Provides Emergency Relief to Countries Facing Food Crisis

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, announced that the world is facing the most serious humanitarian crisis since the beginning of the United Nations. More than 20 million people in four countries—Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria—are suffering from extreme food shortages, with millions at risk of starvation, a large percentage of them children. Speaking to the UN Security Council last Friday (March 10), O’Brien warned that “without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease.”

Photo: World Food Program

The gravest  crisis is in Yemen, where  17 million people are facing dangerous levels of food insecurity and will fall prey to famine without urgent humanitarian assistance. Seven million people are deemed to be in a state of emergency – one step away from famine. In South Sudan more than a million children are acutely malnourished, including 270,000 who will die if aid does not reach them in time. In Somalia close to 3 million people are struggling with severe food shortages and need immediate help to survive. Close to a million children under five in Somalia are expected to suffer from acute malnourishment this year. In northeast Nigeria, a seven-year uprising by the armed group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes. Malnutrition in this region is so severe that some adults are too weak to walk and some communities have lost all their toddlers.

These food shortages, while due partly to drought and crop failures, are largely precipitated by regional conflicts. The conflict may be internal, as in South Sudan, where fighting between rival factions prevents food supplies from reaching those in need. Conflict may also be external, as in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been unleashing relentless aerial bombardments against Houthi rebels, attacks that claim the lives of many civilians. According to O’Brien, in Yemen “all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid.”

One of the biggest obstacles to relief aid is inadequate funding. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that this year humanitarian operations in the four countries require more than $5.6 billion, with $4.4 billion needed by the end of March to avert catastrophe. However, he added, “just $90 million has actually been received so far—around two cents for every dollar needed.”

Although the U.S. has consistently been a major supporter of the UN’s humanitarian projects, reports suggest that the Trump administration intends to slash its contributions to the organization as a whole as well as to the three agencies on the front line in responding to the crisis: the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program, and UNICEF. These cuts, if implemented, will increase the need for nongovernmental actors and private philanthropies to come to the rescue.

While BGR is not an emergency relief organization, when crises erupt that require immediate aid, we have often responded with special donations from a fund  maintained to meet urgent demands for food aid. In response to the present crisis, this past week BGR made an emergency donation of $10,000 to the World Food Program, to be divided equally between the four affected countries–$2,500 each to Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria. This, of course, is a mere drop when measured against the amount needed, but we have to respond in a way that fits our capacity, monitoring the situation with a view to future aid.

This donation brings to $58,000 the amount that BGR has so far contributed in emergency aid over the past fiscal year, which extends from July 2016 to June 2017. Previous emergency donations went to relief organizations working for flood victims in Assam, India; for people living in famine stricken areas in Eastern and Southern Africa; for relief aid in Haiti following the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew; and to provide food aid to Syrian refugees.

Note: BGR makes emergency donations from its own special emergency fund and does not solicit contributions from the public for such purposes. Readers who wish to donate to support food relief in these four countries can do so through the website of the World Food Programme. There are separate windows for each country.

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. Continue reading

A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

It was with feelings of shock and dismay that early this morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.

Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.”

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