Buddhist Action Month 2016

Metta for the oceans, supermarkets and shoppers! John West unsustainable fishing protest

On Fri, 10 June, 2016 - 17:56
Momtaz's picture

Metta for the oceans, supermarkets and shoppers! John West unsustainable fishing protest at Sainsbury’s

Text: Maitrisiddhi

Photos: Lisa Lens

It was a hot muggy Tuesday 7th of June.  At a quarter to five, we were crowded round the table in the dark Taraloka community kitchen.  You’d’ve thought we were preparing a bank heist.  A pencilled sketch map of the front of Sainsbury’s supermarket in Whitchurch was spread out in front of us.  I’d cased the joint the night before.

‘So we’ll put ourselves there – next to the cashpoint, in front of the pizza adverts.  Not there, cos people have got to get at the trolleys, and not here, cos they’ve got to get in the door. ’

‘What happens if security guards try to make us leave?’ asked someone.

‘Well, the idea is to stay put, and keep meditating.  Stay polite, don’t get in an argument.  After that, it’s up to you.  Everyone decides for themselves if they want to get up and leave.’

‘Will there be any shouting?’ asked Vimalasri.

‘No.’ I said.  ‘Definitely no shouting.  Meditating, not shouting.’  

Once, in Sheffield, on my way home from work, I cycled past a protest about Burma.  This was at the time when the Burmese army was killing or imprisoning protesting Buddhist monks.   There were some shouting people with placards, and then there was another separate group, from the Amida Trust, who were sitting on the pavement meditating.  It was so powerful to see them there, like a genuine fourth sight, another way of responding, that wasn’t angry, and didn’t involve blame.  The impact on me was much more powerful than the people shouting and waving banners.  I tried to carry on going home, got five minutes down the road, stopped, turned round, and joined them, sitting on the cold paving slabs using my shoes as meditation cushions.  That had been the only meditation protest I had ever been involved in.  But when it came to BAM 2016, I thought, ‘well, why not us!’  And we could take cushions!

There were eleven of us out the front of Sainsbury’s that night – from the Taraloka, Shrewsbury and Llangollen sanghas.  We were there in support of the Greenpeace campaign to get Sainsbury’s to drop John West tuna.  In May, Tescos said they’d stop stocking John West unless they fish sustainably.  That was quite a thing for them to do!  After a short Greenpeace campaign, Waitrose did the same.  Now we were asking Sainsbury’s to join them.

John West tuna is caught using Fish Aggregating Devices, which attract all the fish in the area and catch them in great nets – endangered turtles, sharks, baby tuna  - everything in that bit of sea.  After being killed, the unwanted sea creatures are dumped.  John West promised to be fishing 100% sustainably by 2016 but in fact only 2% of their tuna is sustainably fished by rod and line.  Sainsbury’s, Tescos and M&S own brand tuna is all line fished, so it can be done.

Arriving at Sainsbury’s, we made a swift installation of ourselves, tucked between the cashpoint ‘beee, beee, beee, bip’,  and the automatic doors ‘rshh-swussh’, which let out the store smells and the tannoy adverts.  Placards explained why we were there and ended ‘Buddhist Action Month’.

From just inside the lobby, a security guard and a manager appeared,  uncertainly watching us setting out placards, Karrimats and cushions.  I went to talk to them.  The manager’s first comment to me was:

‘We seem to come out if it quite well!’  

He seemed pleased and slightly taken aback as he looked at the poster where we were rejoicing in Sainsbury’s own brand sustainably fished tuna.  I liked his surprise. 

 ‘We haven’t been told anything by Head Office,’ he said.  ‘I don’t know if you’re allowed to be here, but (hesitantly) I can’t see why not….   What will you be doing?’

‘Meditating.  It’ll be very quiet.’

Away he went to find the duty manager, taking with him the letter we’d written.  

It was quite busy - the after-work rush.  People were in their summer clothes. The tannoy adverts were all about barbecues.  Some people stared, others walked straight by on a single-minded grocery quest.  For me there was a mythic feel to what we were doing.  My yidam is Maitreya, the Bodhisattva of metta or maitri.  There’s a story about how Maitreya gets his name.   In some far distant past, he lives in a populous city.  Every day, he goes to the city gates, where families and tradespeople, rich and poor, beggars and travellers pass back and forth, and he meditates there, right in the midst of the busy world.  He doesn’t pick a quiet cave up a mountain.  He meditates there, every day, and his practice is metta.  And it becomes apparent that everyone who passes in or out of the city can feel his metta.  It’s so strong that it radiates out and touches each person who passes by.  His practice directly affects people – even if they’re not at all interested – even if they are just going for their evening shopping - even if they’re just picking up some milk, tomatoes and a paper before they take the kids home.  And that is how he comes to be called Maitreya, the Friendly One or Loving One.

The duty manager was a well-groomed blonde lady.  She came out during our first sit (of a quadruple metta bhavana, with bells.) 

‘I think you’ll have to move over there,’ she said, pointing at an area well away from where anyone was passing.  ‘You’re obstructing the entrance.  And we have to be able to get the trolleys in.’ 

We both looked at the entrance space.  Four trolleys could have passed side by side, and that was obvious to us both.

‘If we sit over there’, I said, ‘no-one will see us.  If anyone complains, or if the trolleys can’t get in, just come and touch me on the shoulder and I’ll get everyone moved out of the way.’

She looked at me.

‘I do have sympathy with what you’re doing,’ she said.

Ten of us sat there.  Chloe was the eleventh, who had to leave early to pick up her son from football.  Some people took photos with their phones.  Cars suddenly braked and drove very slowly past us, windows open, with their occupants staring.  The main question kids seemed to have for their parents was ‘What’s tuna?’   One enterprising kid asked ‘What’s meditation?’  I didn’t catch the response.    A couple came out of the shop.  The woman was talking quite loudly about something or other, and the man with her saw us.  Amidst all the noise of people, cars, beeps, and adverts, he whispered:

            ‘Sssh, they’re meditating!’

If you would like to sign the Greenpeace petition asking Sainsbury’s to drop John West, the link is:  http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/oceans/waitrose-tesco-and-now-sainsbur…

On the metta protest were: Maitrisiddhi, Trish, Momtaz, Samantabhadri, Lisa, Vimalasri, Stella, Rebecca, Anni, Pen and Chloe.

Momtaz:   ‘It was my first ever protest!  I really loved that it was peaceful and that we were doing something together, collectively, for a higher purpose.  Even in all the hustle and bustle I could feel that the ambiance we were creating was quite different.  When we were meditating, I was surprised that I could allow the hustle and bustle to be there, to be part of the experience, and also my mind could focus on metta and the reason why we were there.  And it was fun!’

Lisa:  ‘It was my first protest too!  I was taking photographs for some of the time, so I got to see more of people’s different reactions.  Some were surprised, others were trying to look at us and read the placards without looking like they were.  Others simply stopped and paid attention.  To me, it felt like confirmation that our small actions – just sitting there meditating – were really having an effect on other people.’

Trish:   ‘Whether or not Sainsbury’s do put pressure on John West to fish sustainably, it still felt really powerful to be protesting in that particular way, not angry or aggressive.  It’s so out of the ordinary, to sit down in public and meditate.  It felt like we were drawing people’s attention to our placards just by being there.  There was a sense of cohesion, that we were all doing it as a group.  I don’t know if cohesion is the right word, but I loved it.  And I loved the way the manager came out, and listened to Maitrisiddhi, listened to reason.  She was trying to get us to move, but she listened to you, and realised she didn’t have a valid reason.’ 

Samantabhadri:  ‘I felt the resonance of Amitabha, even though I was sitting next to the cash dispenser, even amidst all the noise.  It’s amazing in that world, when you close your eyes, how noisy it is – yet it was really interesting how much we could feel the texture of meditation in that situation.’

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Tejopala's picture

Good on you all! What an excellent thing to do. Protest and metta can go hand in hand, and this is such a clear example. I hope Sainsbury’s changes its policy soon. Just clicked on the link and sent my email to their CEO

Yogaratna's picture

Well done!  Found your account(s) really inspiring.  Especially loved that interaction with the duty manager.  sadhu

Yogaratna's picture

…and I’ve emailed Sainsburys CEO

mokshini's picture

Dear all, I felt really moved reading your account of your sit-in at Sainsbury”s. Well done all of you! There is something about the power of silence and just not responding to something that we don’t like with the habitual tools of aversion, aggression, and force  but instead just have the courage and conviction to sit there in silence and radiate metta, that I find deeply moving and feel quite inspired by! Good on you :) 

And I can well imagine that you’ve been the fourth sight to quite a few of the good people of Whitchurch. I’ve signed the petition too! 

Utpaladhi's picture

This is both so very beautiful and so very powerful. I found myself in tears reading your moving words about Maitreya, Maitrisiddhi. What an inspiration to really live our practice out in the world you all are. Thank you so much for taking this brave action, and for sharing.

santacitta's picture

Great! What a fantastic thing to do. I had signed the petition, but hadn’t thought to take it further…

very inspiring, thank you.

sion's picture

Well done all of you!!

angela's picture

Feeling very inspired and moved reading your accounts, what a radical response, amidst all the noise and bustle to sit quietly with your message. Loved the story about ‘the friendly one’ too. Many thanks, Angie Valorose

Nirajadhi's picture

Your article has bought me to tears….. thank you for your courage and demonstration of turning against the stream………….Katherine Sewell Bristol

Dharmasri's picture

SADHU! Very moving, very inspiring, thanks for sharing the story x

sanjaysinghvi's picture

My 18 year old daughter alerted me to this cause, and I thank her for it. Your actions have created ripples which continue to permeate people and change their thinking today.