Triratna News

The Three Jewels meet the Climate Emergency

On Mon, 11 February, 2019 - 16:05
Sadayasihi's picture

In December the Bristol Buddhist Centre hosted a practice morning on the theme ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’. The event offered a space for the Sangha to come together to explore thoughts and feelings around the climate emergency, how Dharma practice helps with facing the reality of the situation, and what ‘taking action’ might look like in this context. This was followed by an action outside Barclays bank in the afternoon with meditation, leafletting and singing ‘climate carols.’

Listen to the guided meditation and talks from this event

Read more about the Triratna Global Emergency Initiative and get involved!

Amrtanadi was one of those involved in this event. Here is an interview with her about her involvement in climate activism, the event that took place in Bristol, and what she thinks the Dharma can bring to the table.

Do you have a background in activism?
One of the strongest guiding principles in my practice of the Dharma is my desire to live from love and to avoid causing harm. Making choices that minimise the harm I cause through contributing to climate change has been important to me for a long time - for example, around transport and where my food comes from.

But I’d never taken that further into collective action or activism - in part, because I didn’t quite know where to put my energy, and perhaps also because of a feeling of powerlessness, not having a clear sense of what I could do that might make a difference beyond my own individual ethical choices. I think this is a common response in the face of such a massive, complex and emotive issue as climate change. I very often hear from other people that there is nothing we can do, it’s all much bigger than us, a kind of collective sense of disempowerment, together I think with the emotional overwhelm that can quite easily arise when we try to take in the enormity of the situation that we face.

Something really changed for me when the latest IPCC report came out in at the beginning of October of last year which stated, in much more urgent terms than I had heard before, the need for us to act now. What really affected me about the report was the almost deafening silence that greeted it in the mainstream media, and life carrying on all around me as usual. I think it really sank in to me at that point just how much we really can’t take in what is happening and what the climate emergency calls on us to do. The group Extinction Rebellion (XR) rose out of this time, calling for mass civil disobedience to try and force the issue more into public consciousness and to make the government take notice and take action, spelling out in black and white the reality of the situation that we are facing: the potential extinction of much life on earth and a real threat to human survival. This felt like a much more real and congruent response to the IPCC report than the business as usual life I saw going on all around me.

I also began reflecting a lot on what it means to be a practicing Buddhist in this time, and what part we, as a Sangha, and as part of the larger faith community might play - and, perhaps, have a responsibility to play - in raising awareness and being part of the collective change that must happen.

I saw clearly that focusing on individual ethical actions is not enough in the face of the urgency of our need to act. It wasn’t that my, and our, individual actions and choices didn’t now matter - they do. But my perspective on my practice of the first precept, my sense of what it means to practice non-harm and take loving action for the benefit of all beings in this age of climate breakdown, expanded and deepened. It felt clear that this must include engagement with collective action directed to raising awareness and to systemic change to try and bring about the dramatic and urgent reductions in carbon emissions now needed.

So, from never having taken part in any activism, apart from a march or two over the years, I quickly found myself involved in many actions and events with Extinction Rebellion and the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE). It felt so helpful and important for me to make connections with others who are also in touch with the reality of the situation, to have a context to share our feelings, to be able to express them through positive action, and to experience a strong sense of solidarity and empowerment through coming together.

Who organised the ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’ event in Bristol and what was its purpose?
My friend Dayajoti, who has been involved with Buddhafield for many years, and I were talking about the IPCC report, Extinction Rebellion and activism on the way up to Bhante’s funeral and the idea to run an event at the Bristol Buddhist Centre came out of that conversation. We knew that many people had been affected by the report and wanted to offer a space where the Sangha could come together to share thoughts and feelings around the climate emergency, how our Dharma practice might help us engage and face the reality of the situation, and explore taking action as a part of our practice.

We asked Rowan, who is a Mitra who has asked for ordination with the Oxford Sangha, to join us and give one of the talks. Rowan has been very involved with XR and DANCE and activism around the climate emergency is an integral part of her going for refuge and expression of the Bodhisattva ideal. We also asked Taranita to give one of the talks, who had also been at an XR event I was at in Bristol, Beth, who had also become involved with XR, and Amaragita who has been involved with Buddhafield and activism for a number of years.

This was the first recent Sangha event exploring the issue – though we did run BAM (Buddhist Action Month) at the Bristol Buddhist Centre in 2015 on the theme of climate change. The climate emergency will also be the theme for this year’s BAM. Both Dayajoti and I are away from Bristol for 3 months until the spring so haven’t been able to run any follow on events, but hope to pick up some momentum again with BAM in June and will see if anything more ongoing may emerge from that.

What happened during ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’ event?
We began with Dayajoti leading a guided meditative reflection in the shrine room, inviting us to allow the issue into our hearts and notice our response. Myself, Rowan and Taranita then gave short personal talks on the climate emergency. We had space in small groups and then as a whole group to share anything that we wanted to in response, and ended in the shrine room chanting the Bodhicitta mantra together and transferring our merits.

Around 25 people came to the event. I was deeply moved by everyone’s honest sharing of their responses to the climate emergency itself and to the morning’s input. People shared their fears around the situation, sense of overwhelm and not quite knowing what they could do, but also hope, energy and enthusiasm to take action, a sense of empowerment, and a desire to try and stay open to the situation and to support one other in this. It felt that there was a strong sense of solidarity in the simple act of our coming together to engage with the issue with honesty and courage. Something in this that felt very significant, meaningful and necessary for all of us there.

Some of us helped organise a separate action after the morning event at the centre under the DANCE umbrella. DANCE and other groups, including Greenpeace, have been holding actions calling on Barclays Bank to divest from fossil fuel projects and companies for some time. Our action involved a sitting mediation protest outside the main branch of Barclays in Bristol and singing ‘climate carols’, with posters calling on Barclays to wake up to the climate emergency and divest from fossil fuel projects. We gave leaflets and explained the issue to members of the public who were interested in what we were doing. Around 10 of us took part in the action, and there was a collective sense of it being helpful and important to take the energy of our contemplative and discursive morning into action on the streets. I found it particularly meaningful to be involved in helping to raise awareness with members of the public - many people I talked to expressed gratitude and support for what we were doing.

What do you think the Dharma can bring to climate activism?
I think the Dharma can help us to try and make some sense of the climate emergency and our collective inability to really know its truth and take action. The Buddha named the roots of our own personal suffering as greed, hatred and delusion and, as well as manifesting in us individually, these roots will of course manifest in the structures, systems, behaviours and values of the societies and cultures we create collectively.

Delusion at heart is ignorance of our interconnectedness. We are intimately interconnected with the earth, her living systems and the other species and human beings we share this beautiful planet with. Our actions have consequences throughout the web of life, and these consequences are becoming increasingly destructive and dangerous to life on this earth. However, our belief that we are separate, autonomous selves is much more alive and real to us, and individually and collectively, we don’t live from this place of deep interconnectedness.

This not seeing, this ignorance, is, of course, basic Buddhism. It is perpetuated by our tendency to pull towards us that which makes us feel real and secure. This is the same pull that drives the entire, deeply damaging, consumer culture that we are part of, and also leads us to hold on to the normality of business as usual, the belief that ‘perhaps climate change isn’t real after all’, or ‘it won’t affect me and what I love’.

And, we’ll also push away that which threatens us or our sense of self, which in relation to climate change may include the unease and fear that all of us must surely on some level feel, the reality that our way of life must and will radically change, as well as our pain and grief about the situation.

Knowing the depths of the roots of the poisons in myself helps me to understand the very surreal situation of ‘business as usual’ and helps me to avoid falling into judgement, anger and blame around what is happening to our planet and our collective inaction. And I think that the reality of the climate emergency can be an urgent, potent and positive ethical challenge to wake ourselves up more and more to the reality of our own interconnectedness and to our delusions. We are not separate to the collective karma that has created the situation we are in, nor to what we collectively are called to do.

This understanding and perspective is something that the Dharma and we, as practicing Buddhists, can bring into climate conversations and actions to help guard against the danger of polarisation. Hopefully we can also bring awareness of our own motivations and views and a commitment to try to act from loving-kindness and in a way that supports harmony and understanding. It’s so easy to fall into seeing, for example, politicians, fracking or oil company executives, or people who seem to act as if they don’t care about climate change as ‘other’ than us, to see the problem as ‘out there’ and to set ourselves apart, taking ourselves out of the web of interconnectedness; in short re-creating and perpetuating the very tendencies that have led to this situation in the first place.

The Metta Bhavana can be a fantastic tool for helping to guard against this, something we can take into our actions and offer to others. I introduced the practice at a day in London organised by DANCE to support XR activists, including how it can help us to avoid falling into polarisation - as well as helping us to remember self-care - as we try to hold the reality of the situation we are in and take action. The response was very positive and affirming, with people expressing how important they felt it was to have tools to support them in this way.

Our practices and the teachings of the Dharma can help us and others stay open and in touch with the the climate emergency and all the feelings that that may bring up for us, whether that might be grief, anger, fear, despondency, complacency or something else. From my own experience, it can be very hard to stay open, and not to fall into overwhelm or shut down. What we are called on to do, to hold in our hearts and minds, in this era of climate breakdown is huge. I feel an important part of what is needed is to grow our collective capacity to stay open, to stay engaged, to stay in touch with the reality and with each other as we face it. All of the practices that help us stay centred, positive, open-hearted, resilient, in touch with the beauty of life and our gratitude for what we have, and open to a bigger perspective are an essential part of this. And, of course, we need to do this together, in open, supportive communication and solidarity with others.

Find out more about the Triratna Global Emergency Initiative

Read Maitrisiddhi’s article ‘Direct Action Meditations and the Dharma’

+Follow the Buddhist Action space 

Log in or register to take part in this conversation


dhsaraha's picture

I think it is good that we can have this discussion. In early 2016 I had a number of conversations with people questioning, sometimes passionately, ACC. I put some time into study and reflection of various sides of the argument, reading the material people ‘denying’ climate change where promoting.

Very interesting and I did have a phase of really not knowing who or what I believed. However I came to write that I “am now reasonably firmly coming down on the side of - co2 is a problem - . Two reasons, I see no believable motive for problematising co2 that outweighs the interests of the fossil fuel industry and its palls in government. (The carbon tax is a small peanut). I did wonder if it was a way to bully the developing countries into not developing so quickly but find no compelling evidence to support that. Governments seem to be admitting ACC whilst ignoring the implications as much as possible, ACC is a thorn in their side rather than something they are likely to concoct. And secondly the weight of peer reviewed science that points to the link between  co2 and ACC. This link was first identified in about 1800 and not satisfactorily overturned since - that I can see. Two fairly big reasons! Also the current rapid rise in temperature seems to be well indicated by thermometers as well as by glaciers, North Pole ice etc.

I did find myself questioning the motives of certain people holding a view that humans are not changing the climate and seeming to scrape around for arguments to back themselves up.

And of others trying to prove anything as long as it undermines, in their view, ACC. One famous person who was often quoted in 2016 denied that humans are having an effect and went on to say that we are having a positive effect on the environment. Two contradictory positions.

I also find myself a bit bored with the question: “are humans having an effect?” The climate is changing, it always has, always will. Every element of a complex system effects the system in unpredictable ways (and sometimes predictable ways as well). It is changing, increasing co2 in the environment can’t not be part of that. So a more interesting question: what effect are humans, and other things that we can influence, having and what can we do to reduce harm and increase benefits? If co2 is having a negative effect does it matter why co2 is increasing? It is certain that we can act in ways that increase it faster or slower, or perhaps even reduce it. Of course it does matter why it’s increasing, it does matter who shot the arrow, but the first thing is to see what we can do to get it out.

Not just co2. What am I doing that unnecessarily increases suffering? or the risk of future suffering? In myself or others? What am I doing that improves the lot of beings, individuals, societies, habitats, futures?

There are so many opportunities for budding Bodhisattvas to enjoy compassionate activity.

So, close to my heart, things I hope to influence: Oppression, use of poison in growing (my) food, right wing intolerance, the growing wonderfulness of our species. (There’s so much that I could say about being a force for wonderfulness. All I’ll say is: live a life that honours your own wonderfulness and encourage people who care about suffering to do what they can to reduce suffering). And if you want, come on a retreat Sahajatara and I are leading at Adhisthana in October where we hope to look into these questions personally and practically.

Oh yeah, I also care about my carbon footprint and attitudes and policies that influence the carbon footprint of our species.

So. Climate emergency or not there is a lot of things we can do to live the first precept. I love these conversations, really important too, as has been pointed out, but what I really love is helping people find ways to reduce suffering in themselves, those around them, and if so inclined, to have a go at systemic causes of suffering.

dhsaraha's picture

It’s great we can have this debate. Buddhism is about wisdom which is often benefited by debate and discussion and it’s also about


No one argues that it’s good to reduce suffering, fear and suffering are disliked by me and by others, what is so special about me that I protect myself and not others? Why put any limitation on this?

As beings we have to choose our battles and our contexts. Close to my heart are:

Social, economic, racial and many forms of injustice and oppression. Laurie Penny writes: “If queer people and marginalised people and freaks and outsiders cannot live free, freedom is not worth the paper it’s printed on.” I love loving freedom! Especially when it’s expressed as diversity!

Harm to living beings. I’m particularly interested in the use of poisons in growing our food. Less butterflies in your garden? Mass extinction of insects? Probably connected with the millions of tons of pesticides and fertilisers which are sprayed on our crops (Ie on countryside all over the world, especially the most fertile areas). Organic food is a step in the right direction and I believe worth paying more money for. When I was a kid tractors ploughing fields were followed by huge noisy flocks of seagulls diving for worms. I haven’t seen that for years. (You like butterflies? Be nice to caterpillars, grow them some cabbages in your garden! Or pay farmers a bit more money so they can share their cabbages with caterpillars). The caterpillar in your cabbage is one end of the spectrum, global climate over the next hundreds of years is another. Where on this spectrum do you feel confident? Where do you feel moved to engage?

Rise of the right wing. Humans are a species that migrates. Climate, economic and political changes make the challenges and trauma of emigration the least bad option for millions of people each year (imagine!). Syria, 10 years ago was the most stable country in the Middle East. Years of drought (possibly caused by human influenced changes to climate. It stopped raining, farmers couldn’t spend too much time trying to work out why). Years of crop failure. People moved in huge numbers to the cities. Political instability ensued. War. Millions of people leave Syria looking for peace and stable political conditions. Most refugees dream of returning home when life there is safe. A growing far right movement in many of the places they take refuge. This sort of thing has always happened (see the bible). Seems to be happening more? What can we do to reduce the human suffering on our planet? Our street or school?

I care about suffering. I love loving. I totally love the freedom and sense of wholesomeness and solidarity that arise when we live respecting our care and concern for things that breath.

I believe something amazing is happening on this planet. I believe that humans are amazing and are getting better all the time (I really do). We are selfish and we want to feel safe and comfortable and we care about suffering and about what is true. We care about the future, even knowing we ourselves won’t see it. We deeply believe it’s right to be polite to strangers. Just look into your own heart to see if this is true. We are the most cooperative, ethical and peaceful species on the planet. -Cram any other species into a small space, for hours, with others who they don’t know (think of a crowded train or a plane), can you imagine any other species doing as well as we do? In the thousands of hours crammed in with strangers I’ve only seen violence leading to bloodshed once! (And that was a man beating another man whilst accusing him of being selfish and not well providing (new shoes was the main example offered) for his children.) More subtle forms of violence are increasingly being taken seriously by our species. Reni Eddo-Lodge writes: “Tackling racism moves from conversations about justice to conversations about sensitivity”. We rock. We are mean and we feel bad about it, we want strangers to be kind to strangers, look into your own heart to see if this is true. And we’ve created music, graph paper, fishing quotas, forums for debate… And there is so much more we can do and we know it, we want it.

Retreat at Adhisthana ‘the Bodhisattva’s life’ I hope will be a celebration of our wonderfulness and an opportunity to love loving and to share and discuss responding to suffering. 3 - 6 October.

Vajracaksu's picture

Moving udana Saraha :)

Kind wishes


Vessantara's picture

I was away, leading a 3-month Order retreat in Wales, while this debate was going on, so I have only recently caught up with it. I haven’t been able to follow all the suggested links (including reading through the 2,000-page document that backs up the IPCC report!) However, I feel I’ve read enough to get a clear idea of the arguments. Having done so, I’m happy to acknowledge that those of you who are ‘sceptics’ are far from stupid and shouldn’t be dismissed. However, I’m still persuaded that climate change is a real and present danger, and there is an extremely high probability that we as human beings are a large factor in it.

I don’t think it is good enough for those who don’t believe that human activity is driving climate change to simply keep demanding better evidence. If the IPCC report is correct, the situation is so serious that the onus should be on those who are sceptical to provide conclusive proof that climate change isn’t caused by human beings.

For many decades people (on our behalf) threw our plastic waste into the sea, without it making any obvious difference to the ocean and its life. In recent years the build-up has become so great that it is evident that our actions are affecting marine life in very serious ways. Taking a common-sense standpoint, it seems likely that billions of us pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is also likely to be having an effect. The arguments and evidence that the cumulative effect of all these emissions is harmless need to be extremely good.

In this discussion there have been differing views about whether the scientific community is as united as 97% behind the IPCC report. However, even if the true figure is less, to be reassured that our activities are harmless and are not going to wreck the planet, I need there to be a clear scientific consensus saying that we aren’t contributing to climate change. That clearly isn’t the case.

The conclusion of the latest USA National Climate Assessment is that global warming isn’t being caused by solar or volcanic activity. In fact, if it were not for human activities, the global climate would actually have cooled slightly over the last 50 years. So I would like to see very convincing arguments not only that human activities aren’t causing global warming, but also to explain what else is.

Also, I haven’t heard any satisfactory arguments against the precautionary principle. Most of the responses have been to point out that measures designed to alleviate human-induced climate change may not be well thought through, and may have unintended negative consequences. That isn’t an argument again the precautionary principle per se. It’s just an argument for close scientific scrutiny to ensure that measures taken to alleviate climate change are actually effective.  

So I for one will continue to urgently advocate reducing our carbon footprint as a practical expression of metta and the bodhisattva ideal. I’ve given up flying, except where I feel the benefits of teaching Dharma outweigh the negative impact on the planet. Even then, I doubt I shall ever do any more Dharma teaching outside Europe, as I find it too hard to justify the long-haul flights. And, as someone committed to ‘stillness, simplicity and contentment’, I find a lot of the changes that we’re encouraged to make to alleviate climate change are ones I aspire to anyway.

With all good wishes, Vessantara.

P.S. I understand it’s unsatisfactory to throw in a contribution without being prepared to discuss it. However, I’m on retreat for 8 months of this year, and I probably won’t manage to follow any responses to what I’ve written.