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“I felt my interconnectedness with all beings and that somehow what we were doing was intensely worthwhile.“ - Lilamati, Sheffield Earth Strike Street Meditation
Members of Triratna sanghas across the globe came out in support of the ‘Earth Strike’ on Friday 20th September. In 2018, schoolchildren began walking out of school in protest at global inaction around climate change. This year, the youth climate activists called on adults to support them at an Earth Strike, on 20th September 2019. They did: millions from across the world demonstrated their concern for our ecosystem and the consequences of global warming. People across cultures came out in solidarity - on Pacific islands, through Australia, southeast Asia and Africa, Europe and the Americas. The demonstrations were the largest protests around climate change and other ecological issues ever seen.
From Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, to Portsmouth in the USA, to Essen in Germany, to sanghas across the UK large and small: Glasgow, Manchester and Sheffield; London, Leeds and Nottingham; Cumbria, the Scottish Highlands and Aberystwyth - and likely others - people came together as Dharma practitioners and citizens of the world to participate in the Earth Strike.
Over the last year, youth activists such as Greta Thunberg and the non-violent XR (Extinction Rebellion) movement have between them catalysed a major societal shift towards climate activism. Many people in the Triratna Buddhist Movement want to participate - they want to respond to urgent ecological issues. But often they want to participate with Sangha, and they see it as part of their Dharma practice.
Within the UK, Maitrisiddhi has recently been encouraging and supporting UK Sangha members to get involved in direct action around the ecological crisis. She’s been delighted with both the grassroots enthusiasm, and the numbers of people wanting to participate.
People want to express Buddhist qualities of awareness and compassion, not horrified anxiety nor anger. My experience of Dharmic direct action is that it can be powerfully effective, as well as powerful spiritual practice.
For me, this isn’t about trying to fix the world - although any positive impact would be welcome. It’s about responding in a way that is truly adequate, and that meets the wisdom aspect of the ecological situation as well as the compassion aspect. It’s about how to bring a response of awareness and metta to this situation, because that is a worthwhile act in its own right, which has effects.
I’m not really interested in debates about climate science. What I am interested in is a debate around appropriate Dharmic responses to the Earth’s current ecological crisis. That could be really interesting! As a Dharma practitioner and a human being, I need to find a response to this situation that turns towards it and embodies the Dharma, and then I want to make that response in a visible public way, and to create sangha with others doing the same. - Maitrisiddhi.
How did different sanghas participate in the 20th September demonstrations?
Members of some sanghas participated in existing Earth Strike events together, while others organised their own sangha-based direct actions in support, adding to the richness of the demonstrations and bringing a distinctively Buddhist emphasis through street meditations or simple ritual. Here’s a round-up from some of those sanghas who participated:
Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK
Teen Ross writes: ”Climate strikers of all ages turned out in force in a day of blazing sunshine in the north of Scotland. Protests were held in towns, villages and islands throughout the Highlands, as well as in Moray, Aberdeen, Orkney and Shetland.
Several sangha members joined the strike in Inverness, where hundreds of people gathered in the city’s Falcon Square. After several speeches and stirring pleas for action, the strikers lay down at 1pm for a ‘die in’, symbolising the mass extinction of species now underway. Padmolka, the chair of Triratna Buddhist Community Highlands said: ”I went along to show solidarity with the young people and by way of apology for the part I’ve played in the climate crisis. I was moved and heartened by the passion and intelligence of the young folk who organised this and who stood up and let their voices be heard.”
In Aviemore, in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Sridakini and local mitra Fred Tilston were among the strikers. “It was heartwarming to see the size of the turnout and the amount of support, particularly the engagement of the younger generation,” said Fred.”
Melbourne and Sydney, Australia
From Australia, Tejopala writes: ”In Melbourne we had a multi-faith service in the city to which 150 people came. Maitrikashin and I led the Buddhist parts. We then joined the protest along with people of many other religious traditions. The crowd was estimated at 150,000 people.
In Sydney, meditators, many from the Sydney Buddhist Centre, gathered at the Domain in Sydney before the crowd of 80,000 arrived. On the Friday morning before the Climate Strike, the multi-faith group met together to meditate, pray or reflect, as a group of friends. All of us care greatly for all living beings in the world today and those yet to be born. We need urgent action on climate change!”
Leeds, England, UK
Beth Poynor said: ”I’d advertised the event within the sangha, but I was nervous beforehand. I didn’t really know who would come. The giant posters read ‘Buddhists For Climate Action / Grief and Love for the Earth.’ Participating in Friday’s Earth Strike felt quite different to previous demonstrations I’d been on: perhaps it was because I didn’t just turn up. It was heartening to join with others in the Sangha, and those friendships and something in the posters united us. I feel we started something as a collective and I’m hopeful this is something we can nurture and grow.”
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
While some Glasgow Sangha members marched in solidarity with the youth climate strikers on Friday 20th September, others wore black and meditated in George Square as the marchers arrived. It was a strong, grounding, collective experience, sending metta to the world and all beings… This was the inauguaral event of DANCE Glasgow. (Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE) is a network of Buddhists across traditions coming together to respond to the ecological crisis.) This may be the first of many peaceful yet powerful presences - all the way up to December 2020’s COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow.
I found it, as I think many did, a powerful experience, aware we were a point of curiosity which did seem to engage folk in a positive way. Diana, Kuladharini and Parami took turns as greeters for folk who wanted to ask more about it. A couple of people joined in, while some wee ones copied us. Many of us experienced strong and grounded meditations, in the midst of screaming sirens, music, chatter, and many people. There seemed, from our later ‘debrief’, to be a common experience of feeling like we were presenting as a sort of fourth sight. - Angela Lombardi
Aberystwyth, Wales, UK
Maitrisiddhi reports: “In bright sunshine and a sea breeze, twenty or so Buddhists and meditators from West Wales Buddhist Group, Zen and Insight Meditation traditions came together as DANCE Wales to process meditatively, wearing black, ringing gongs and bells, as part of the hundreds-strong Earth Strike march. The bells symbolised the voice of wisdom, calling to us to wake up, to care about this world, this ecosystem.
‘So powerful. So beautiful. I feel so grateful to have been part of that’ was one participant’s comment. Our march was followed by a street meditation, then the entire Climate Strike gathering was invited to attend a Moment of Mass Mindfulness - a led meditation in both English and Welsh - introducing some to meditation for the first time.”
Nottingham, England, UK
Nottingham Buddhist Centre itself went on strike for the day, and ran activities from the city centre.
Saccanama writes: ”Starting at 8 a.m. as the early commuters arrived in Nottingham City centre, a group of us sat and meditated whilst the sun rose above the urban cityscape. Different people from the Sangha arrived to join us whilst some members of the public also chose to meditate with us and many passersby stopped to take photos and ask questions. As the morning wore on, many of the other Nottingham groups involved in the Climate Strike began to arrive for talks and music and many seemed struck by the atmosphere of peace and stillness we had created. Not only was it good to be part of this global event, it was also great to be able to contribute something distinctively Buddhist to the day’s activities here in Nottingham.”
Sheffield, England, UK
Sheffield sangha with DANCE Sheffield held a street meditation at the Earth Strike. Lilamati and Clair Mullineaux describe what that experience was like for them.
Clair: ”I was feeling quite distracted and a bit edgy inside, but there was something very powerful about hearing all the speeches with my eyes closed… not that I could even hear all the words, but it was as if the voices and the emotions flowed in unimpeded by visual distractions, and then there was nothing to do but let it all in and wish it all well. And some of the voices were so young, I could feel tears creeping out from under my closed eyelids in response.
And I was completely thrilled at how many of us there were! Each time I opened my eyes at the end of a sit, more meditators had joined us. One thing I did hear quite clearly was a speaker from the Sheffield Climate Alliance, thanking ‘the Buddhists for meditating here today’ … and cheers from the crowd! Nothing to do but sit through that one as well … probably with a huge grin on my face!”
Lilamati: ”I felt held, surrounded by thousands of other people who also care deeply for our beautiful, fragile planet. I had expected to feel very vulnerable sitting with my eyes closed in the middle of a crowd in the middle of a city but I actually felt very safe, surrounded by metta. I loved hearing the flow of different young voices through the loudspeaker as we meditated… different young people from different local schools all of whom were passionate about the planet and had presumably risked something to be there. Their confidence to speak up for the planet to a big crowd was inspiring and gave me confidence and hope.
“Even though we were effectively trying to meditate through a series of little speeches and the crowd cheering, my mind was more focused, less distracted by my normal internal mental chatter than it is meditating in my attic at home.
“There were moments when I felt I was able to hold great pain and great love together… my own and the world’s and that point where the two blur and it doesn’t matter whose pain, whose love it is any more. Where metta takes on a universal quality and there is ‘just love’.”
I often don’t ‘feel’ much in the 5th stage of the metta bhavana at home (perhaps bringing all beings to mind just feels too big to imagine, and too abstract… and I struggle to connect emotionally unless I can imagine ‘the story’). But I really felt that today… a sense of a love that wasn’t mine or yours or anyone else’s radiating out to the world with all its suffering and its joy and its beauty. I felt my interconnectedness with all beings and that somehow what we were doing was intensely worthwhile.
+Follow the Buddhist Action space to find out more about the Dharma and social action
Listen to a talk by Vishvapani about responding to the climate emergency as Buddhists
Read The Three Jewels meet the Climate Emergency (including an extended discussion around some of the issues raised here).