August 28, 2014

Dharma in Action

Our collective economic practices are endangering life on Earth. It’s time to set a new course through collective action.

Ven. Santussika Bhikkhuni

As our dharma practice deepens, it begins to inform and influence everything we do, including how we engage with the important moral and social issues of our times.

At this moment in human history, the unrestrained extraction and burning of fossil fuels has brought us, in the industrialized nations, to the point where we are contaminating and pillaging the Earth to such an extreme that we are endangering all life on this planet. Nothing could be further from the intention and practice of dharma.

People around the world experience the devastating effects of climate change in the form of cataclysmic storms, droughts, floods, wildfires, and sea-level rise taking lives, destroying homes, threatening food security, and reducing access to fresh water.

The dharma encourages us to take a hard look at what is happening and seek out appropriate action to extricate ourselves from destructive practices. We need to set a new course for our society toward wholesome, sustainable, and compassionate living.

We cannot accomplish this through individual action, no matter how hard we try. Our energy infrastructure and our economic model itself must be rethought. We need to come together in massive numbers to influence the systemic changes that are needed.

Desperate to bring world leaders together in commitments of concrete action, the UN Secretary General has called a summit for September 23rd in New York City. In solidarity and support, organizations and individuals by the tens of thousands from across the US are planning to converge on New York on September 21 for the People’s Climate March, expected to be the largest demonstration for climate action in history.

To sit by idly as the world burns in the flames of our destructive practices would be to go against our principles as people of faith. Serious practitioners of all religious traditions will be in New York to support the summit’s process toward a positive conclusion.

We now have the opportunity to act, to make a real difference, to lend our moral voice to this great movement. This movement, like none before, is for the benefit of all beings. We are all in this together. Every living being on Earth faces the same danger. By participating in this march, we take up the care and protection of the present and future generations of every species on Earth. This is dharma in action.

Join Tricycle and Buddhist communities in New York and beyond as we march to demand climate justice on September 21. Register to get updates, including the meeting location for Buddhist groups, here

Ayya Santussika Bhikkhuni lives at Karuna Buddhist Vihara monastery in Mountain View, California, and serves on the board of directors for Buddhist Global Relief.

Image: Urs Buhlman / Gallery Stock

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myers_lloyd's picture

There are affordable ways to individually affect climate change. I can't afford solar panels but in Canada I can sign up for bullfrog power, a non-profit which calculates my house carbon print (electricity and gas) and bills me a sum each month. That sum, around $70 to $80 per month, invested in renewable resources, effectively gives me proximity to a carbon free dwelling footprint. Too expensive? Cover half your home. Or a quarter. I'm a vegetarian with occasional fish- low relative footprint. Painless! As for what monks and nuns "should" or "shouldn't" be doing: when the buddha showed regard for worms, when in lore he gave his body to a hungry tigress, isn't it pretty apparent where his allegiance to our suffering planetary environment would lie? And since my country is a major climate criminal with its Alberta tar sands project, I also resist its policies. Got arrested peacefully in a civil disobedience movement at the Tar Sands Action on Parliament Hill a few years ago. Actively cultivated a friendly and grateful attitude toward the arresting police; one of them told me he rides his bike everyplace.

buddhasoup's picture

Within reasonable limits, it seems appropriate for esteemed Buddhist Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis to become involved in community efforts to raise awareness and to motivate change. We see a measure of activism in the Buddha's own history, as he traveled through northern India speaking to various groups, and counseling kings. To suggest that in the 21st century that responsible and knowledgeable Buddhist leaders should remain tucked away in monasteries ignores the fact that the world lacks informed Dhammic voices that resonate with compassion and metta. We should encourage efforts like and Buddhist Global's about time that traditional Buddhists got off the cushions and ventured forth into the world, peacefully counseling change to a harmful status quo. Sounds pretty "Gautama-like," to me.

enronal's picture

Linking buddhism to politics makes me extremely uncomfortable. Practitioners don't necessarily know much about science, as this post shows. I live in Asia and just got back from a trip to India, where greenery is rare precisely because wood is used for fuel wherever found. The air is polluted because wood, paper, and rubbish are burned either for fuel or just to get rid of them. The U.S. now has more forested land than any time since the 19th century. Does anyone think that renouncing fossil fuels is a kindness to forestland? Would it be preferable to read by the light of whale oil? Whales were on their way to extinction when petroleum was discovered. Have you ever checked (try google) to see what windmills do to birds and bats? If you ever turn on the light to read, turn on your stove to cook, drive a car or take a bus to get around, please don't tell me fossil fuels are despoiling the environment. Imagine for a moment what would happen if you or anyone else turned to "renewables" such as wood, whale oil, or whatever else you think is kinder to the environment. Think about it carefully and you'll be grateful for fossil fuels.

You can do a google search to see the variation in temperature of the earth over the millenia. Sometimes it was hotter, sometimes colder. Was life endangered when it was hotter, e.g., when the dinosaurs roamed? When it was colder, a time when when mass extinctions occurred? Do you know what killed the dinosaurs? That millions of species died with them? How do you feel about mass extinctions that occurred millions of years before humans? Is it OK when volcanic eruptions, spewing ash, soot, and other dirt into the atmosphere?

Do you think we would have less environmental impact if we lived in small homes all spread around? Think again, and try to remember your high school science. Is it easier to heat an apartment building with 1000 residents, or 1000 "small, energy efficient" homes? Is it more energy efficient to walk to work in New York City, or maybe take the subway, or drive drive into town from your small home in the suburbs? A moment's thought will reveal that cities are much more environmentally friendly than millions of small plots.

Rob_'s picture

"enron"al? amusing. You work for the oil and gas industry?

Your strange portrayal of wood and whale oil as renewables is also amusing. Neither of these are (or were) seriously considered by anyone as renewable energy sources. Windmills kill birds and bats. What? As compared to the increasing CO2 pumped into the atmosphere? Maybe you should read up on some science. I think you're showing you have no interest in having a sincere discussion about these issues.

Check out the bird mortality. Wind turbines are a fraction of all other causes. Windows being the greatest. I guess we have to get rid of windows.

And a study on bird and bat mortality. Check out page 2247. Fossil fuels cause a much greater mortality rate.

Your statement about forested land in the U.S. is incorrect.

Check page 3 for a graph on forest land trends 1850-1997. There is not more forested land since the 19th century.

The fact that the climate has changed over millennia is not enlightening nor a refutation for what is currently defined as climate change. For a person who claims that practitioners don't know much about science, "as this post shows", you provide no evidence to support your alternative reality. And many of your statements show a basic ignorance and/or misrepresentation of some facts. But thanks so much for caring about the birds and bats.

Rob_'s picture

The historical reality for Buddhism has been to be a tacit supporter of the state.

Pick your poison.

Rob_'s picture

Well, we could talk for eons about what is in accordance with the Dhamma.

It appears you seem to be confident of what that is.

Rob_'s picture

I have a foggy memory of 18 schools of Buddhism in the early history of Buddhism.

Here's the first line from a wikipedia entry.

"The early Buddhist schools are those schools into which the Buddhist monastic saṅgha initially split, due originally to differences in vinaya and later also due to doctrinal differences and geographical separation of groups of monks."

I haven't even read the Pali canon, but I highly doubt that it's exegesis is in perfect harmony. But this is the nature of language ... and humans.

Here's a link on some Vinaya,

Maybe you should just check out the rules for meals ... only to be eaten between dawn and midday. Now I realize in Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan they practice different traditions, but none of them abide by this rule. One explanation for this is that these countries have temperate climates.

Oh well, people make do.

Jayson's picture

I agree that monks should not be directly involved in politics, but can't they be involved in some indirect ways?

Look at the many suttas where the Buddha speaks with King Pasenadi Kosala and offers advice. The Kannakatthala Sutta is also a discussion of the caste system, which the Buddha was quite critical of.

Jayson's picture

I understand there are limits to engagement, but why do you think this goes beyond the rules?

wsking's picture

One View, you will be happy to know that I agree with you on these points regarding the political involvement of monks and nuns. They should remain in their monasteries and practice. Once they get more than half a mile from the mat, that's too far. When the mind is seduced by external appearances, the practice suffers. I agree with you that this action should be by laypeople and not by ordained sangha.

However, one: we are in America and as such we all have political responsibilities whether or not we are monks and nuns, or monks and nunks. Responsibility requires action.

Two: I think you would do better to concern yourself with what your own political involvement should or should not be, rather than making that decision for others.

Three: we have very little time left for any action that can change the climate situation. "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of" the planet. As HHDL said in New York this last spring, "Now is the time for action."

Four: Wasn't it Frank Zappa who wrote "Who are the brain police?" When you stop criticizing good people who are loving, caring, informed, and involved, and start praising their abilities, and the thoughtful input which they bring to the attention of the community, we might have more respect for you. Just sayin'.....

Sunjewel's picture

Most of us, myself included, probably can't go to New York, but I do sign all the petitions that come my way through the Sierra Club, etc., anything to help spread the word that I, too, am feeling the suffering we are bringing to the Planet and all life.

How many of us would give up our car(s)? What might we do besides complain? We are all recycling now and that's a good thing. Many companies are using better and "greener" packaging...but what will we really give up to make things better? What about petitions and discussions about over-population that no one talks about? No one. This is the number one problem facing us and the cause of all the polluting.

I'm glad I didn't contribute to the population problem...however, I drive.

My own driving has really lessened but not because I am some kind of eco-saint...I retired and automatically the commuting ceased. I would love to ride a bicycle everywhere...I used to prior to cell phones but now I am...hate to say this to a Buddhist community..."afraid" to ride my bike. That would be like looking for trouble via a bad accident, or sure trip to my next incarnation. On the other hand, if LOTS of people would give up their car, I would be right there to join the group...make a big statement. I dream of the day, I can ride a bicycle on the freeway to downtown Los cars. WOW! What a fantasy!

jjphil's picture

Consider an electric car - lease or buy - the Nissan Leaf gets the equivalent of 106 mpg . And some solar panels to charge it. Or an electric bike - way more power than an ordinary bicycle = safer. Support the alternatives to oil!

Sunjewel's picture

I am thinking about the electric bicycle...there are some really good ones starting to be produced...better than what is currently on the market. And, if I ever do get another car, it would be electric. As far as solar panels go, the technology will have to change for me to go house/roof is too small. Thanks for your suggestions.

celliott's picture

Thank you for posting this, Sister Santussika. Aren't we are called upon to openly meet and confront suffering in all of its forms? The vulnerable and poor will surely suffer the most from the effects of climate change. The September 21 People's Climate March in NYC is an excellent opportunity to share the struggle to minimize that suffering in the short window of time we have left.

jackelope65's picture

I agree. But I think we must as individuals, in addition to working for infrastructure changes, should drive the most energy efficient cars or just walk, bike, or use public transportation when possible, buy a
smaller energy efficient homes, have less stuff, and make simple changes that are part of a very long list available to us all. I find it interesting that even being selfish by maximizing our health by eating less or not eating meat will also help the planet by reducing jungle deforestation, excessive water use, and pollution promoting gases. It suggests that we do better when we are in tune with nature.

buddhajazz's picture

"We cannot accomplish this through individual action, no matter how hard we try. "--the saddest testament to our ignorance and laziness, brings me to my knees. Having worked in Manhattan and obtained a degree at SUNY in my youth, I still feel attached and wish I could be there in another stand-up presence as I did with the Flower Children in the first Be-In in Central Park....wayyyy back when. Anyone remember? Great article. Sadly taken. Namastes.

wsking's picture

Yes! I remember because I was there too! Handing out large amounts of daisies.

wsking's picture

Yes! I remember because I was there too! Handing out large amounts of daisies.

wsking's picture

Yes! I remember because I was there too! Handing out large amounts of daisies.

oliverhow's picture

Bravo! Thank you for letting us know about this!

Tharpa Pema's picture

Thank you for sharing this information. I can't afford a trip to New York myself, but I can help someone else go.