Embody Fierce Compassion: Buddhists at the People’s Climate March
For many years, the two preoccupations of my life, “meditation practice” and “environmental science,” were two streams that ran parallel to each other.
The streams likely fed each other in underground unconscious ways but the two never interacted at the surface. The underlying notion was: if we meditate long enough, we will experience and manifest our true clear, compassionate and courageous selves and bring these “true-self” qualities into all spheres of lives, including our family, career, and ultimately socio-political activism. All the collective stories, yours and mine, that meditation helps merge into and out of luminous “zeroness” – or what I sometimes call “storylessness,” didn’t have to be deliberately and fiercely brought into our meditation halls of Buddhist teaching. Or the cushion didn’t have to be set in the very midst of our collective human story, including the human constructs of greed-laden market economies, politics and externalities.
I’m so excited that this divided narrative is NOT what was expressed at the People’s climate march two days ago.
At least a thousand “Buddhists” showed up at the march. Theravada / Tibetan nuns and monks of many decades in saffron, Zen folks in black with or without their rakusus (bib like garments which are supposed to mean we embrace the world as a “clinging child”), some in white and some with gongs, conches and chimes, all perspiring together for 2-3 hours while waiting for our tributary to join the main river of marchers, rejoicing in having a community that cares and deeply understands the nature of inter-connection. Chanting, singing and some dancing with pagans in the interfaith group! Along with my root teacher and friends from Cold Mountain Zen, I had the good fortune to march carrying one of the awesome “Embody Fierce Compassion” banners designed and created by One Earth Sangha.
And while hundreds of “Buddhists” were marching along with the sea of 400,000 human hearts for about 3 miles, friends from Rochester Zen Center were meditating at a grassy spot in Central Park, overlooking the march on 59th street as a part of an “Earth Vigil” they have been organizing for the past few years. Their core group meditated for over 10 hours on the actual day of the March!
I have always felt that wise communities can transform the fears and challenges that we experience as individuals into courage and even delightful energy — both of which are much needed for any kind of personal or institutional change. I needed a sense of belonging to communities that are ready to ask “How does putting a price on carbon pollution or ecosystem degradation relate to the teaching of interconnectedness and right livelihood?” or “What does skillful compassion mean when greed has infected our own cells?”
I am so grateful such communities have come into being – including communities that organized the march – block by block, faith by faith, college by college, bus by bus … because I could not go on carrying the depressing reality of knowing, as a scientist, that we are crossing our planet’s tipping points, without the joy, energy and resilience that only a community can bring! It was awesome!
Now, take your pick, if you haven’t already done so.
I hope more of us will bring our meditation community and its centeredness right in the middle of a heart-break.
Or take the planetary socio-eco-crisis onto the cushion with us.
And join the conversations that are rooted in our practice to embolden (and then thrive in) a community that will transform us — merging our stories with those of others.
May we feel the truth of interconnection at all levels of our existence!
Kritee (Dharma name Kanko), Ph.D., is a Zen teacher and priest in the Rinzai/Obaku lineage of Cold Mountain Zen. She works for the Environmental Defense Fund, where she is primarily involved with examining the effectiveness of environment-friendly methods of farming in Asia with a three-fold goal of poverty alleviation, food security and climate mitigation and adaptation.
She lives in Boulder with her husband, Imtiaz Rangwala, who is the real climate researcher in the family.