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Embody Fierce Compassion: Buddhists at the People’s Climate March

people's climate march buddhist

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!

Earth Vigil

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!

Embody fierce compassion signKritee (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.

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Comments (14)

  • Dwain Wilder

    That “Embody Fierce Compassion” banner is awesome! Can we get one for EarthVigil?

  • Kritee

    Dwain, I will let you know when our friends at Oneearth sangha are ready to make more. I think they gave away everything they had brought to the march. These were hand-printed. They really did a beautiful job.

  • Murray Reiss

    Wonderful! Just one question: why the scare quotes (if that’s what they are) around “Buddhists”?

  • Kritee

    Dear Murray, Great question that I didn’t really consciously think about when writing this blog. Both the gathering of “Buddhists” at the march and myself have an eclectic background. Born in a Hindu family, married into Islamic one, and married by a Zen teacher, lover of koan Zen practice but with few fixed ideas about what kind of training is best for any other human being, especially in these times. I also think folks who gathered under the “Buddhist” sign on the day of the climate march also held wide spectrum of beliefs (not unlike any other religion). So I don’t really know what being “Buddhist” meant for everyone there and I’m not even attached to my idea of being a “Buddhist”. Does that make sense?

  • Noelle

    Hi, this is wonderful. I, too, would love to have one of those inspiring banners. Please let me know. Thank you and metta, Noelle

  • Marlo Pedroso

    Thanks for giving voice to an experience very close to my own, especially in terms of the joy of seeing so many Buddhists gathered in collective action. May we continue to gather and act in defense of the Earth and liberation for all.

  • Murray Reiss

    hi Kritee — Makes sense to me. I often refer to myself as a lapsed Buddhist but the Dharma’s still fairly foundational to my understanding of the world. Just wondering — do you know anyone’s doing work in what you could call “Buddhist economics”? Developing alternative pathways to capitalism?

  • Kritee

    Thanks Marlo – glad this echoed with you. Murray, Buddhist economics — Very important question that keeps coming up and I can’t think of anyone except David Korten who has followed up in recent times. Whatever it is, it will not be a one-size fits all; it will not allow for externalization of social and ecological costs; it will be based on what E.F. Schumacher had called intermediate technology; and it will empower local communities and ecology instead of corporations. If you have anyone in mind who has worked on this subject recently, please send it my way. I would love to learn more.

  • Dwain Wilder

    An article by Sulak Sivaraksa, “The Religion of Consumerism” that appeared in the anthology “Dharma Rain, Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism,” edited by Kenneth Kraft and Stephanie Kaza (Shambala Press, Boston, 2000, ISBN 1-57062-475-5) might be of interest. Here is what I wrote in a review for Zen Bow: “Sulak Sivaraksa gives a brief portrait of traditional rural pietistic society in the not so distant past of Thailand, and outlines its devolution under the pressures of Western market capitalism into a largely urban culture with no redeeming virtue or mission for any but the military forces and politicians. Then he explores a most trenchant question: “Why is consumerism so powerful that it erodes worthwhile values?”

    Sulak Sivaraksa was the 1995 recipient of the Right Livelihood award. A search on his name will turn up his bio, facebook page, books, etc.

    I would recommend “Dharma Rain” generally as a sourcebook for Buddhists working on the environment and climate change. It might be a bit out of date, almost 15 years on.

  • Kritee

    Thanks Dwain. Have read Sulak’s work before but not this particular book. Will look for Dharma Rain! Warmly -Kritee

  • Dwain Wilder

    You got spam.

  • Margaret Evans

    You are an amazing human being! The intelligence and energy that you bring to your work and to your beliefs are truly awe-inspiring! Thank you dear Kritee for all that you do.

  • Kara

    I think this type of presence of Buddhists amongst existing movements is one of the most wonderful ways the Dharma can be spread! Although I was not able to attend the people’s march, I have numerous friends who partook and kept me in the loop. It was an inspiring event and now knowing that there was a Buddhist presence, I’m even more inspired by it. It serves as a nice reminder that the Dharma is an almost innate thing, if that makes sense. It coheres so well with social and environmental movements of all types because it really does simply tap into compassionate action that all can relate to. Those who care about the well-being of the world, no matter what religion or philosophy they identify with, can relate through movements and events like this one!

© 2017 Buddhist Peace Fellowship

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