In this blog, Maitrisiddhi explores a variety of approaches to following our heart response to concerns about climate change, and the value of allowing varying attitudes to coexist.
'I saw the Barclays meditation protest as a chance to put my heart out into the world - to say that I care about the ecological crisis, and that I'm not okay with what we're collectively doing to the earth.'
- Clair Mullineaux, Sheffield Sangha
As citizens of the world and as Buddhists, how do we respond to current social and ethical issues? On October 18th, three of us from the Taraloka community (Maitridevi, Annabeth and Maitrisiddhi) were part of a Greenfaith wave of action across the globe. Greenfaith is an international organisation encouraging different faith groups to draw attention to the ecological situation and its solutions.
In Brighton, Bristol, Sheffield, Shrewsbury, Glasgow and London, Buddhists meditated outside branches of Barclays bank to draw attention to the fact that they continue to finance Arctic oil drilling, tar sands projects in Canada, fracking in the US and Amazonian deforestation, to name just a few. They talked to people in the street about moving their money to a bank that was more in line with their values.
As individuals and as Buddhists, it's a live question about how to respond to a whole range of social and ethical issues in the world. Not everyone from the Taraloka community felt called to join the direct actions.‘There are other ways to meet ecological issues,’ said Beate, who’s recently joined the community. ‘I’m more inspired by changing my lifestyle – living collectively and sharing resources - and making personal green choices. I have done some protest meditations in the past, but that’s not how I feel inspired to practise at this moment in time.’
Ultimately, the Dharmic perspective is that the vast majority of sufferings in the world – including harm to this living world - come down to greed, hatred and unawareness. So the only long-term solution is to grow love, contentment and awareness - collectively and on the part of each of us.
Natalia, Taraloka's Publicity and Bookshop manager, said: 'There's a strong temptation in me to try to 'save the world by doing'. It's a really big shift in me to sit back from that, and have faith that practising the Dharma, transforming my mind and building Sangha (spiritual community) really can catalyse a global shift in consciousness. Then that shift results in more sustained ethical behaviour. That's where I want to put my energy right now… and at the same time, I have a huge admiration for people who do get out there and meditate as direct action.’
But then others felt that their practice of ethics and compassion needed to be expressed more directly. They wanted to engage more fully with others and the world. Maitrisiddhi, who took part in the Sheffield protest, said:
'To me, I feel that if I don't make an open, visible statement that I'm not happy with how we, collectively, are harming the natural world, then I am colluding. I'm going along with it, just as in Nazi Germany, the Catholic church allowed itself to ignore what was happening to Jews and others, for fear of being 'political'. It's a very interesting area about what is politics and what is ethics.'
And Annabeth, Taraloka's Bookkeeper: 'Having been a very enthusiastic campaigner in my teens, I've only recently re-engaged with the idea of myself as an 'environmental activist'. Engaging in a targeted street meditation, however, feels like a new approach. Meditating outside an organisation that I believe to be causing harm gives me a truly peaceful foundation from which I can support genuine discussion whilst clearly modelling the principle of non-violence.'
Doesn't direct action just blame others, and isn't it rooted in anger and ill will? Mahamani – also recently arrived at Taraloka – had an interesting perspective as she's had a long history of engagement in activism.
'Actually I feel quite complicated about direct action. In the past, I was very engaged with activism - I'd have been out there. But it was from a real sense of hate or aversion. I was coming from anger and blame: 'This group of people over there are WRONG and therefore I have a right to do this, and I'm doing it on behalf of everybody else.' Then when I came across the Dharma, the Buddha's teaching of 'hatred does not cease by hatred. It only ceases by love. This is the eternal law.' struck me very deeply, and I realised how acting out mental states of hate and ill will only perpetuated problems.
I saw that, unknowingly, that was what I had been doing so strongly with my activism. So that led me to step back from direct action, because I felt like I was contributing to the issues, not solving them, as I'd thought. Now, I don't know where I'm at with it. I think there is a need. But I'd want to really ask myself 'What type of action is it?' and 'What are the implications of it?'
After encountering sickness, old age and death, the sight that started the Buddha on his quest for Enlightenment was a holy man, embodying a spiritual path. His presence showed that another way was possible – a different response to the painfulness of the world. Some people nowadays encounter the Buddha's teachings through a book or podcast, but often it's by word of mouth, or because they've met someone who meditates. Or even because they've seen people meditating in the street.
Maitrisiddhi again: 'One of the things I find so powerful about Buddhist meditation direct actions is that it is making a strong, visible statement. There you are, meditating in the street – eyes shut, vulnerable. Yet there's no anger. You are embodying presence and peacefulness. Personally I feel that meditating as part of a protest is like being a visible question mark. As well as being aligned with the Dharma, being motivated by metta (love), rather than anger, is much more powerful, and much more attractive to people. When I was offering out leaflets while others meditated, I found that people wanted to talk to me. I was bowled over by the depth and openness of the conversations we had – not always about banks, but more about how people saw the world, and their deep hopes and fears.'
What seems most important is that we do allow ourselves to care about this natural world, and that we do act out that care in the ways that make most sense to us, and feel to us most strongly aligned with Buddhist principles of love and awareness. The Buddha did, after all, say: 'One thing only I teach. Suffering, and the way leading to the ending of suffering.'
It's great to realise that transforming our own minds and creating Sangha does affect the world – such an antidote to feeling trapped, confused and disempowered in a world with no good options. And it's also great to realise that our practice of ethics - including where our money goes and what it supports – can have real effects – on us and on the world. A Taraloka regular from the Sheffield sangha - who wasn't involved in the Barclays protests - said:
'I recently changed banks which has been an interesting process and unexpectedly, I feel able to stand a bit taller in the world with head high. I had not realised that I felt a level of defensiveness and shame about my bank.'
Changing bank accounts is actually quite simple. Nationwide scores best ethically, of UK High Street banks, or for internet banking Triodos is excellent. Ethical scores for all the banks can be easily found on www.switchit.money – check out yours!