Thanissara, from London, was a Buddhist nun for 12 years and teaches meditation retreats with her partner Kittisaro since 1992. Together they founded Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat in 2000 in South Africa and co-authored Listening to the Heart, A Contemplative Guide to Engaged Buddhism. She is also author of Time To Stand Up, A Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth, and several poetry books. Thanissara and Kittisaro recently launched Sacred Mountain Sangha, a California based Non Profit that hosts the Dharmapala Training, a two year, seven module training.
Friends, today in New York there was a seismic shift in the climate movement. In its report Huffington Post estimated more than 400,000 people were on the street. Our message was clear. We want action now and we’re not going away!This is just the beginning.
I was in the Faith block. When we first arrived it was pretty spacious, but we were a few hours early. By the time it was our turn to march I was squeezed in check by jowl with Buddhist friends and barely able to move, such was the volume of people. (Fortunately it got more spacious as we began to march!) We were a happy, joyous, bunch, but also determined. We are the immune system of the Earth rising…I’ll have more to say but it’s late into the night and time to catch some sleep, so here’s two pics for now…Oh and an update from the UK and a brief snippet around the world.
It’s late and it’s been a loooong day – so instead of writing an update myself, I’m going to post on from my dear friend Gayle Markow who will join the Peoples Climate March with us here in New York City tomorrow. Gayle and I have known each other for many years. Our friendship began early 2000 when she became central to our fund raising campaign at San Francisco Insight for Dharmagiri’s HIV/Aids community outreach work in South Africa.
Now many years later we shared the journey on the Climate Train and today’s events which Gayle records here. This was at at New York Insight. There were about 200 people from a diversity of geographical backgrounds, as well as New Yorkers, meeting to “Prepare the Heart to March.” In the evening we attended a symposium of climate leaders at New York Society of Ethical Culture. Over to Gayle.
I got up, got dressed and hailed a taxi for Insight New York down on 27th Street. Turned out to be the MOST awesome 3 hour event. The two nuns (Ayya Santussika and Santacitta Bhikkhunis) who were on the train with us, Thanissara, Bikkhu Bodhi, Wes Nisker, David Loy, and some other brilliant speakers. It was Mega-awesome!!! A major event unto itself!
At NY Insight, I “scored” possibly the last available ticket for Bill McKibben’s talk tonight. I never heard him before, or read him, but people spoke highly and I was curious. He was awesome. Then other speakers who were also awesome. Mary Robinson, first woman President of Ireland, and now UN Special Envoy for Climate Change (previously UN High Commissioner for Human Rights). There was Sean Sweeney, founder and co-director of the Global Labor Institute, etc etc… Other speakers All wonderful too. Too numerous to name here right now. Sweeney said that ALL NY area Unions have endorsed the People’s Climate March. Bill McKibben said there will be more than 2700 marches and events going on around the world (150+ countries) this weekend in Solidarity with the Climate March. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will also be joining the Climate March. So much more got said, and it was all of intense interest, and the 800 or so people there tonight were electrified. The energy was palpable.
The Climate March is gonna be huge. Seriously. Huge. And it will transform the movement for change. This is gonna be a wild and interesting ride. Not just the march, which is gonna be Huge. But the next few decades. Because the Earth, and mainly the survivability of our human (and lots of other) species is Seriously at risk, like Never Before. We’re moving rapidly toward what they call the “tipping point” where it will be too late to reverse, to salvage things. It’s already not clear whether we’ve already passed that point, but there seems to be some hope that we haven’t, but that also we don’t have much time, actually hardly any time.
There is a tremendous sense of urgency here. It’s contagious, and at the same time,hopeful. Because people – in large numbers – have gotten serious. I think we might be witnessing the “hundredth monkey effect”. Wow. So, anyway, that was my day. If you can, get out and demonstrate tomorrow, and then be sure to watch the news, and see what kind of news we make here.”
Just to add onto Gayle’s report a mention the presentation at the NY Society of Ethical Culture by Lester Brown who is considered one of the world’s most influential thinkers. He gave a brief preview of his forth coming book which was packed full of truly inspiring data about the fast moving energy transformation from fossil fuels to wind and solar happening all over the world. Countries like Germany and Denmark are leading, and while lagging behind, the USA has the capacity to really fast forward this momentum, given the political will. Brown thinks that we’ll see a significant energy revolution in the next 10 years.
Meanwhile, it’s important to keep the pressure on for change. Here’s more urgency from S.Africa’s Kumi Naidoo – ED of Greenpeace International, spelling it out on the eve of the Peoples Climate March happening all over the world on September 21st.
Back to NY Insight for a moment. The day included speeches on climate, Dharma, and activism, by Ayya Santacitta (we are in climate chaos and there’s nowhere to hide), Ayya Santussika (who reported on the Climate Train, Tar Sands and the Climate Pledge), Bhikkhu Bodhi (who talked of transforming fear into samvega – urgency – and desire into fearless compassion), David Loy (a shift of relationship to body, self and earth), Wes Nisker (the mystery of our cosmological reality, conveyed with humor and lightness), Rev TK (nuclear waste is like having no toilet in your house!), and myself (journey out of denial and reading from The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra.)
Thanks to all who came to share the day and to Kevin Hansen for doing this video of what he called the “new anthem” of the Climate Movement – You heard it here ppl – at our New York Insight event which, as said by Gayle, was AWESOME!
From Emeryville Berkeley CA to New York Penn Station, we were a tribe of nearly 200 diverse peoples, rolling along 3000 miles of train track through exquisite ancient lands. We shared fifty remarkable workshops with the energy of a movement whose time has come. There was clear diagnosis of the forces of destruction, a refusal to succumb to despair, a commitment to dissent, and a determination to see through the energy revolution now needed on our planet.
Snaking through mountains, along riverbeds, past the stake outs of our Petro Empire – oil refinery’s, targeted fracking grounds, graceful and noble rivers, now polluted — we, First Nation Peoples, Faith Leaders, People of Color, white haired granny’s and granddads, tattooed and pierced beautiful youth, musicians, artists, scientists, political buffs, and even many of our Amtrak hosts, were of one voice.
Climate catastrophe is now. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We wait no longer for the powerful to chart our suicidal trajectory. We the people are standing up for the rights of Mother Earth, for the return of the Sacred, for a USA and world that practices social and economic equity. We are unstoppable!
Reflected in words of Elder Bing Gong, quoting his Buddhist master in a workshop on Eldership, we taste an exquisite flavor of our truth.
This human body truly is the entire cosmos
Each breath of mine, is equally one of yours, my darling,
As we pulled into Denver CO, we were warmly welcome by a great rally on the Amtrak platform. A wonderful crowd cheered us on as more folks joined the train with a great send off from their community. Ayya Santussika spoke – “If they don’t pay attention to our March, we’ll be back with more marches, and more….”
As the train chugged on through the magnificent landscapes of the Rockies, we passed a meadow on our descent. Amma Thanasanti stood with a friend holding a wide banner cheering us on (picture will be uploaded later!) A very sweet moment!
Today 1st Nation Elder John Pappan of the Omaha Indigenous Council NE spoke about time to listen to the First peoples of this land. They are the ones who have always been connected with the earth and who are guided by spirit to protect it.
His work with the Indigenous Council on Tar Sands involved making an unlikely alliance with Nebraska farmers. As a group they organized a great activist happening earlier in the year at Washington DC; the Indian-Cowboy Alliance. He spoke of the importance of being in equal alliance, and the patient work of communication. Listening to the farmers complaining that Oil companies come onto their land, uninvited, to assess the possibility of extracting oil. How disempowered they felt. “Ah” said an Indian Grandmother, “I get it. You are now the Indians.”
We are all now the “Indians” as our rights to a healthy environment are stripped away. And we are also all part of the same gathering, known for time immemorial by the 1st Nations, of deeper spirit who now moves within us to reclaim the sacredness of the earth, of the children, and of all living things. John spoke with great gentleness, honesty and encouraged us all to take the most difficult journey from “head to heart.” He said sometimes he gets “goosebumps” when he feels the new world that is on its way, as to the prophecy of his people.
The next workshop was with Peter Clay who joined the train last night. He is part of the Great March for Climate Action, a group of about 30 walking across the country, from LA (from March 1st) to arrive in DC on November 1st. This is a huge and inspiring undertaking. (When I have more internet connection, I’ll post a most inspiring speech from one of the Marchers.)
The last workshop I attended, and was part of, was a “panel” of interfaith representatives, hosted by Ayya Santussika. (I say a “panel” but it was a 30 people squeeze in a small train car, with everyone invited to speak.)
Represented were Christian, (Unitarian, Catholic, Quaker, Episcopalian), Buddhist (Theravada, Insight, Thich Naht Hahn), Jewish, Mohawk 1st Nation and others. Many points were raised which generated a web of connection that led us into a discussion about our times where there is no “other.” Yet at the same time, there are those who oppress. The core issue of how to meet violent oppression without enmity was spoken to extremely powerfully by 1st Nation Cherokee Pennie Opal Plant. She has been on the front line, with many other activists, doing prayer circles outside of the Chevron plant in Richmond East Bay, a traditionally marginalized community. (Pennie noted that prayer circles rattled the industrial folks more than demos.) Pennie spoke of making a point of warmly greeting every police officer and Chevron worker before their acts of prayerful resistance. Over time some of the police have become their protectors.
A young man in the meeting spoke passionately about how the police function as the oppressive arm of the corporate empire. How he witnessed tear gas cans being thrown at children during Occupy in Oakland. Pennie spoke of the need for the grandmothers – the grey haired ones – to lead, to be in front, to create the least violent atmosphere. It is hard for police to beat up a grandmother. She apologized for not being at the Occupy, that they were caught unawares, however, she stated, they would not be caught unaware again.
7.30am, Amtrak rail station, Emeryville East Bay CA. We arrive into a swirl of people as a great buzz as excitement ripples around the station lobby. James Baraz and Wes Nisker are here to see us of. At the station – our first rally – banners and speeches from a 1st Nation elder, Santiago, from Venezuela, Valerie Love – wondrous all round organizer from Center for Biological Diversity – Ayya Santussika & Pennie Opal Plant 1st Nation Cherokee who said we are the immune system of the planet rising up.
The stationmaster appears. His well practiced voice bellows across the courtyard…finishing his announcement; he requests we write our senators with Amtrak appreciation. His train from California to Chicago is threatened with closure. “Especially write those guys below the Madison Dixie line,” he concludes.
Finally, the great grey California Zephyr pulls in. I have no idea how this is going to work as dozens of us lug our suitcases and burgeoning bags of dry foods along the platform. Cheering us on, another Amtrak worker in orange jacket, his two fists punching up to the sky yelling “Democracy Now.”
We tumble onto the train, 150 of us for now, more joining later. I find my spot. Almost immediately we have our first workshop… Shannon Biggs & Pennie, “Change local laws to stop fossil fuel interests.” “Corporations are not people.” Michael Brune, ED of Sierra Club, “We are the fossil fuel companies worst fu#king nightmare.” (I don’t imagine the 170 of us snaking our way to New York – but our contribution to what will be an unstoppable people’s movement to demand climate action.)
After offering the stack of dry food to Santussika and Santacitta Bhikkhunis, I figure my living space for the next 4 days, pressing and pulling levers for optimum reclining coach seat comfort – mmm not quite a right fit – and disappear into a dreamy slump. Later, we stroll through the car, enjoying a great tribe of colorful and diverse new friends, admiring pizzazz t-shirts and buttons (badges in UK speak.) My favorite statement, Wake the dreamer, Change the Dream. At Reno we stop and pile out to greet a group of activists are on the platform who are there to cheer us on – more banners and shouts of “Obama, Obama, we don’t need climate change trauma.”
More people join the train, I check out creature comforts, connect, chat, stroll, nap, and with Ayyas Santussika and Santacitta, attend the rolling workshops. Sitting together in the observation car; words of diagnosis, dissent and determination swirl around as the train picks up speed and wends its way through communities impacted by fossil fuels, particulalry the heart lands of Nevada, Utah and Colorado, which are in crosshair for Tar Sands Oil. We hear about Tar Sands activism, Community Resistance, Non-violent Communication, Climate Justice, Putting a Price on Carbon, Trans/queer Ally-ship, Climate Chemistry, Money in Politics as Obstacle to Climate Treaty, Indigenous Resistance – about 50 workshops in all are being offered over 4 days on the train.
Everyone on board is straight into climate chaos reality, talking its impact and solutions. It’s too much to capture, but I want to bring your attention to two practical initiatives, which can join. Climate Citizens Lobby focuses on a dividend-revenue neutral fee on carbon-based fuels. This is an organization that has access to the House and Senate. They are currently negotiating with senators and those involved in the political process. CCL proposes a very realizable, win-win carbon neutral policy. The other initiative, just launched is The Climate Mobilization Pledge, putting climate action on the level of World War Two mobilization.
While we roll through the most magnificent landscape of mountains, high desert, pine forests, tracking the great Colorado River, This feels the exactly right place to be. As night falls, I have the feeling expressed so well by Arundhati Roy “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
There are two energizing and focusing principles in Buddhist practice, which act as the proverbial carrot and stick, traditionally called samvega, and saddha. Samvega is a sense of urgency, born of the awareness of impermanence and the preciousness of the time we have. Saddha is faith and confidence in the possibility of overcoming the causes of suffering, while at same time, honing our life to awakening.
These two motivating factors are very present in the Climate Movement. The awareness we don’t have much time, and the hope we can turn our catastrophic trajectory around, even at this late hour. This last week, the thought came to mind that when it comes to climate change, our culture has a dearth of samvega. We are sleep walking into a highly precarious and deadly situation. In the face of this, we are simply not frightened enough. Perhaps we are personally, but not collectively.
If we understand the science, our fear would mobilize us to prepare for war. We would be moving way beyond eco light bulbs and a new Prius (as good as they are), to systemic change. Such a change will not happen unless there is uprising on a mind-boggling, unprecedented scale, with the purpose of taking down our psycho fossil fuel empire and its addicted manipulative bride, Wall Street Capitalism gone rogue.
This week, I started my preparation to board the train. On Sunday night, 7th September, I joined a small group of 20 people at St Mark’s Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN. We watched Disruption. I won’t give a précis, instead I invite you to watch it. In the discussion afterward, one elderly man boomed out, his voice ricocheting around the fairly empty church, “This is a prophetic moment – a major crossroad. Don’t waste time trying to convince people in denial, instead do what you can.” Nice clear words said with great passion.
Then, this week, a small headline, nearly lost in the flood of news. It caught my and many others notice. It was a hope against the odds – a small yellow flower growing through concrete – moment. In Massachusetts, district attorney Sam Sutter dropped criminal charges against climate activists, stating the welfare of future generations trumped any possible “illegality” of their actions. He further stated not only was he overturning charges, but also he himself would attend the Peoples Climate March. When sanity trumps the system, a ray of hope lights the heart! (Read more here from The Rev Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, one of our co-Faith collaborators)
So now I am making my way from Chattanooga to San Francisco to get the train. Yes, the irony is not lost on me that flying is bad carbon footprint. I don’t try to justify it, I admit bad practice, but right now – I suppose – I take the view of Eco-activist Bill McKibben and his strategic use of fossil fuels for the greater good cause (I further confess, my use of air travel is not always strategic.) American airports – the Indian, spiced, copper taste chai in Atlanta concourse B Buckhead Bookstore – our fossil fuel way of life – It’s so dam good! …. Yet, sad to say, now so deadly …
So packing… I’m on the road to join “my tribe” of Buddhist and Faith folks bringing the humane, ethical, and the sacredness of life into the mix. We have organized meet ups, services, songs, bells, bands, discussions and who knows what… We’ve collaborated over dozens of conference calls, hundreds of emails, while making alliances over the last months. Soon we will gather on the street to see ourselves in body, stepping out into a hopeful new future, informed, sincere, committed, and I do believe, unstoppable.
Filling a suitcase. It’s not easy – what to do with all those possessions? Leave it behind in a few boxes. These are times for inner simplicity and fluidity – not to be weighed down with “stuff” – physical, emotional or whatever was left undone, the mistakes made – Doesn’t matter now – My theme to myself, keep trying to hone down, keep letting go. Even after years of Dharma practice, letting go — the sheer simplicity of it — is still a practice. The Buddha called it nekkhama – renunciation – a very useful training for inner freedom.
At the same time –whatever emerges in my inner landscape – It’s all “us.” I fly, I consume, I use money, and now, it seems, I MARCH. And while I feel the terror of what we face, I also disconnect and watch Netflix. I care and sometimes, I don’t care. All of this has to be touched with loving awareness. This is my practice too. It’s not “my” loving awareness. It is the divine working through us…playing her dualistic game. She is interested to see what we hobbits will do. Will we throw the poison ring back into the fires of Mordor[i], or will we succumb to its intoxicating seduction?
[i] Mordor – See “Lord of the Rings” a great metaphor for our times. If you’ve already seen it, still, invite some friends over, get a bowl of eco-vegan-organic chips – and see it again!
I’ve created this new blog to share my journey to New York to join in the historic Peoples Climate March, along with tens of thousands of others, including over 1,000 organizations. Here’s the info if you missed it!
I’ll be leaving next Monday on the California Zephyr to travel with 170 Climate Activists and People of Faith on a 4 day, 3 night journey across America – via Chicago – onto New York.
I’ll keep you posted on the journey – what’s happening – events on the train, folks joining in, and so on. We arrive on the 18th – rest up, to start the events.
I’ll be in NY for 10 days, there’s a lot happening – If you can’t make it, I hope you can join me on this journey via this blog. They’ll be Faith gatherings, an event at NY Insight with myself and Santacitta, Santussika, Pannavati Bhikkhunis, Bhikkhu Bodhi, David Loy, Wes Nisker…They’ll be activist happenings – like Flood Wall Street – I’ll keep you posted with pics and updates.
Here’s our Banner for the March
The Peoples Climate March is just the beginning (well, not exactly, environmentalists have been at this a looong time), but this is the beginning of the Peoples Movement to secure a sustainable planet. Join us, as we become an unstoppable force.
OK – see you “on the road!”
Thanks to Diane Wilde of Sacramento for designing our Buddhist Banner – and thanks to Valerie Love of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Ayya Santussika Bhikkhuni, for arranging the Climate Train.