At StoneWater Zen London, we have continued with our regular programme of weekly and monthly classes. We held our first AGM on 24 July to discuss the future growth of our practice together. However, earlier in the year, we had already discussed what we might do as a sangha to support Buddhist Action Month (June), the theme of which was climate crisis. Since that time, several of our sangha members have been supporting and taking part in work to promote awareness that the world has only about a decade (or much less than that, according to some) to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to remove existing high levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Some of us participated in the Global Climate Strike on 24 May, carrying a placard stating that we are part of the StoneWater Zen Sangha.
Genju linked up with the London branch of the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE) to join its silent protest vigils at Barclays Bank in Piccadilly Circus, London, calling on Barclays to stop funding fossil fuels and asking its investors to move their money elsewhere. Then, in June, some of us attended an interfaith meditation session at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square (led by the Faith for Climate Network), and joined a ‘walk to witness’, ending with a mass lobby of Parliament to demand action on the climate crisis. Genju also led an 11km conscious walk outdoors, along the first section of the Vanguard Way, from Croydon to Chelsham Common, to reflect on our relationship with the Earth.
In July, some of the London Sangha participated in the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Summer Uprising protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, and Genju led a guided meditation at the peace camp beside the Old Vic theatre in Waterloo. On 17 August Genju offered another guided meditation session aimed at young XR activists who don’t have a meditation practice. Throughout the summer, other Sangha members have provided support to people arrested during the XR protests in April.
Why are we doing this? We feel that action against declines in biodiversity and natural habitats, as well as global warming itself, is a natural extension of our Zen practice. Through activism, we enact Dogen Zenji’s teaching that the self is confirmed by all phenomena, as a part of the wider, surrounding ecosystem. We acknowledge our existence in dependence upon our environment, rather than as separate and self-organising beings. We recognise that changes to the ecosystem brought about by human intervention, in the self-interest of our species, call for a radical re-evaluation from the deeper ecological perspective of the “more than human” world. Buddhist teachings, such as the network of inter-dependent origination, impermanence and no-self, enable us to appreciate deep ecology, the wonder of life as our daily reality and that sane and healthy people and societies depend upon the resilience of the ecosystems they inhabit. Awareness of our ecosystemic nature motivates us to act for change in the interest of the health and wellbeing of the world around us, and to help other environmentalists by offering the tools to nurture their own inner belief to continue in their vital work. Changing political and economic systems and changing ourselves are not two different things. If a crisis in our personal lives can harm us, then so too can a social crisis of environmental degradation. Both call for creative response. Many people are beginning to agree that the personal difficulties we confront in our daily lives may say as much about the state of the ecosystem and the need to act in its service as they may say about the specifically social and psychological preoccupations of our individual lives (see for example Totton: Wild Therapy; undomesticating inner and outer worlds). If we habitually expect meditation practice and psychotherapy only to deal with personal crises, and political activism to deal only with turmoil in the wider world, do we not merely perpetuate one more false dichotomy?