From Inquiring Mind, Vol. 31, #2 (Spring 2015). © 2015 by Inquiring Mind. Used by permission.
Paper copies of the final issue of Inquiring Mind are available here only until 15 June 2015.
By Ayya Santacitta & Ayya Santussika
We women monastics don’t have the privilege of shutting ourselves off from the need for change. Because we are not part of the establishment, we live our lives on the front lines. As bhikkhunis, what pulls us to the front lines of climate change is the pioneering spirit of the bhikkhuni movement itself. We are already going against the grain to reestablish the order of fully ordained Theravada nuns; we’re willing to step out of a patriarchal system and create something new. And because we lack the “golden handcuffs” of abundant financial support, we don’t have to worry about keeping everybody happy. We have the freedom to respond to the urgent needs of the day, applying the Buddha’s teachings to the crises humanity faces now.
|Image 1: Ayya Santussika and Ayya Santacitta |
teaching a daylong retreat on "Stable Heart, Stable
Climate" at Insight Santa Cruz.
We are working to pass on a livable biosphere and an understanding of ourselves as guardians of the Earth. But generally, things are not going in that direction; humans have already done a lot of damage to the planet. Those of us alive today are the first generations to feel the effects of climate change and may be the last that can do anything about it. If we’re going to pass anything on, we had better put everything we can into making a difference now.
|Image 2: "Buddhist for Climate |
Action" Dharma Wheel logo
While advising our Dharma Teachers International Collaborative on Climate Change, Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International, told us that, in his experience, whenever people of faith come on board to address a cause, it greatly empowers the cause by giving it a seal of authenticity, depth, inspiration and power. If you’re wearing the robes, then you have a responsibility to tell the truth every time. And you have a responsibility to lead. You give yourself to that. So we have to wear our robes in the most authentic way possible, as connected to the Dhamma as we can manage.
|Image 3: The Climate March in New York City with Buddhist Global Relief.|
|Image 4: The People's Climate train travelled cross country from San Francisco to New York City to join the Climate March in September of 2014.|
Speaking the truth includes supporting our political leaders in rediscovering their moral compass. One of the banners we’ve carried at demonstrations says, “Climate change is a global issue and a moral issue.” This means that no one is outside of it. It’s not about men or women; black, yellow, brown or white; rich or poor. We are all affected. In a way, climate change is political because we have to pressure our leaders to respond, but at the end of the day, it’s not about one political party or another. It’s about whether we’ll take the next evolutionary step.
Some people may say, “We don’t want our monastics to be political.” But if we monastics are not addressing this very concrete, desperate, ethical issue, then we’re not doing our job. In fact, we find that most people feel a sense of relief when they hear monastics break the silence and speak clearly about the environment and how this topic fits into the framework of the Dhamma. Our aim is to bring a bit more sanity to an urgent situation so that people are able to act effectively. This is what the Buddha did when people were in crisis; he placed it in the bigger context of the reality of aging, sickness, death and rebirth. The crisis of climate change can be framed in these same terms. It’s the death of a worldview and a way of life based on fossil fuels. The kind of rebirth the human family will experience depends on our actions now.
Addressing the environmental crisis in the context of the Dhamma does not mean we will never feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. But when we do, we work with those mind-states using the Buddha’s tools for understanding the mind. When the mind becomes depressed, we need to bring balance to what we’re doing. Here, we can apply the same energy, attention, skillfulness, agility and malleability needed to scramble up the mountain of enlightenment. We move the mind in a direction that’s wholesome so we can continue to act and to awaken. If we do this in accordance with truth, our actions to address the climate crisis are no different than practicing for awakening.
|Image 5: After the Climate March - |
the next step.
Acting within the framework of Buddhist teachings also helps us remember that we don’t know how things will turn out. There is no guarantee. We do the best we can, and then we let go—not of our beautiful planet but of our egos. There can be a lot of ego involved in turning away from the world when it is complex and difficult. Simply wanting to have one’s peace and samadhi is not the full embodiment of the teachings. Maybe human life will not survive much longer on this planet, or maybe we’ll make a shift and save ourselves by the skin of our teeth. We don’t know. But we can develop ourselves. We can live with integrity. We can raise our children with love.
Coming back to the basic principles that the Buddha taught is a powerful way to live, regardless of how things turn out. We can be at peace not because we are insulated from catastrophe but because we are connected, because we recognize the fragility of life and this web of karmic action. Compassion naturally arises as the heart aligns with reality. That is well worth passing on.
Ayya SantacittaBorn in Austria, Ayya Santacitta’s interest in monastic life was sparked by Ajahn Bud- dhadasa. She has practiced meditation for over twenty-five years and trained as a nun in both the East and West since 1993, primarily in the lineage of Ajahn Chah under the guidance of Ajahn Sumedho. She received bhikkhuni ordination in 2011 and is cofounder of Aloka Vihara, a new training monastery for women located in the Sierra foothills of California (www.saranaloka.org).
Ayya SantussikaAyya Santussika lives at Karuna Buddhist Vihara in Mountain View, California (www.karunabv.org). She has trained in large and small communities of nuns, including monasteries in the Ajahn Chah tradition, and ordained as a bhikkhuni in 2012. She grew up on a farm in Indiana and raised two children; her son later spent fourteen years as a Buddhist monk. She currently serves on the board of directors of Buddhist Global Relief.
Image 1: courtesy of Karuna Buddhist Vihara (http://www.karunabv.org/), web: http://www.karunabv.org/uploads/1/2/6/3/12630738/1408582902.jpg.
Image 2: courtesy of Buddhists for Climate Action: http://buddhistsforclimateaction.blogspot.com/2014/08/join-buddhist-leaders-ven-bhikkhu-bodhi.html, web: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-62phXHIASQk/U_-EQ9pK-BI/AAAAAAAAAnw/SdsWB_BnDMY/s1600/Buddhist%2Bfor%2BClimate%2BAction.jpg.
Image 3: courtesy of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis "Compassion and the Climate": http://www.bhikkhuni.net/2015/03/21/together/, web: http://www.bhikkhuni.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/climate-march-header21-980x550.jpg.
Image 4: courtesy of "People's Climate Change Journey to New York by Thanissara" https://thanissaradharma.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/peoples-climate-march-journey-to-new-york/, web: https://thanissaradharma.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/pct.jpg.
Image 5: courtesy of: "A Next Step by Thanissara": https://thanissaradharma.wordpress.com/author/thanissara/page/2/, web: https://thanissaradharma.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/1es-climateaction_qr.jpg