Buddhism and Activism

David Loy Advocates for Civil Disobedience
View of Earth from space showing Europe and north Africa

Eminent Buddhist scholar David Loy joined our Conservation Conversation last week to talk about what the Buddhist approach can contribute to our current climate crises. The discussion was rich with insights about how to navigate our current crises without falling into despair, taking the best effective action we personally can manage instead. I received the email below just afterwards. He had been arrested for a peaceful protest in his home town of Boulder, Colorado. In David’s new book, Ecodharma, he coined the term “ecosattvas”—a play on ecology and the term bodhisattva, a person who takes the basic tenet of Buddhism, compassion for all sentient beings, and applies it in the world. In this case, fighting for our Earth.

Dear Ecosattvas,

The biggest question for me is: what should we do if and when we realize that “business as usual”—including all the usual, acceptable political channels [elections, contacting politicians, citizen initiatives, etc.]—will only lead to disaster? As some have pointed out, the available legal channels for dissent aren’t working because “the system isn’t broken, it’s fixed”—it’s working the way it’s supposed to, to absorb our dissatisfaction and protests without ever addressing the fundamental issue and making the changes that are necessary if we are to avoid or minimize global catastrophe. We need to keep in mind that the people who control the present economic/political system are also the ones who benefit the most from it. It’s very difficult for them to see the roots of the problem—after all, that system is working very well for them, isn’t it? So they focus on the short-term [quarterly profits, re-election] and largely ignore the greater long-term challenges …

Cartoon showing two fish in a bowl. The small fish is stylized to look like Climate Change activist Greta Thunberg, and she is saying, "There's a crack in the bowl." An angry adult fish shouts, "First concentrate on your math homework!!"
Cartoon by Ralph Ruthe. Used with permission.

Not paying our taxes won’t do enough, at least not quickly enough. The government has well-established ways of responding, with various legal maneuvers that after some years end up garnishing wages or seizing one’s property.

So we can’t simply work within the present system, but must challenge it, shake it up.

For me, that is our collective koan today. So can we avoid “inconvenience”? I don’t say that what XR (the Extinction Rebellion movement) is doing is the best possible response, but right now I don’t have a better one. And the time for us to get our act together is very, very short.



PS Yesterday in Denver six of us were briefly detained and issued summons, for blocking a road. Others handed out cupcakes and cookies while explaining to the drivers why we were doing it. From what I could see, they didn’t seem too bothered, and perhaps some of them even supported us. In any case, the police were very efficient [and respectful!], so the blockage was not very long.

I’m inspired by what has happened in London this week. Here in Colorado we need a lot more than six people…

The replay of our Conservation Conversation is available here. Visit David’s website at www.davidloy.org.

For more Earthfire Stories, subscribe to our newsletter.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our privacy policy.