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On Finding an Appropriate Response to Climate Change

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This article was contributed by Shodo Spring, a Soto Zen priest who has organized the Compassionate Earth Walk, which will take place from July to September of this year. The walk will trace the Keystone XL route through the Great Plains. 


A monk asked Yun Men, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?”
Yun Men said, “An appropriate response.”

For as long as I’ve been aware of climate change, I’ve been asking the question about an appropriate response. As far as I can tell, our culture is in the process of destroying itself, taking everyone else with it. When I learned permaculture, I realized that the problem was not technical – we already have the methods to sequester carbon, grow foods without fossil fuels, and generally live well by acting like the part of the planet that we are. The problem was spiritual. I am a Zen priest: that problem is my business. Still I did not know what to do. I signed petitions, learned to grow food, was active in my local Transition group, and got involved in local politics. When time allowed, I went to Washington and got arrested in front of the White House with – over the Keystone pipeline. Nothing was enough.

During the last part of my formal training, I sat two training periods at Tassajara. About a week into the first one, I started having visions of walking along the pipeline.  The visions persisted and elaborated; I asked myself; I consulted with teachers and friends. Finally I accepted the assignment. I found its name – Compassionate Earth Walk – and its meaning – to accept the support of all beings, to rejoin the family of life.  All that is the origin of what now belongs to many people.

This is the official statement:

The Compassionate Earth Walk traces the Keystone XL route through the Great Plains. The ancient practice of pilgrimage responds to present and future environmental catastrophe, focusing on its causes in our own culture. We walk as a blessing to the earth and to those we meet, and as a prayer for all earth’s children.

We walk in the context of a great movement of resistance against the pipeline, the tar sands, the many poisonings of our world. Indigenous people are leading in blockades and movements – the Unist’ot’en in British Columbia, the Anishinaabeg  in Minnesota, Idle No More, Owe Aku of the Lakota, a thousand others around the world. Some of the colonizers are also beginning to recognize how we too are colonized, and to resist. This walk is a part of that movement, and it goes a paradoxical way.  It does not directly protest or attempt to stop the pipeline or the tar sands.

This walk is zazen. In the same way that we meet ourselves on the cushion, here we meet our collective selves while putting one foot after another on the ground. As we face our own thoughts and emotions, here we face that great injury in the earth, that expression of the break in our collective human spirit. As well as we can, we to meet it without turning away.

As in zazen, we walk in the middle of all beings, receiving life from them, offering life to them, allowing the whole to heal itself. We throw ourselves upon the mercy of the universe. We give up attempts to control even our fellow human beings. (We attempt to give up our attempts to control. If you have a sitting practice, you know what I mean.)

The walk is also a ceremony of gratitude to the earth, which has never abandoned us, and an expression of our love for all earth’s creatures including human. Someone said, “When you sit, you call upon Avalokiteshvara.” Thus the walk is also a prayer. And, although this is a Buddhist description of what we are doing, people of all faiths or none will be coming with us.

On July 1 we will gather in northern Alberta, in a beautiful place near the tar sands themselves.  We’ll spend a few days making ourselves ready on both spiritual and practical levels. July 5 and 6 we join the Fourth Annual Healing Walk at the tar sands site. This walk is organized by local First Nations women, with allies coming from around North America and beyond.  Walking and supporting them, we also open ourselves to the experience of the devastation that is the tar sands.

Then we walk south along the pipeline route, with meditation, ceremony, and community, continuing the healing process and sharing with those we meet.

The earth has not turned away from us; we have turned away from the earth. We live in a culture built on illusion, dedicated to being the hungry ghost – always wanting, never satisfied – imagining that material possessions can satisfy the hunger caused by our rejection of the kindness of the earth, willing to kill for that hunger – willing to sacrifice even our own children, along with millions of children we have not met. Or we pretend that it’s not our responsibility, that we are too small to make a difference, that someone else will take care of it.

Finally, for me this walk is a response to seeing faces of my small grandchildren – each unknowingly consuming enough for a hundred people to live on in a sane culture – and our betrayal of their innocence. It is eight years since I turned away from that betrayal; since then I have taken two long walks and gotten arrested for the first time. It is 18 months since the vision came of this, my own appropriate response. Finally, I join those who put saving beings first instead of last in my own life priorities.

If this vision calls to you, please consider joining us as a walker, or as a supporter offering skills, money, hospitality…. You are also invited to hold us in your hearts, to sit with us every morning wherever you are, to place the Walk and our intention on your altar, to remember us in services, and to share information as widely as possible.

Find out more about the walk at:

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

3 responses »

  1. What you always share is like the rarest of jewels! That is what spiritual wisdom is…the pearl of such great worth, and you bring it to life with every word, and every post you share! I am always lifted by the embrace of your words my sister, have a very blessed Sunday!

  2. Pingback: Action Alert: Join with Other Buddhists to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline | The Jizo Chronicles

  3. Pingback: Shodo Spring on “Finding an Appropriate Response to Climate Change” at The Jizo Chronicles

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