It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.J. Krishnamurti
In a time when the survival of the human race is in question, to continue with the status quo is to cooperate with insanity, to contribute to chaos…People have generally followed one or the other of these two conventional approaches: religious groups concerned with inner growth and inner revolution, and social activist groups concerned with social service… a real integration of social action and spirituality at a deep, innovative level has not yet happened to any significant degree… In this era, to become a spiritual inquirer without social consciousness is a luxury that we can ill afford, and to be a social activist without a scientific understanding of the inner workings of the mind is the worst folly. Neither approach in isolation has had any significant success… The challenge awaiting us is to go much deeper as human beings, to abandon superficial prejudices and preferences, to expand understanding to a global scale, integrating the totality of living, and to become aware of the wholeness of which we are a manifestation.Vimala Thakar
To see the universal and all pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. A man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to truth has drawn me into the field of politics and I can say without the slightest hesitation and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.M. Gandhi
Activism – the engaging in action to lessen suffering, and clear away the barriers to beauty and joy – is essentially born out of love and compassion. And compassion arises most clearly, powerfully, and effectively in the heart that is free of the separation of self and other.
To recognize the shared being of us all is the essence of love and the source of any true activism, just as the clinging to a worldview of separate, isolated, competing selves is the origin of all conflict and stress. To fully realize this shared being, the fixation on the individual self must dissolve in the apprehension of our essence – simple, naked, unbounded awareness. Therefore, our practice of awakening to presence can be seen as the most fundamental activism – by dismantling the cage of isolation we uproot the source of antagonism, rejection and exploitation, and plant the seeds of inclusion, caring and peace.
A next level of activism grows naturally from the seed of presence – once we recognize true contentment in the simple beauty of our unbounded awareness, untethered to any particular material conditions or social status, we become free of the compulsion to strive for material accumulation, personal achievement, or imagined future experiences. We can also relinquish whatever habits we have been clinging to as the fortifications of our individual selves, and freely choose that which is most wholesome and beautiful instead. What evolves is a life of simplicity where we no longer support the mechanisms of exploitation, inequality, and war, and the consumerist juggernaut that is tearing apart the health of the global ecosystem.
These essential forms of activism form the foundation of any true and lasting healing of ourselves and all beings, and they are one and the same as our spiritual practice. The various physical manifestations of conventional activism – protests, civil disobedience, petitioning the government – may all emerge from our spiritual engagement according to circumstance and karmic personality, but are not the only effective (or necessarily most effective) of concrete actions. And without the foundation of the freedom from self-clinging, and the awareness of the unity of being, they cannot provide lasting peace and freedom, since actions from the narrow confines of the isolated individual (with it’s inevitable prejudices and conditioned distortions), will always contain the seeds of conflict and struggle.
The commitment to live a simple, responsible, non-harming way of life every day – which is the outer face of our spiritual practice – is, then, our most crucial activism. Our community is also often called to engage in more conventionally recognized public activist expressions. Our on-going involvement with the Food-Not-Bombs free meal servings and community gatherings is one. An annual event that our sangha organizes is a public sitting/walking meditation in downtown Portland in front of shopping centers on International “Buy-Nothing Day” – equipped with alternative-to-consumerism messages. Some of us also get involved from time to time with other protests and direct action for various causes that seek to reduce suffering and promote a healthier and more compassionate world. Climate Strikes, the ongoing civil disobedience efforts of Extinction Rebellion, the Black Lives Matter protests, and animal liberation marches are some of the events that various members of our community have recently been engaged with.
Below are some accounts and photos of activism that some from our community have been involved with in previous years:
FOOD NOT BOMBS – ‘0? – 2022
We help out with a local chapter of the international Food-Not-Bombs movement: healthy, mostly organic plant-based food rescued from the waste stream through donating farms & businesses and served free to all humans in public parks. Our current servings (fall, 2022) are Wednesdays & Saturdays at 5pm outside Buckman Elementary School in SE Portland
Kayaktivism – 2015
In July, 2015, several of us in the sangha participated in an action to oppose the planned drilling operation of Shell Oil in the Alaskan Arctic. The event was a kayak blockade of Shell’s ice-breaking ship on the Willamette River here in Portland, as the ship was leaving port after repairs. We were joined by a group of climbers from Greenpeace who hung down from the St. John’s bridge to block the ship – altogether we delayed the ship for more than a day and attracted worldwide press coverage. Here’s a photo:
Occupy Portland – Fall 2011
Serving food with Food Not Bombs, working to start an environmental sustainability committee and meditation groups.
Buy Nothing Day (’09 – ’21)
Touching Earth Sangha participates in a tradition originally started by the Adbusters magazine folks in B.C., Canada – Buy Nothing Day. It happens every year on the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday, which is usually the biggest shopping day here in the states. They ask everyone to stop buying for a day (at least, or for all the holiday season, or forever) to slow down the consumer machine, and to share the inspiring experience of what it takes to reclaim lives of simplicity and beauty. This year (2022) it’s happening Friday, November 25th in North America, and Saturday the 26th in the rest of the world. An additional practice has sometimes been to refrain from using gas/ electricity on that day as well – at least for non-essential appliances – so turning off the TV, cell phone, car, computer, lights, etc. from sunup to sunset. Please consider joining this consumerist fast, as part of the Climate Justice Movement. And, if you’re in Portland, come celebrate and spread the word with our sangha by joining us downtown for a public sit in front of centers of consumer frenzy (contact us for details). Changing our lifestyles and buying habits, it seems to me, is the most crucial step that we must take to alter the course of climate change – whether it’s our direct personal impact on the corporations and governments that our dollars give power to, or whether we can push government and corporate bodies to facilitate this change through protest actions. And after this one symbolic day of not buying, please consider a more permanent ban on all your purchasing of corporate products – all those plastic-packaged, far traveling, and often synthetic chemical-laden items that we’ve all grown up with. Once the habit has been broken, it’s amazing how easy it is to get along without them. And giving up patronizing corporate stores is liberating as well. Together with dramatically reducing our driving, flying, and animal product eating, this is the direct route to a new, locally based culture in harmony with the natural world and social justice.
Climate Justice Fast (2009)
As we’re sure you’re aware, global warming and climate change is perhaps the greatest issue of social and environmental consequence in the world
today, with effects on species extinction, worldwide drought and famine, floods and weather disasters, and even the spread of warfare and disease. As there is a worldwide governmental meeting about the issue in Copenhagen in December, many groups are trying to organize public expressions of concern around the world in the coming months. Their hope is to persuade the various governments to take real, substantive action to reduce atmospheric carbon to safer levels (350 ppm, according to recent scientific consensus). This will involve serious policy changes in order to ensure that the most wasteful and polluting countries (like this one) dramatically simplify our energy needs; and help poorer countries, already feeling the impacts and much less responsible for the problem, adapt to changing conditions with the least suffering and destruction.
One group, Climate Justice Fast! is trying to awaken global awareness by conducting publicized fasts of various lengths all over the world. A core group of individuals from many different countries are undertaking long fasts (over 40 days) leading up to and through the Copenhagen summit. Large numbers of people are engaging in solidarity fasts of different lengths to help spread the word and to make people’s personal commitment and resolve palpable and intimate. The organizers are very much influenced by Gandhi and his perspective that outer change is rooted in personal spiritual commitment and transformation, and specifically by his method of fasting. Touching Earth Sangha and friends will be doing a solidarity fast for four days staring on November 6th at Portland’s Waterfront Park just north of the Hawthorne bridge. Anyone is welcome to join us for any length of time. We will be spending our time mostly sitting but will be open for talking to share our message. Some folks might be able to help with video/media stuff to share what we’re doing with a wider audience. If interested, drop us an e-mail at touchingearth(at)riseup(dot)net or just come join us.
We finished our four day fast (see the Climate Justice website under blogs for videos of us) and now we are going to sit for a one day fast Monday December 7th at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland. This is the first day of the Copenhagen Climate Conference and the 31st day of the long term fast. Please come join us!