A Call to Compassionate Action

Why Extinction Rebellion and other international movements for climate and ecological justice are so important.

Dear beloved teachers, family, friends, friends of the Earth,
Dear spiritual teachers and leaders everywhere,
Dear beloved peoples of all origins,
Dear beloved Mother Earth,

Today I feel inspired and called to write to you, in humility and reverence and respect. I write to ask for your care, your help, and your support for people everywhere, of all species and origins, and for the Earth: our home. We are Earth peoples.

My heart is a little heavy with some fear and the weight of responsibility. My deep wish is to write not for myself or from my own voice, but with the voice of my ancestors, including all land and spiritual ancestors. I do not wish to fail. At the same time, I also feel the energy of life flowing through me, supporting me with joy and courage. I know I add this voice to the voice of multitudes everywhere.

It is important to me to put this as plainly as I can. From where many of us on Earth stand, we see we have arrived at a crossroads — at a crisis of enormous magnitude. I think many of you see this. I do not want to spend much time trying to convince you of this; it may be something that you do not see. But many of you do see this and are willing to see this. It is to you I wish to speak.

It is enough to say that we have entered an age of extinction, driven by climate change and other human-induced factors, on a sweeping and devastating scale. As many as 200 species — from our family of life, our relatives — are vanishing every day. The harm being done and the threat to everyone — or as I say, ‘peoples of all species’ — has never been greater in human history on Earth. As humans, we are facing massive societal breakdown and the deaths of millions, driven by food shortages and the collapse of the ecosystems that support us. We are facing our own extinction.

Many who study the climate very carefully predict from direct evidence and observation that the time available for us to make a concerted global response may be limited to just a few years — or that we may already be too late to avert global catastrophe for life on Earth.

Looking at a looming disaster and the devastating loss of life around us, it is natural to experience grief, shock, disbelief, fear, anger, despair, numbness, and other potent psychological forces. Please take the time to be with these feelings. We need to take time to hold and be with our emotions, and to receive support from those around us. These emotions are teachers, and they can be a source of power if we know how to embrace them and not be overwhelmed.

Compounding this distress, many of us believe implicitly that our only means to protect the Earth is as consumers — we have to recycle, drive the right cars, get solar panels, eat right, and so on. But that leaves us trapped in a box — all we’re allowed to do is consume — and we can only respond by the way we consume. Of course, how we consume is important, but we also need to address the vast structural injustice of our society and culture, our lack of clear policy to deal with devastating climate and ecological collapse — our inability to reign in, and begin to heal, the corporate, political, and social systems that are destroying us.

We need a different kind of response to this extraordinary kind of crisis.

In a time of crisis, it is essential that all those who see it marshal all of their spiritual and physical energies to meet the moment, and call on others to meet that moment, too. We are called to meet this crisis of extinction not with panic, but with steadiness, with togetherness — and also with extraordinary and fearless action — resistance — arising from a place of deep wisdom and compassion. Without this kind of energetic resistance — starting now — it is unlikely that our young people — our children and their children — will inherit a livable future. Our generation bears a great responsibility.

I am a Zen Buddhism monk, born and currently living in the United States, on Turtle Island. I belong to the particular spiritual stream cultivated by Master Thich Nhat Hanh — the Plum Village community of practice, also called the Community of Engaged Buddhism. I also belong to the Christian stream of practice, as I returned to my Christian roots from my mother’s line and took baptism as a young person. And I also carry within me the ancestors of my father’s spiritual lineage, Judaism. These roots and lineages are deeply valuable and precious to me.

I want to address first my most immediate community: the Plum Village Sangha. I see the powerful efforts of our community on so many fronts: to raise awareness, to reduce suffering, and to heal wounds in our human and non-human family. I see the Earth Holders of our Sangha supporting healing and well-being for our entire planet. In the past year, I have been on Pilgrimage, seeking insight, wisdom, and understanding. I’ve met with many small communities throughout the United States, communities committed to understanding and love. All of the members of these communities have taught me so much about the power of love, the power of community, the power of networks and organization, the power of compassion. For this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Your heart is in my heart.

I want to ask you — all of you in these communities and beyond, as you feel called — to learn about, support, and respond to the global movements for ecological justice such as Extinction Rebellion. It is essential that we support and create movements of resistance and defiance to stand up to the extreme violence, injustice, and oppression taking place every day, all over the Earth. Our teacher, lovingly called “Thay” by his students, has said over and over again that ours is a community of resistance, of revolutionary love. There are so many ways to stand up to injustice, and each of us may be called in a different way.

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I don’t think we need to create our own movements of resistance. Extinction Rebellion is a global movement working to directly disrupt the processes driving climate change and species extinction by making specific demands of our governments. They are using powerful nonviolent direct action, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, to wake us all up. They are opening so many important pathways to contribute and actively challenge these processes of destruction, which are driven by the systems of inequity and violence within our society and culture. They are demanding that governments and institutions acknowledge our state of crisis and take necessary action. The values and commitments of Extinction Rebellion are deeply aligned with Buddhist values like truth-telling, nonviolence, community building, regenerative (life-sustaining and healing) culture, protection of life, appropriateness, and non-blaming, among others.

Our own Plum Village community was shaped by and formed during the conflict of the Vietnam War when our teacher created the Order of Interbeing (OI) to work for peace and social change. The first OI members, including Sister Chan Khong, risked their lives to do this work — not taking sides in the conflict and thereby being seen as enemies by both sides. Later our teacher traveled throughout the US calling for an end to the violence, and working with many organizations, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) to help stop the war.

Today, we have an extraordinary opportunity to respond to suffering on a far greater scale. Given the magnitude of the current crisis, it is essential that we partner with coalitions beyond our immediate community. Extinction Rebellion is inclusive and welcomes all people — and all parts of all people. Of course, there are many movements and actions addressing climate change today. Regardless of the movement, the Buddhist call to compassionate action and active response is clear. We know from our chanting of the Discourse on Love, that we are called to respond with compassion, ‘just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life.’ The first of our precepts we call ‘Reverence for Life.’ It enjoins us to do everything in our power to protect life.

To the peoples of all the spiritual traditions of South Asia and East Asia, and to the wider community of Buddhist practitioners and monastics within this stream: I trust you can also see the alignment of our values with this movement, the call to Ahimsa, and the need for fearless and compassionate action.

To all Abrahamic Faiths, the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim peoples, who share common roots — to my many brothers and sisters in these traditions: I trust that you can see the strong and powerful calling of the prophets to stand up with all of our energy for truth and justice, and for the restoration of a culture of equity, responsibility, and relationship within the magnificent creation of life. Now is the time to support each other, seeing that we all share common ground and common roots in the call to create a just society and to protect all life on this planet. I trust you are responding to this call and will continue to do so.

To spiritual leaders and teachers everywhere: I am deeply grateful — humbled — by your courage and your model, for you call for us to act together in harmony to protect life.

To business and corporate leaders, investors, and people of wealth: now is the time for us to act together and to share in common cause, as we share one common home. As Dr. King has taught us, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’ I see that all of the profit we have generated, all of the wealth that exists — all the material and spiritual support for all that is — has come to us directly and freely from the Earth. Now is the time to return that wealth to the Earth. We must find ways within businesses and corporations to devote all profits and all wealth to restoring well-being and health on our planet. We need you. We need to transform all of our industries. Let us find creative ways to give back the wealth to the people — the peoples of all species — from which it has sprung. We can do this by investing in processes that share wealth, protect life, and reverse the processes of climate and ecosystem destruction. The wealth and abundance, the richness of the Earth belongs to us all.

To political leaders everywhere: the time to act decisively has come. The needs of all peoples, of all species, are clear. We must transform our political systems from ones driven by destructive consumption, and economies based on exploitation and greed, to systems that honor relationship and reciprocity, that preserve well-being and care for all species on Earth. We must take action to tell the truth about the crisis at hand and we must take immediate action to change course. Solutions are available and practices like citizens’ assemblies can rebuild our democracies and make the process of transformation of our governmental policies possible.

To humans everywhere, people of all spiritual traditions, and to all the indigenous peoples of Earth: you have brought so much love and wisdom to the human family through your teachings about respect, care, reverence, protection, and reciprocity. You have taught us about the power of relationships and our interconnection with all life. It is urgent that we as humans restore this body of wisdom, these ways of knowing, to all cultures and societies around the world. The survival of much of life depends on it.

And to those suffering from oppression and poverty, those treated unjustly, those harmed over so many generations, including indigenous peoples, African Americans, people of color, and others: it is clear that oppressed people all over the Earth are bearing the brunt of climate-related suffering. You have long led the struggle for justice and equity, and have shown again and again the path and power of nonviolence and solidarity. I do not doubt that you will continue to rise together and to lead — in the strength of siblinghood with all beings — calling out for justice, for healing, for the restoration of lands, and for reparations and redress for harm done. I humbly wish to add my support, and my voice to your voice, to keep learning.

To the larger body of life on Earth: it is time that we recognize, in deep humility and gratitude, our dependence and our kinship with you. It is time that we begin to restore our relationships, that we make right and repair the harm done, that we begin to honor you as peoples — peoples with inalienable rights and sovereignty, deserving of protection and respect.

Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist has said that now is not a time when we need hope, but a time when we need action — that hope will spring from our courageous action. I hear her saying that we should not attach to false hopes. Thich Nhat Hanh has said that it is important to face the impermanence of our species — our possible extinction — so that we can move from despair and fear towards love and fearlessness. From this place, we will find the call to action.

Tomorrow morning, October 6th, I will travel to New York City to join friends and members of our community in supporting the Extinction Rebellion. I will offer support in whatever creative and courageous ways I can — offering spiritual and resilience support as I am able. Many people, our friends, will be arrested in creative and carefully planned acts of civil disobedience by calling attention to our current state of crisis and demanding action.

Dear friends, in this time of crisis, I wish you courage, strength, and peace. I wish for you a community that offers solidarity, love, understanding, and companionship as we face the challenges and struggles to come. If our compassion is strong, it does not matter the outcome of our joined efforts and our determinations. All of us are called in different ways and each contribution is of great value. If we have looked deeply and responded, if we have given everything for the sake of love, then we have given everything. Whatever you are called to do, please put your heart into it. Please be patient and please be wise, but please continue to respond. May we find the path home together.

With deep love, gratitude, and respect,
Bowing to you with palms joined,

Aaron K. Solomon
Brother True Dharma Fulfillment

I’m a monastic in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh. My dream is fostering communities of resilience that can respond to the greatest challenges in human history.

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