Satya Vahu (left) and Sara Monial of Touching Earth Sangha sat outdoors during a four-day fast for Climate Justice in downtown Portland in November.
Satya Vahu and Sara Monial of Touching Earth Sangha in Portland, Oregon participated in the worldwide Climate Justice Fast in November. Satya Vahu reports:
In the contemporary world it is hard to find an issue of more pressing importance than the suffering caused by global climate change. This suffering cuts through all categories–effecting hunger, drought, weather disasters, spread of disease, homelessness, mass species extinction, and war.
From a Buddhist perspective we might call the ultimate source of the problem greed, anger, and confusion (with a special emphasis on greed). The call for spiritual practitioners to provide leadership in showing the world another way has never been stronger.
One way to affect change is for contemplatives to live up to their traditional role in exemplifying a simple, non–harming, frugal, and joyful lifestyle. No society has ever been in more urgent need of clear models of a new (old) way of living–one free of acquisitiveness and mindless consumption–than our own. To show how to live this way has been part of the job of monks and nuns, as well as dedicated lay practitioners, of many traditions throughout history.
Food and thought at a Touching Earth Sangha Open House.
But in the recent enthusiasm for Buddhist practice in the west, this role has been somewhat neglected. There is a great opportunity for a revival here, with new forms and methods appropriate for the times. To share not just the possibility, but the liberating joy and contentment of the simple life, could be one of the most essential offerings of the contemporary spiritual practitioner to the wider world.
One small group in the Northwest that is focusing on this very project is the group I practice with here in Portland, Touching Earth Sangha.
Living without income and practically off the energy grid, we have a meditation house and garden where we follow a full schedule of daily practices mostly from the Zen tradition. Most days we help collect free food (by bike) that would otherwise go to waste and offer free meals to all with the Food–Not–Bombs movement. We work on pioneering simple–life strategies that are publicized on our website: touchingearth.wordpress.com. All our daily practice, retreats, and workshops are offered free of charge. We survive solely from the gifts of the earth and unsolicited donations.
When we at Toucing Earth Sangha learned about Climate Justice Fast, a campaign to fast for over forty days leading up to the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen this December, we were moved and inspired to do something in support. Although not choosing to join the long fast, Sara Monial and myself decided to fast for the first four days in public spots in downtown Portland.
Touching Earth Sangha, Southeast Portland, Oregon.
With Sara's colorful banner we sat from November sixth through the ninth, first along the Willamette River waterfront, and then in front of the library at Portland State University. Mostly sitting in meditation, we talked with numerous folks to spread the message of both the international fast and our own efforts at simplicity.
We were joined during most days by other sangha members and friends, some of whom did a one-day fast. At night we stayed at a local activist art space called Sea Change Gallery, whose residents are planning on attending the Copenhagen conference. We all had a positive experience and plan on helping organize a candlelight vigil on December 11th, and possibly 12th, (with a one-day fast on the 12th) in coordination with world-wide vigils initiated by the climate group 350.org.
Through these actions, free practice opportunities and events, and through open communication about the relationship between lifestyle and religious practice, we as a sangha hope to help bring the contemplative tradition into a wider field of social relevance. As they have in the past, Buddhist and other contemplatives can again serve as reminders to our wider community of the beauty of simplicity, and the treasure of compassion at the center of the human heart.
If anyone is inspired to join these efforts, or is interested in practicing with us at Touching Earth, please don't hesitate to e-mail us (email@example.com) or just come by our place in southeast Portland. (We don't have a phone; check the website for appropriate times and address). We hope to meet and share with more folks in the northwest Buddhist community in the coming year.
For more information about Touching Earth Sangha, please visit: www.touchingearth.wordpress.com.
Information about Global Justice Fast is at: www.climatejusticefast.com.
A video interview can be seen at: www.climatejusticefast.com/blog/entry/portland-climate-fast-nov-6-9
Contributor: Satya Vahu.
Photos: Courtesy of Touching Earth Sangha.