Compassionate Action

Being in the world

A commitment to be of service to our world is at the heart of Zen. Service and compassionate action can take many forms; for some people their paid work is their vehicle for service, for some people caring for family at home or volunteering in the community is their expression of compassion, while others may choose social activism or environmental action. As a Buddhist community, here at the Centre we work on a daily basis to live simply, use resources wisely and build responsible engagement with our wider society. Although the challenges of pollution, waste, poverty, inequality, ecosystem destruction and climate change are truly global in scale, we believe that compassionate, community-based actions are worthwhile even though their outcomes are not certain.

Looking back on 2018/2019: a time of transformation

Climate change has been in the headlines so much over this time, and the news sometimes seems to be all bad. It can be useful to pause and take a backwards glance at what has been achieved. Here is a brief look back, written by Robin Gardner Gee in November 2019: 

August 2018. Just over a year ago now Greta Thunberg staged her first protest outside the Swedish parliament, holding a sign that read "Skolstrejk för klimatet" ("School strike for the climate").

Two months later, in October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major report, clearly spelling out for the first time the new timeline that we face. The IPCC stated that we have only a narrow window left for effective action -- just 12 years -- to have any realistic chance to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C, beyond which every half degree of warming will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for millions of people. The authors of the landmark report called for urgent and unprecedented changes in order to achieve the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperature rises between 1.5°C and 2°C. 

In November 2018, five bridges across the Thames River in London were blockaded for days by Extinction Rebellion (a UK movement calling for radical climate action), generating massive media attention. In New Zealand (and in many other places around the world) Extinction Rebellion groups sprung up in cities and towns and began protesting.

Meanwhile, with much less media attention, indigenous peoples around the world continued to risk their lives and livelihoods in their struggles to protect their lands, forests and waters. In Sweden, Greta Thunberg kept striking every Friday, sparking the huge youth-lead School Strike movement. On 15 March 2019 the first global School Strike for Climate gathered more than one million strikers in 125 countries. In April 2019, Extinction Rebellion again occupied prominent sites in central London and on 1 May 2019, the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency.

On 24 May 2019, the second global School Strike for Climate took place. In June 2019, Pope Francis declared a climate emergency and urged leaders to "hear the increasingly desperate cries of the earth and its poor." The governments of Ireland, France, Canada, and Argentina declared climate emergencies. In New Zealand climate emergencies were declared in Canterbury and Nelson (both 16 May 2019),  Auckland (11 June) and Wellington (20 June). Here at the Zen Centre we too declared a climate emergency. In July 2019 the Zero Carbon Bill was presented in the New Zealand Parliament and public submissions were called for. At local government level, in August 2019 the Auckland Council opened submissions for its Climate Action Framework that aims to make Auckland zero-carbon by 2050.

The third global School Strike for Climate gathered roughly 6 million protesters worldwide, including over 170,000 here in New Zealand on 27 September 2019, one of the largest protests in our country’s history. Greta Thunberg delivered a furious challenge to world leaders at the UN Summit in New York. On social media reactivity flared in posts and opinion pieces that were sometimes angry, ugly and intolerant. It felt as though powerful energies had been released all around the world.  On 7 November 2019, the New Zealand parliament passed the Zero Carbon Bill, setting specific targets into law -- zero net carbon emissions plus significant methane reductions by 2050. These targets are intended to meet New Zealand's commitments to the global effort to limit global warming to 1.5°C. So yes, arguments still abound and implementation is lagging behind public commitments, but it is worth pausing to reflect how far we have come: a low-carbon future is now an accepted part of government planning and policy in many countries around the world. 

My own sense of the future still sways. Some days the future seems to only hold a bleak descent into ecological degradation, causing me to fear for the young people in my life. But on other days I think we can yet transform our economies and ourselves enough to be able to live well within the ecological boundaries of our planet. I look forward to now getting on with the practical business of transitioning to carbon zero: at home, here at the Centre, and throughout the city. Much good can come from this journey, even if we can not yet imagine reaching our destination.

So as 2019 ends: enjoy the summer, cherish all the beings we share this planet with, hold strong to your practice, gather energy for the coming new year.

More on the AZC Climate emergency declaration

On the 28 May 2019 Sangha members met to discuss the option of declaring a Climate Emergency. There was unanimous support from those present for the draft declaration. AZC staff subsequently created an online survey to gain further input from the Sangha. There was almost unanimous support expressed in the survey results as well -- one Sangha member supported strong climate action but did not support the concept of a climate emergency. On 19 June 2019 the AZC Trustees unanimously adopted the declaration. 

By declaring a Climate Emergency, we commit to:

  • incorporating climate crisis considerations into the life of our Centre, our decisions, practices, purchases and policies

  • advocating strongly for greater central government and city leadership and action on climate change

  • treasuring and deepening our practice, which enables us to find love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and the courage for action in the midst of uncertainty and change.

This declaration is a way of affirming (to each other and to the wider community) that we are committed to the difficult work of facing the current climate crisis, exploring its roots in human greed, fear and denial, and its social and ecological consequences, and then doing what we can to alleviate suffering.

In making this declaration, we join hundreds of other Buddhist communities, faith groups, councils, cities and nations around the world, in order to serve our living planet and all its beings as best we can. In the coming weeks, months and years we will be working to keep this declaration alive and central in our practice and in our day-to-day activities.

Here are some of the actions that we already taking to be in the world with attention and care:

Our food choices

At the Centre we follow a plant-based diet. We maintain vegetable plots in several local community gardens and during the summer months, many of the vegetables used at the Centre kitchen and on sesshin are grown ourselves. When we are purchasing food, we select mainly local, seasonal fresh produce and also support organic and fair-trade producers whenever possible. All our food waste is composted.

Our product choices

We try to reduce the amount of "stuff" we use at the Centre and when we do need something, we explore low-impact, fair, simple options (e.g. reconditioning second-hand appliances, making homemade cleaning solutions). We take responsibility for what we can no longer use, making sure things are recycled whenever possible, or disposed of responsibly (e.g. we have an annual e-waste collection at the Centre to make it easier for Sangha members to dispose of old electrical equipment appropriately).

Our social choices

We aspire to make the Auckland Zen Centre an inclusive, accessible and welcoming place for those seeking to practice the Way, regardless of race, ethnic or national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or physical capabilities. For many years we have supported the human rights work of Amnesty International by fundraising, writing letters annually on Kannon Day, by staying informed about local and global issues and by taking part in public actions. Centre members also helped to found and continue to support the New Zealand Buddhist Council, which aims to create respectful relationships among New Zealand’s various Buddhist communities and to work with other faith communities to nurture mutual understanding and promote peace.

Our travel choices

We celebrate walking and biking as beneficial modes of transport. We encourage car-pooling and the use of public transport and our Centre is located within minutes of a train station and bus depot.

Our local choices

We care for our local neighbourhood by regularly collecting litter from the streets and in the past few years we have converted a neglected corner of Onehunga into a tiny park: our zendo backs onto a council-owned car park and the area around the car park was a forlorn wasteland, sprouting only weeds and rubbish. With the help of a council grant, we’ve cleared the litter and weeds, mulched the ground, and planted over 100 hardy native plants that in time will draw native birds and insects into this tiny oasis. We have also installed bench seats so locals can enjoy the garden.

Our Green Network

In early 2019 we had a series of talks from Sensei and Sangha members, exploring responses to the climate crisis we are in the midst of. This is such an urgent issue. After the talks we decided to form a Green Network to help keep ourselves informed and inspired about the climate actions that we can take up, both individually and together as a Sangha. At the moment the Green Network has monthly email updates, members are regularly taking part in different climate actions around Auckland, and we have irregular meetings. Contact if you would like to be on the Green Network email list. We also are affiliated with a Facebook group called "Dharma Rain Aotearoa". This is a digital space for anyone interested in exploring practice and compassionate action in this time of climate crisis. Search for the group on Facebook and ask to join -- you are most welcome. 

In addition to this daily work, at the Centre we mark the importance of compassionate action in two ceremonies each year: Earth Day and Kannon Day

Our actions and choices matter, large and small.

 Bread made at the Centre each week for lunches  Pumpkins growing in one of the Centre garden plots  Letters calling for the release of prisoners of conscience written on Kannon Day  Reconditioned 1960s sewing machine, in use at the Centre  Bulk purchase of paper-wrapped toilet paper (from 100% recycled paper).
Amala Wrightson,
17 Jul 2019, 16:29
Amala Wrightson,
25 Jun 2019, 17:38