Dear beloved friends of the Earth,
Today I feel inspired and called to write to you, in humility and reverence and respect, about a movement that I’m supporting called Extinction Rebellion, a global movement of resistance.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.
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. Approximately 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.
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 feel grief, shock, disbelief, fear, outrage, anger, despair, collapse, numbness, or other potent emotional 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 become overwhelmed.
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 a sense of calm, with steadiness, with togetherness—and also with extraordinary and fearless action arising from a place of deep wisdom and compassion. Without this kind of energetic selfless action—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.
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. I want to ask you—all of you in these communities and beyond, as you feel called—to learn about, support, and respond to Extinction Rebellion. Or to support or create your own 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.
However, I don’t think we need to create our own movement of resistance. Extinction Rebellion is a global movement working to 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 formed the Order of Interbeing 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 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. 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.
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, on October 6, I will travel to New York City to join friends and members of our community in supporting the Extinction Rebellion—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.
Bowing to you with palms joined,
Aaron K. Solomon
Brother True Dharma Fulfillment