“I know that my path to enlightenment will only come from being connected to the world around me,” Njeri Matheu, a member of Brooklyn Zen Center, explained as she marched through the streets of midtown Manhattan. “It’s not just about being centered inside; it’s about being connected to your world.” Around her, an estimated 700 other Buddhists belonging to over 35 Buddhist organizations held signs and banners with environmental slogans as they walked, keeping rhythm with meditation bells. This Buddhist contingent contributed to the estimated 400,000 protesters who participated People’s Climate March, the largest march of its kind in history, on September 21.
After a three-hour interfaith service Sunday morning, Pure Land priest Rev. Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki and a group of Therevada monastics carrying a large international Buddhist flag led Buddhist groups into the main body of the march, which went down 6th Avenue, headed west on 42nd Street past Times Square, and finished near the Hudson River. Organizations belonging to all major Buddhist traditions followed behind. Soon they were marching side-by-side with groups that included Catholic nuns, Unitarian-Universalist students, and Muslim families.
“We’ve never had this kind of experience where every being on this planet is being threatened,” Ayya Santussika of Karuna Buddhist Vihara told Tricycle the day before the march. “It gives us an opportunity to all come together in a way we never have before.”
Many Buddhists marchers, like Matheu, spoke about how joining the protest was part of their path toward awakening. “That’s got to happen in relationship with ourselves and with each other and with the world around us,” said Sebene Selassie, executive director of the New York Insight Meditation Center.
According to renowned Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, faith groups will play a crucial role in the effort to stave off climate disaster. “The new economic model is a model that thinks values don’t count,” Shiva told Tricycle. “Religion can bring values back to human thinking, lives, minds, hearts.”