Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
This past Tuesday, January 15th, I was privileged to participate in a “Pray-In for the Climate” held in Washington D.C. The gathering was organized by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC), a coalition of people from different faiths united in the recognition that we need to act—and act promptly—to stop the warming of our planet. The pray-in was deliberately scheduled for the actual birthday—rather than the official birth celebration—of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. During his life Rev. King had been an outspoken critic of the “triple scourge” of racism, poverty , and militarism, and we all concurred that if he were alive today, he would have added climate change to this set.
The slow heating of the earth’s ecosystem not only threatens to unleash planetary disasters of unprecedented scale but also presents us with the most weighty ethical challenge we face today. The moral dimension of climate change emerges from the unbalanced distribution of its consequences between agents and victims. While the advanced industrial nations of the north, most notably the U.S. (and now China), bear primary responsibility for overloading the air and oceans with carbon emissions, the poor countries of the south pay the heaviest price. It’s East Africa and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean islands and Central America, that bear the brunt of the floods and droughts, the failed harvests and water shortages, that are driving their populations over the cliff of poverty and hunger. It’s the small island-nations of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific that must face rising seas, which are likely to swallow them whole and leave them no place to go. Though our sense of human solidarity should compel us to share their plight and take effective action, we normally just go about in the dull daze of complacency, absorbed in our personal affairs and pursuing “business as usual.”
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Until recently conferences on interfaith cooperation in the U.S. have almost always centered on the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yet over the past forty years America has become a much more diversified and pluralistic society. The relaxing of restrictions on immigration, followed by the post-war upheavals in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, has dramatically transformed our population. Large numbers of Americans now have religious roots that go back, not to the deserts of Judea and Arabia, but to the plains, mountains, and villages of ancient India. For convenience, these are grouped together under the designation “the Dharmic faiths.” They include Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, and their national origins range from Pakistan to Japan, from Burma to Vietnam, and from Mongolia to Sri Lanka. Not all are immigrants. At least one whole generation of people of Asian descent has been born and raised in America, and think of themselves principally as Americans following a Dharmic religion.
L to R: Sikh, Jaina, Hindu, & Buddhist delegates offer prayers
Eager to translate their faith into programs of social justice and humanitarian service, followers of these Dharmic religions have sought dialogue with the U.S. government in order to find pathways along which they can contribute more effectively to their communities, their nation, and the world.
On April 20, 2012, these efforts were rewarded by a historic conference convened at the White House, Community Building in the 21st Century with Strengthened Dharmic Faith-Based Institutions. Buddhist Global Relief was honored to be one of the Dharmic faith organizations invited to attend. Many Hindu, Jain, and Sikh organizations, as well as other Buddhist organizations, also participated. I went as the representative of Buddhist Global Relief. I was delighted to meet a number of old Buddhist friends and to make a few new ones. Among these was the popular Buddhist blogger Danny Fisher, who had interviewed me a few times by email over the years but whom I had never met in person.