Exploring Meaning – multi-faith climate change workshop

To get to the heart of the matter

In an atmosphere of equality, take the opportunity to explore what climate change means to us from the heart. Hear from faith leaders, an aboriginal elder and a climate scientist to understand what it means to them.

Prof. Lesley Hughes, Donna Jacobs Sife, Frances Bodkin and Bhante Sujato will speak to the meaning of climate change from the backgrounds of science, Judaism, Buddhism & Aboriginal culture. We will co-create the exploration of what it means to our selves, to others, and what diverse perspectives emerge through the journey.


Book your free ticket here

6pm : Samosas, bananas and winter warming beverages served

📅 Thu, Jun 18 2015 6:30 PM – 9:30 PM

@ Mitchell Theatre, 280 Pitt Street Sydney NSW 2000, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


7 thoughts on “Exploring Meaning – multi-faith climate change workshop

  1. Hi Bhante,

    Forgive me for posting here but I wanted to know what you think of Bhikkhu Bodhi attending a convention with Buddhist Leaders at the White House. I noticed a lot of people criticising him on DhammaWheel here: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=23680

    It appears that Bhikkhu Bodhi is more engaged in environmental activism than other monks, and some people think his actions border on getting involved in politics, something which I assume is a no-no according to the Vinaya.

    What do you think? Do you think Bhikkhu Bodhi’s recent activities place him dangerously close to crossing the line of political involvement, or are his actions perfectly in line with those of a Theravada monk?

    Kind Regards,


    • In Thailand, the Sangha is governed by an act of Parliament. Frequently the monks have participated in street rallies, where the causes they are protesting was to ensure that the monks keep their privileges; I haven’t heard of Thai monks protesting on behalf of anyone else’s interests. In Myanmar, too, there is a Sangha Act, and the monks have lived inside one of the world’s most brutal regimes for decades: do you think there are no political issues with that? In Sri Lanka the monks have had their own party and seats in Parliament. In Vietnam similar things have happened. In Tibet, of course, the Sangha was the government. So I don’t know where this idea of monks not being involved in politics comes from.

      To argue that Sangha should not be involved in politics is naive: everyone is involved in politics, whether you like it or not. Staying in a forest monastery in the middle of the wilderness is an act of deep political consequences. Just ask Ajahn Pasanno or other monks who have tried to manage monasteries in such places. You have to deal with developers, loggers, tourists, visas, building, protected species, drug smugglers, weapons dealers, illegal immigrants, crimes committed by said immigrants, MIA soldiers, black market plutonium (I kid you not), and on and on it goes. This is just the world we live in, and the world has a political dimension.

      The question is not whether you are political, but how. In many of the examples of traditional Buddhist societies I have mentioned above, the majority situation is that the Sangha aligns itself with the nation-state. Buddhism becomes a nationalist religion, whose purpose is to ensure allegiance to the governing powers.

      This is, of course, completely against the Dhamma. If we look at the Buddha for guidance, we see that he never shied away from engagement with politics, but he did it in rather a different way.

      In multiple places, the Buddha is approached by political figures, whether kings, ministers, or generals, and asked various questions. Sometimes these are innocuous, general questions, but sometimes they are specifically to do with questions of state. In each case the Buddha would give considered and useful advice. Indeed, even apparently innocuous events take on a political dimension in such cases; consider, for example, the time when the Buddha encouraged King Pasenadi, who was sad to hear that his new-born child was a girl, by saying that a girl could be just as good as a boy. This is highly significant, given the inevitable questions of inheritance and lineage that accompany kingship.

      Without going on too much, the role that the Sangha should take is as an independent, critical, ethical voice. There are some things that governments do that are good, like try to encourage harmony between religions, and we should support them. There are other things that governments do that are bad, like going to war and destroying the environment, and we should oppose them. The Sangha shouldn’t go into Parliament, or get into bed with a government or political party, but they should be outspoken on important ethical issues.

      In Australia, our politicians have repeatedly said that they hear too little from the Buddhist community, and they want us to be more outspoken. I have been involved with multiple visits to many politicians, from local council members to the Prime Minister. There is so much greed in this world, and so little wisdom, that we should not underestimate the impact that we can have. Even a little wisdom, a small voice backed by sincerity and spiritual depth, is memorable to someone who hears little but self-interest and lobbying.

      I think what Ven Bodhi and the other Buddhist leaders are doing in the US is wonderful. It makes me proud to be a Buddhist. Too often I have seen moral cowardice and apathy disguise itself as spiritual virtues. We should be outraged by many of the things that are happening in our world, and we should try to make a difference.

      If you oppose this, think what you are doing. You are taking some of the few voices of wisdom, compassion, and moderation in this world, and denying them a place in our wider social conversation. You are silencing wisdom. By doing so, you are doing the work of Mara. Mara would love nothing more than to have genuine spiritual leaders stay shut up in their monasteries and their meditation centers and tell people to let go of the world. Then he can get on with his work without interruption. This is precisely what he did when the Buddha became awakened: encouraged him to be totally detached from the world. The Buddha refused, and thank goodness we have his example for how to engage in such matters in a balanced, wise, and useful way.

  2. Hi Bhante,
    can your statement on the issue be taken as you being against a separation between religion and state?
    While it may be true that monastics are involved in politics in many countries, would you actually say that this is and has been for the good of the Sangha? What’s with the influence of corruption, power struggles and financial games that all come with heavy involvement in politics in practically every country in some form? This does in no way imply that the Sangha should stay shut in monasteries: There certainly should be more Dhammapropagation, more western monks should regulary go on alms round and make an show presence beyong the buddhist community. The question at hand for me is whether actively engaging in politics is the right course to do this. For example I’m not aware of any sutta where the Buddha went without invitation to a king or townspeople and proclaimed his view on how a country has to be run, what policies have to be put in place and what things have to change. So is there no line at all for political engagement for theravada monks venerable sir? A free pass for politicians in ocre robes so to say?

    • I made it perfectly clear that I think what has happened in traditional countries is wrong. And in democratic societies it is incorrect to say that we act without invitation. On the contrary, I have been repeatedly invited to participate in forums that deal with human rights and other issues, and have documented many of them on a blog. Democracies only work because of the participation of the members, and every politician invites contributions from the people: that is their job. Politics is about what is possible, but it is also about what is right, and it is up to us to remind them of that.

  3. Thanks, that was a very powerful response, and I feel that it deserves a post of its own. There are quite a few Buddhists who question whether Buddhist monastics getting involved in monastics — such as convening at the White House — is in accordance with the Buddha’s teaching of renunciation. I would be interested to hear your further musing on this.

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