Climate Change Conference: Judy Lief reports from Copenhagen

A multi-faith delegation has gathered to discuss how the environmental crisis is rooted in a profound moral and spiritual crisis.

Judy Lief
9 December 2009
Photo by Joey Kyber

Acharya (senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition) and Lion’s Roar contributor Judy Lief is there. Here are four reports from inside and outside the proceedings so far.

Spirituality and Climate Change: Report from Copenhagen Climate Conference #1

Arrived in Copenhagen on this foggy morning, ready for the climate conference. My role here is as a member of the “contemplative alliance,” a group of contemplatives and social activists from around the world with a focus on crucial global issues. Two amazing women, Marianne Mastrand and Dena Merriam founded an NGO called Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) to do all sorts of peace and reconciliation work and to infuse some feminine principle sorely lacking in the world. The contemplative alliance is an offshoot of their efforts.

The question is, What can a contemplative perspective contribute to this discussion? Having just ready The End of Faith by Sam Harris, which I loved, and then God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens, my cynicism radar is on high alert. At the same time the materialistic approach is what has gotten us—where?—in the mess we are in.

So off I go to meet up with our cast of characters from Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, indigenous religions, et al.

Signing off,

Judy Lief, Acharya at large

Contentment: Report from Copenhagen #2

A story from the opening gathering: An Indian Hindu teacher described growing up in a well-to-do family, with the custom of getting one new outfit two times a year. She asked her mother, can’t we afford more? And her mother said, “It’s not a question of money, of course we can. But how many outfits does one need?” Why is it that contentment is no longer considered a virtue—in fact quite the opposite –a form of lassitude?

Great dialogue amongst the jet-lagged, between the “being” people and the “must-do-something” people. Andrew Harvey made an impassioned plea that we need to act strongly and act now—the very livability of the planet is at stake. Joan Brown Campbell made the point that any great social movement must have an initial defining dramatic gesture. What would that be?

And as I write, I realize I left my power cord at home!! Battery running down… so, over and out.

–Judy Lief, Acharya at large

Sacred Activism: Report from Copenhagen #3

Buddhism talks about self and others and in the Bodhisattva’s Vow we vow to serve and to save all sentient beings, but what is our responsibility to the earth itself and its health, harmony, and survival? Today many concrete examples of spiritual environmental activism were described, from cleaning up polluted rivers to saving the Brazilian rainforest. But the real underlying question was: What would it take to change people’s consciousness so that protecting the earth would be obvious and natural?

Sister Joan Chichester gave an impassioned presentation of Christian theology and the bias toward domination of nature and the notion that all creation centered around man and was for his benefit and use. And, note here, this means man, not woman. She claimed that this could be traced back to a choice between two creation myths—one holistic and the other hierarchical and controlling and anthropocentric. Andrew Harvey stirred the energy pot with a cry for urgency and the need to do something effective and do it now or bear the consequence that the world may simply cease to be habitable for human life.

The recurring theme that keeps arising is that of the family of humans and the quest for unity, or oneness — finding common ground that may require ditching old mythologies that no longer work and may in fact be contributing to the problems we are facing. Is that realistic and if so how might that work out?

Another question that I explored in my talk was the role of contemplative power in and of itself to act as a force for personal and social transformation, and the role of symbolic and nonverbal action that shifts energy but in a more hidden way. Is nondual effective action a possibility and is it possible to step out of the action/reaction, the endless perpetuating back and forth?

Simply the fact that contemplative leaders around the world are together in one room based on a common concern for this critical planetary challenge is an expression of how around the world people of all kinds feel an urgent need for action.

–Judy Lief, Acharya at large

Christiania: Report from Copenhagen #4

Today our group of contemplatives spent the morning at the NGO Climate Conference, and the afternoon went to the people’s alternative conference in Christiania. So I divert now from the conference itself to talk about the place… and the societal values questions it raises.

Here is the deal—in 1970 dealing with a number of what Danes call people who do not fit into conventional society, Copenhagen simply gave a bunch of land to be a free squatters’ area. All sorts of people moved in, built houses, managed their own community through some kind of council, etc. They pay no taxes and the project is subsidized. Some cottage industries have sprung up including a bicycle manufacturer and others. There are cafes, social services, galleries, shops—we passed a quite fragrant one selling a variety of marijuana strains. It appears that Copenhagers are quite proud of the place and come with their families on sunny days to stroll, eat cookies, buy crafts, etc.

On top of that, they save much money in social services and other costs by providing room for this freewheeling, nurturing, and creative community.

So how do we in the US handle similar issues? Sadly, through institutionalization and incarceration! What a contrast…reminds me of the story of how to tame a wild cow—by giving it a large pasture.

Another discovery from this three-ring-circus visit to Copenhagen—The Danes really do make great danishes!

–Judy Lief, Acharya at large

Judy Lief

Judy Lief is a Buddhist teacher and the editor of many books of teachings by the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She is the author of Making Friends with Death. Her teachings and new podcast, “Dharma Glimpses,” are available at