More from Copenhagen and Acharya Judy Lief

Acharya (senior teacher) Judy Lief continues her reporting from this week’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Judy Lief
11 December 2009
Photo by Joey Kyber

Report from Copenhagen #5

I have been thinking a lot about not just what is being discussed but the contrast in how that discussion occurs, or the style of the dialogues. While there is agreement as to the seriousness of the global crisis we are facing and the need for spiritual leaders to speak out, to get engaged, and contribute to the solution, there are marked differences in how this is being talked about. On one hand there is the passionate rhetoric of the prophetic tradition, and on the other, the soft-spoken voice of the Hindu and Buddhist contemplatives.  Is the dramatic rhetoric aggressive and off-putting or inspiring and uplifting?  Is the softness a sign of weakness and disengagement or is it an antidote to speed, panic, and polarization? Is it possible to have both courage and humility, to speak with command but not fall prey to smugness and arrogance? What is the skillful means that will inspire people to respond the challenge of global warming with creativity, intelligence, heartfulness, and insight?

On another note, our impassioned Afghani Muslim member, Sakena Yacoobi, gave a heartbreaking account of the impact of the Taliban and of 30 years of war on Afghani women and children in particular. I asked her about the policy of making friends with the more moderate Taliban, and she said don’t trust any of them.  The situation is a mess and there is no law and order, so something is needed, but whether it is a troop buildup is not at all clear. Sakena is a true warrior, having risked her life for over 25 years helping to educate Afghan women. When I asked her what might help, she asked for books on science and in particular, charts, such as the periodic table, anatomy and physiology, the photosynthesis cycle, etc. It would not take much to gather some of this for her.

Trees and Economy: Report from Copenhagen #6

Tonight we had an event at the National Museum featuring Wangari Maathai, the Nobel prize winning African environmentalist. She started an organization, the Greenbelt Movement , which has planted over 6,000,000 trees in the process empowering women and reconnecting them with the spirituality of the earth in relationship with stewardship of the environment. She made the point that God did not create people first but last, so we are dependent on the rest of creation, not they on us. So a little humility is in order, no?

Maurice String, philanthropist and pioneering UN environmental leader, talked about the climate onference in terms of the economy…so once again, “It’s the economy stupid!” He said that years ago at the Rio environmental conference a group of senior business executives—yes, business executives—were already saying that the fundamental problem is that the economic model under which we have been operating is essentially bankrupt and will inevitably lead to our destruction if we do not make changes.  That the danger to capitalism is not socialism or communism but unbridled greed.  Recently he was asked to meet with Goldman Sachs execs—yes, that Goldman Sachs—and basically presented the same basic point. So what is a proper economic model—one that is both just and sustainable?

Individual and Social-Stuctural Noble Truths: Report from Copenhagen #7

Here is the issue today, especially in regard to the Buddhist approach.  Has the dharmic emphasis on the causes of suffering within the individual mind obscured the eonomic, political, and social structural underpinnings of so much human confusion and suffering?

Bhikku Bodhi (using an amusing number of bedroom analogies for a monk) unraveled some of the causes and conditions of the climate mess in terms of the big corporations thriving on greed going to bed with the governmental powers along with a complete co-opting of the press by its dependency on both political and financial support.  The cynical creation of phony environmental nonprofits, completely in the pocket of the big energy companies completes the less than pretty picture of some of the underpinnings of this predicament. Of course fundamentally fundamentally, so to speak, you can always trace all this back to greed, aggression , and ignorance—but once ossified into compelling power structures, what is the mechanism for cutting through this obstacle and forming structures that are sustainable, just, and that uplift our fellow beings, leading to a more enlightened and sane society?

Youth, Christians, and Woodstock South: Report from Copenhagen #8

The energy is really picking up as the weekend approaches. It is youthful, it is international, and it is inspiring.  Our GPIW group was written up in the local Christian paper (Kristeligt Dagblad). I have no idea what it says, but there is a great picture.

Our contemplative alliance includes, in addition to the two noted Christian activists Joan Brown Campbell and Joan Chitester, a brave representative of U.S. Evangelicals, Richard Cizik, who now works for the Open society. He serves as a lobbyist for the Evangelical environmental or land stewardship movement. Since that is the largest and most influential faith group in the U. S. today, it is courageous that he is participating—not an easy task as he has been viewed as cavorting with non god-fearing non-born again pinko radical liberals.  But young evangelicals see the link between protecting the planet and being true to their faith so the times they are a changin’.

There is a very real possibility that the global climate crisis will bring together diverse people in a new way, and of course it is also possible that this is simply a flash-in-the-pan burst of enthusiasm. But it seems quite clear that any fundamental change will not be coming about by simply coming up with a treaty, important as that may be, but by a groundswell of activity, education, and hard work from the street, a worldwide movement. It is not just a Band-aid that is needed but a fundamental change in our relationship with mother earth…and the sooner the better.

All for now,
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