IM Teachers Meeting

Teachers Embrace Climate Crisis

In June, the International Insight Meditation teachers group gathered in Spirit Rock, California for their triennial gathering. These are the group of teachers who identify their spiritual lineage with, and have trained with the founders of, the Insight Meditation movement in the West and who teach at or are closely associated with Gaia House (UK), Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society (USA). (The group is international and this time for geographical reasons the majority were teachers from the USA – who many of you may know from your own practice or from books and talks on


The teachers dedicated time for deeper engagement with a number of topics, including how the Insight Meditation community might support a wise response to climate change. In contemplating climate change, the teachers were responding to a Request for Teachings, signed in just a few weeks by over 2,000 members of the international sangha including more than 350 from Europe.

At the outset of the dedicated period on climate change, the letter to the teachers along with a scroll of the 2,000 signatures was placed ritually by one of the nuns into the centre of the meditation hall at the base of a Buddha figure in the “earth touching” mudra. The letter and scroll remained a fixture and inspiration at the centre of the hall throughout the rest of the meeting.

Catherine McGee, a regular teacher at Gaia House, helped organize the climate discussion and shares what happened:

Your signatures, and thereby your care and concern, set the stage for our climate session.
This included an update on the science of climate change from climate expert, behavioural scientist and dharma practitioner Bob Doppelt, and a short video from Joanna Macy as she flies over the devastated tar sands of Alberta. We then engaged in a set of contemplations and practices in triads to explore our own immediate responses of body speech and mind to hearing the science and witnessing some of the stark realities. We shared with each other in the large group from the heart. After this we broke into interest groups, and from these a number of initiatives and outcomes have emerged.

One result from the meeting is that this topic is now clearly in the zeitgeist of this particular teacher body. Some teachers had already picked up this pressing issue in their teaching, but here we can also use and benefit from the international group coming together around this ‘global-sized’ issue.

There were signatures from 15 different countries and as the Google Map displayed the flags of sangha who had signed, I saw burgeoning sangha pathways light up around the planet from the Insight Meditation lineage. Lighting up with good-will, with care and with the wish to respond to the climate crisis, all rooted in the rich soil of our collective practice and love of awakening.

So what can we bring from the beauty and richness of the dharma to this current global crisis? And what do we need to learn from the fact of climate change? This climate crisis is pushing us to open to a massive lesson in impermanence, cause and effect, Not-Self, and the undeniable evidence that we are all in this together. Here is the call for us to wake-up. And as our heart awakens, it can find itself natural, and effortlessly knowing our intimacy with all things. And from this intimacy the awakening heart can respond and that ‘knowing’ can come into action.

Some of the responses and initiative are as follows:

  • Sharing the Dharma of Climate Change
    Already there are teachers engaging their sanghas on the topic of climate change who have not before, with an accompanying interest in supporting one another in this effort. One Earth Sangha are offering to be a hub for any green-earth sanghas around the planet to inspire each other and share resources, and will be a hub for teachers to gather resources too.
  • Developing new cultural narrative
    This initiative builds on the concept that the resolution of our pressing problems, not just climate change, requires a shift in focus from ‘me’ to ‘we’, “the larger ‘we’ that makes our lives possible and worthwhile: other people, other species, the Earth’s climate and ecological systems – the diversity that IS our entire planet”. Several teachers will be working together to contribute to shifting this larger public narrative. We’ll share more about this initiative as it matures.
  • Earth Care Week
    Many teachers committed to dedicate the first week of October to the dharma of climate change in Earth Care Week. They will engage their sanghas on the topic, teach, take actions and host and invite their sanghas to initiate events.
  • Buddhist Initiative
    Some teachers are working on a set of orientations and ethical practices that people can sign up to if they should wish, that will help guide and remind us of what our practice of body, speech and mind can look like as we embrace the truths of climate change.
  • Practical commitments A number of teachers made commitments of practical things they can do.
  • And others

Clearly teachers don’t have all the answers, and it may not be every teacher’s calling to pick this topic up. And yet there are many who feel that it is a sacred duty, to keep exploring within themselves and their sangha’s, and for some beyond their sanghas, the ways the mind and the world co-arise, to see the ways climate suffering arises, that the causes for this lay in our human heart, to realise the end of perpetuating the cyclic chain of harmful causes and effects, and to walk that path together.

5 Responses to IM Teachers Meeting

  1. John Rees July 30, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    May I suggest one practical step which most of us could take? To give up flying, which causes so much more CO2 emission than surface travel. And we could all use Skype or video-conferencing to strengthen our world-wide sangha without harming the climate further.

    • Mark July 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

      Absolutely John, what a difference that would make. A few of us have already taken such a pledge, but it’s a complex issue and I’m not sure how many people are going to get on board with it. A real change would necessitate quite a shift in the values and general paradigm that we as a society live by and in.

      I think there’s a lot of scope for e-dharma – would be great to have Gaia House retreats broadcast live around the world!

    • Amanda Root August 23, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

      Yes, very good idea, but there are many other ways to cut carbon emissions as im sure you know. its great when everyone does what feels right to them. It also occurs to me that many of our politicians (MEPs, MPs and Councillors) would be helped by us voicing our concerns. It seems, in this age of focus groups and social media, that these leaders need evidence of public concern to encourage them to act to curb emissions.

  2. Lindy Booth September 8, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    The biggest contributor to CO2 is animal farming – far more than any other single factor. Therefore, removing meat and dairy products our diets is the most important thing we can do on an individual level. Just two useful links for more info are:

  3. nic oestreicher November 22, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    re flying, i agree about stopping, and think that on an individual level it’s really possible to make the shifts necessary to be able to do that. a couple of us in brighton want to start a group to explore personal flying habits in the context of climate change, our own practice and the dharma, with a view to getting as many people who feel moved to, to pledge to stop flying for personal reasons (work etc is a whole other issue which we’re not going to tackle). maybe not forever, but with at least the commitment to continue exploring and being awake around this issue. will post on DANCE facebook page in the new year x

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