The environmental activism group Extinction Rebellion (XR) has been making headlines since November 2018, when around 6,000 protesters blocked traffic on five bridges in London at their first demonstration. They made more waves on April 1, when 12 protestors stripped down to their underwear in the House of Commons and glued their hands down to various surfaces. On April 15, thousands of people took to the streets, shutting down transit stations, streets, and bridges for several days with theatrical displays such as a large pink boat, a halfpipe for skateboarders, and a stage for a choir. By April 19, London police had arrested 682 protesters.
But behind XR’s raucous spectacles is a calm contemplation, according to the many Buddhist teachers and practitioners who have joined the movement. XR organizers have not kept track of their members’ faiths, but religious and spiritual leaders seem to be exceptionally visible at their demonstrations, where it is common to see human blockades engaging in meditation, yoga, or prayer. The group even addresses this perception in an FAQ on their website, writing, “Your movement seems a bit woowoo to me. What’s with the shamans and all that?” Their answer: “Some, though not all of us, have a ‘spiritual’ orientation, and we welcome anyone regardless of their beliefs . . .”
One Buddhist teacher, Mark Ovland, was among the dozen XR activists who were arrested for their “cheeky intervention,” as one British lawmaker described it. Ovland told Tricycle that he has put his teaching on hold and stepped back from his commitments to Buddhist groups to focus on activism. Still, he said, “Extinction Rebellion is just the perfect vehicle for taking practice off the cushion, it has a remarkably dharmic backbone and a lot of how we relate to each other and go about our business would be very familiar to anyone coming from Buddhist circles.”