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In 2008, I wanted to do some voluntary work around protecting the environment as I believe that the biggest threat to our continued existence on this planet is carbon dioxide and its contribution to the climate chaos we are experiencing. This fully accorded with my understanding of the Buddhist principle of the “oneness of self and environment.” So, in March 2009, I was heartened to find out about and be able to attend one of the first meetings of the Transition Initiative in our town of Marlow.
The Transition Town movement is about establishing a community-led process that helps a neighborhood become stronger and happier. It’s the opposite of sitting in our armchairs complaining about what’s wrong. It’s about getting up and doing something constructive alongside our neighbors and fellow townsfolk, transitioning to a more energy efficient future. I was one of a team of nine who set up the legal structure of Transition Town Marlow (TTM) and took part in a few initial projects.
My SGI activities and my TTM activities are both a journey, and practicing Nichiren Buddhism has enabled me to confront challenges, move forward and never give up.
At the beginning of 2011, people started to leave the TTM group for various reasons. Seven of the nine members left; it was only me and another person who remained. It was suggested then that maybe we should wind up the community interest company we had formed. I was not going to give up that easily and waste all the energy and work we had put in! Although we continued meetings throughout 2011, things were not looking good for TTM.
I looked toward my Buddhist practice to try to understand how to transform this situation and continued on in the face of the adversity of a dwindling organization. The SGI provides a wonderful blueprint for how to operate an organization that revolves around people, and I saw that I could draw on my experience of organizing local SGI meetings to reinvigorate TTM.
I organized an open space event and set up Green Coffee in early 2012. These are forums where people can meet up and discuss what they would like to see happen in their community. Twenty people came to the open space event and eighteen to Green Coffee. Two newcomers suggested a project of planting wildflowers for the protection of the bees and butterflies throughout Marlow. Since these meetings, eight people have started coming regularly to our TTM monthly meetings.
As happens in organizations based around people, rifts started happening. Luckily I was able to go on a Buddhist course around this time and I realized the connection between TTM and the philosophy of the SGI was even stronger than I had thought. I determined to take the SGI spirit of respect and transcending differences into TTM.
I started this process by employing dialogue, which SGI President Daisaku Ikeda talks about constantly. I encouraged people using a concept I had heard at a Buddhist lecture. With two individuals who have different ideas or ways of doing something, it can often come down to the belief that “I am right” and “You are wrong,” which creates the basis for conflict. However, when we begin to look at something with the eyes of a Buddha our attitude changes to: “I have my way and you have your way.” I tried to apply this understanding to the members of TTM. I spoke to people individually and encouraged them to not give up.
In 2013, Marlow lost its small farmer’s market, which had struggled for many years. I saw this as yet another TTM opportunity. We formed a small team and started our own Marlow Community Market in May 2013.
Up until March 2015 the market was organized entirely by volunteers. I used what I had learned through my SGI activities to always express gratitude to people for their efforts, while weathering the storm of challenges with a smile on my face. It is a busy market and sometimes it is difficult to keep every stallholder happy. I always remember that ultimately any Transition project is about the people, and the market certainly has a lovely atmosphere, often commented on by stallholders and customers alike.
One stallholder recently said: “The market is really enjoyable, making friends with the stallholders, buying each other’s wares and not least the lovely customers who wander in or come round each time.” For me, this is the Transition ethos in action and most importantly it has been a really gratifying way for me to build peace in the community.
Marlow Town Council has taken note of what we are doing. They have invited me to two civic events and regularly ask to meet us as we are fulfilling many of their visioning targets. TTM and its community market have also been used in their publicity.
The cherry on the cake has to be that TTM has raised nearly GB£4,000 (US$6,000) through the market, which will be used to create a community orchard in a local recreation ground. President Ikeda writes: “It is often the case that the free-soaring, progressive spirit of a single individual can open up a whole new current of thought.”
As I said before, it’s definitely a journey rather than a destination, one that continues to give me the greatest joy.
Adapted from the June 2015 issue of the Art of Living, SGI-UK; photos courtesy of SGI-UK.