Buddha in the Wild
Q. How does Buddhism relate to nature? My church does not often teach about
mother nature, or even the human body and its place in the universe.
The Buddha himself, 2,500 years ago, exhorted each of his monks to plant a tree
every year as a way of preserving the environment and repaying Mother Nature for
whatever resources they had consumed. In 1990, when the Dalai Lama visited our
meditation center in the Dordogne Valley of southern France to teach 5,000 students
on awakening bodhicitta the altruistic heart of enlightenment, he planted a tree
at the opening ceremonies. It was a blessing of the natural environment and all
sentient beings present, seen, and unseen.
Buddhism has a deep ecology at its
root. The Buddha understood that everything is interconnected; that to affect
one strand of the universal web of interbeing affects them all, and that according
to the law of karma, there are no accidents--everything has an intentional cause
and effect. We all want and need the higher values of life in this world--the
right to happiness, freedom, safety, security, and love. That is why Buddhism
teaches us to extend our care and spiritual concern to animals, birds, fish, and
the entire environment.
Unlike Western religions, which do not view animals
as having a soul or the environment as sacred, Buddhism has always held that all
sentient beings are endowed with Buddha-nature and can become awakened and enlightened
themselves. For that very reason, killing or harming any being, in any way, is
proscribed. This includes our own bodies, which are like vessels, sacred repositories
Recognizing that everything and everyone is sacred and radiant,
as if illumined from within, is our practice; all can be seen as equal, as holy,
as part and parcel of our very selves and of the spiritual source of all, the
groundless ground of being. Harm one, and you harm all; save one, and you save
Such spiritual insight or sacramental vision--called "pure perception"
in Vajrayana (non-dual or tantric practice; the dominant form of Tibetan Buddhism)--helps
enchant and transform our everyday lives. Thus we can find nirvanic peace and
heaven right here on earth, in this very moment, not just in some afterlife or
A notion of pure perception pervades all schools of Buddhism.
The 18th-century Japanese Zen master Hakuin Zenji wrote in his "Song of Zen
Meditation": "This very land is the Pure Land, Nirvana/This very body
is the body of Buddha." Tibetan lamas teach that each of the five basic elements--earth,
water, fire, air, and space--are goddesses. Each of our limbs, moreover, is home
to one of those delightful energies, and, according to this principle, our bones,
blood, heat, wind, and internal cavities embody those divine principles as well.
Buddhism also instructs us to become aware of what is known as "the drala
principle," the intrinsic magic, immediacy, and suchness of reality in the
present moment. Regular practice of this mystical yet grounded awareness can transport
us beyond form and limitation, beyond ourselves.
Tibetan Buddhists aren't the
only ones with a profound understanding of the nature of drala. William Blake
"To see a heaven in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild flower,
infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour."
sang that a leaf of grass was no less than the journeywork of the stars.
can there be a more splendid, lofty, uplifting cathedral than a redwood forest,
or mountains like Fuji, Kailash or Shasta which have been deemed holy ground for
millennia? Or is there any vespers better than sunset over a vast, luminous ocean
or desert horizon? I take a walk outside every morning, with my dog if possible.
My intention is as important as being in nature. I take each step with awareness
and devotion to walking the spiritual path. This is how I open myself to a higher
reality, and how I open the book of nature every day. My need to commune with
the natural world is not unique. A gardener friend who is Catholic says she is
never so much in paradise as when kneeling in her garden.
Growing a garden
is one of the best ways to cultivate our inner selves, for the process puts us
face to face with universal laws and principles, with the mystery of the creative
The Buddha said that the best place to meditate is the wilderness.
He himself became enlightened while sitting beneath a tree, near a river, as the
morning star rose just before dawn.
Whenever I peer deeply into the heart of
a flower, or into the eyes of a child, my beloved, or my sheepdog, Chandi--all
those wise and beautiful wisdom quotes naturally fall away. Everything I need
is right there. The earth is like an altar, and we are the gods and goddesses,
angels and divinities upon it. The natural world outside us, and our own changing
bodies, are like a magnificent, radiant jewel, a book, a great poem. Try to read
a chapter daily: Self-knowledge, joy, truth, and wisdom are there.