“For over 4 billion years the earth has been here, holding and feeding single-celled organisms, dinosaurs, plants and flowers, and humans. We acknowledge and embrace the many generations of Vietnamese who carried Buddhism to us through our Teacher, Thay, and helped build the sangha in new lands.”
Thus begins a guided meditation offered at the Vista Buddhist Temple on Saturday, November 9, 2019. This is part one of a dharma talk I offered with the theme Buddhism in Everyday Life.
The living creatures of the Earth – trees, shrubs, flowers, water, rock, soil, insects, and bugs – they came before us and will likely be here long after we have departed. Today as I practiced walking meditation in my yard, there was an abundance of Butterflies. The lifecycle of these beautiful creatures is wonderful to observe. As the Caterpillar’s crawl around the yard and on the fence, they find a place to cocoon before allowing the Butterfly to spring forth. They then nurture the plants and bushes. They bring joy to those who observe. Their playful flight, to-and-fro, without seemingly needing anywhere to go or anything to do. Such a delight! And for 56 million years they have been practicing this dance.
As a young teen, I delivered the local newspaper in the early mornings. I lived in a place with dense fog on many winter mornings. This being caused by a relationship between the earth and the sky. They touch each other and interact together. These early mornings brought dew to the Sycamore trees lining the streets. The density of the quiet. Each drop could be heard as it moved from the fog, to the tree, and then to the dry leaves upon the ground. This sound. This feeling. It still penetrates into my consciousness 40-years later. There is a sadness for me that the current generation of young people have not experienced this fog. The newspaper is now delivered by adults in cars. The land has heated and dried up so there is not so much winter rain to soak the ground that brings forth the fog. I do hope for its return. Fortunately, the Sycamore remains standing today. But it disappeared from Europe; will it suffer the same fate in North America?
Today I saw an Oak tree with one limb torn from its trunk. It was a 20-foot tear from this lovely creature. These majestic trees can live over 100 years and few saplings are produced. The California landscape is still blessed with these trees despite harsh summers and dry winters. The shifting climate will cause these trees to suffer as new trees are slow to take root and old trees fall or lose limbs. They are a part of the shifting landscape that isn’t only about the Oak, but also the bugs, insects, soil, and Chaparral that rely on the Oak for protection and food.
In the last month, I read The Overstory, by Richard Powers and Braiding Sweetgrassby Robin Wall Kimmerer. The first being a novel and the latter exploring indigenous wisdom alongside scientific inquiry. Both books look toward nature and plants as a source of wisdom, a source of inquiry, and a source for us to take a bold step forward. Kimmerer writes,
If we use a plant respectfully it will stay with us and flourish. If we ignore it, it will go away. If you don’t give it respect it will leave us.
It is from these books I draw inspiration for writing and shifting my attitude and actions.
Thanksgiving. That is where we can begin our healing with the Earth. To see, to recognize, to give thanks for the offering. The trees that bring us life. Air to breathe. The Bees that pollinate so that we might eat the fruit. Like the tree is connected to the soil, we are connected to the tree and subsequently the Bee. As we begin each day and arrive in each moment, look to your surroundings and cultivate a sense of gratitude. That floor you walk upon was once a tree, cut by a person and delivered to your community by a vehicle. Can you see the tree within the floor? Within the walls? Were these created with respect and thanksgiving? What respect for nature can you bring forth today? Just saying thank you and offering to do better may be enough in the moment.
Then gaze from your window. Do you see something alive in the world? Wonder about it. The rocks are no less important than the soil, or the insect, or the tree. We may all have the opportunity to see the sky, that which keeps us grounded to the earth and is part of the lifecycle of water, wind, and air. Each of us can do this!
If you are one whom capitalist economics have destroyed your environment, your home, and your community then you too can begin with this practice of gratitude. Let your awareness of the damage be a catalyst to rise up in voice and action. We all need to hear your voice. I hear your voice. I see your suffering. It calls for justice!
To be an environmentalist is to allow yourself this exercise of gratitude. To see and love nature, even when it has been destroyed. It is a place from which we can advocate for those creatures without voices – trees, shrubs, flowers, water, rock, soil, insects, and bugs. Then coming from a place of love and compassion, we can extend this love and compassion to our advocacy for environmental justice.
One Bowl and One Spoon
The “One Bowl and One Spoon” metaphor, written about in Braiding Sweetgrass, speaks to my heart. If we can see all the Earth provides is contained within one bowl and is served with only one spoon, then perhaps we can take the step toward greater ecological compassion. Stewardship. Reciprocity. Reparations. We can take care of her and learn to share all the wealth the Earth offers, for she remains abundant. In doing so she can begin to heal. And from this healing we can live better in relationship to her and all the creatures of the land. To recover the inequities brought forth over the centuries so we can embody the Earth’s life-giving offerings more equally.
I feel you under my feet. The gravity holding me close to you. You are alive with the energy of soil, water, and minerals. I see your children all around – the birds, the snails, the flies, the hens, the coyote, the rat, the orange blossom, the trees, and the mountains. Dear Mother Earth, you are a true wonder. When I look up to the sky, there is the atmosphere protecting us from the dark vastness of space from which you originally came. How is it that you came to be the most beautiful planet in our solar system? The intimacy of our relationship to the atmosphere and the mighty sun is beyond belief. There would be no life here without the atmosphere and the sun.
I recognize that you came from stardust all those billions of years ago and that every single cell and atom arose from you and that one day all will return to you and continue. There is no birth and no death. Even the scientist can see this. There is an interconnection to everything on this planet that goes well beyond any religious belief, political boundary, economic status, or race and gender.
Dear Mother Earth, you have lived so many millions of years without the human, the animal, and the tree. Your cycles do not rely on my being here in this form and that you’re strength and solidity will continue long after I am gone. This body of mine will join with you. And so, we are one body and today in this age we rely upon each other. Interbeing! I am you, dear Mother Earth. The connection has a deep and long history from the beginningless time. There is little difference between your well being and my well being. Taking care of you dear Mother Earth is taking care of me.
Dear Mother Earth, I have not always been so skillful. I have been careless with our resources believing that I will always have everything I need. There are times when I don’t see our deep interconnection, out of ease and convenience, and that to take care of you is to take care of me. Please help me to see beyond my microcosm of the world into the richness of this country, this continent, this hemisphere, this planet. Help me also to see into the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds so that I might take better care of you dear Mother Earth.
Beyond the sun and atmosphere, water is one of our most precious gifts. Water sustains our lives – animal, plant, and mineral. And it is truly a miracle when I turn on the tap in my house and the water flows. This water comes from deep inside you Mother Earth and arrives to help sustain life. The water we have is good and necessarily. Please help me to see this miracle every day. I vow to take care of this precious gift.