A 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
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 of
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 all.
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 future
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.
Tibetan 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 wrote
"To see a heaven in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild
hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in
Walt Whitman sang that a leaf of grass was no less than the
journeywork of the stars.
Indeed, 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 process.
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.