We are the Earth

Earth Day.  I remember the first Earth Day in 1970.  I was a senior in high school.  We had an assembly out on the football field and listened to a couple of speakers.  Not a big deal.

Forty-seven years later, it is a very big deal.  This year, there are plenty of interesting events to participate in, including a March for Science to take place today in more than 500 cities around the world.  According to the organizers, 13,500 people have signed up to attend the San Francisco march and science fair alone, while an additional 17,000 have expressed interest in the events via social media channels.

The President of the United States says that climate change is a Chinese hoax, a truly irresponsible stance driven in all probability by a dislike of regulations rather than any philosophical outlook, for I suspect this man has few core beliefs outside of those about his own greatness.

In the U.S., climate change denial is wrapped up with religion.  The SF Chronicle reports, “Many evangelical Christians believe that stewardship of the Earth and taking care of the poor and sick are core to their faith.”  8 in 10 evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, and what I find interesting is that many of these Christians believe that God gave humans dominion over the earth, yet few of them believe that human action has much of an effect on the environment.

Buddhism and Taoism are more sympathetic to the idea of climate change, because these religious philosophies, as they have been practiced in China and Japan, view nature as a partner in the quest for spiritual development, as opposed to a thing to exert dominion over.

Lao Tsu, in the Tao Te Ching, says

Humanity follows Earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
Tao follows what is natural.

“Heaven” signifies a natural order or organizing principle of the Universe, the “way of heaven.”  The way of Tao is to be in harmony with the way of nature.  The ancient Taoists saw this as not only our nature but also, our duty.

Buddhism teaches the oneness of self and the environment (esho funi).  If there is something wrong with the environment, then it is only a reflection of a “wrongness” within ourselves.  Human beings suffer the disease of separation – separation from the environment and each other.  We are not in harmony with nature.  We must continue to change our concept of the environment, appreciating the interconnectedness of nature and all things.

Several years ago, Thich Nhat Hanh published a book titled Love Letter to the Earth.  In Chapter 1 “We are the earth,” he writes

“At this very moment, the Earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you.  The Earth is everywhere.  You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet.  But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth.  Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth…

The Earth is not just the environment we live in.  We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.”

We are the Earth.

We are nature.

We are the environment.

The key to the problem of climate change is to change people’s minds.  The survival of the planet is too important to allow people to be in denial about climate change or to ascribe the coming catastrophe to a ludicrous conspiracy theory.

“Thus when we say that all sentient beings have within them the Buddha-essence or the Buddha-nature we mean that all sentient beings have minds which can change and become Buddha’s minds.”

– Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations

In this case, having a Buddha mind means being a bodhisattva of the earth, that is, a steward of the earth, taking on the planet’s sufferings, vowing to liberate all things in nature.

I know that I am not doing enough.  If I want to change the environmental crisis, I must first change my mind.  If I want to see pure air and water, I must first purify my mind.  I must go to that place within where I know without doubt, without denial, that I am the Earth.


The Buddhist Poetry of Joanne Kyger

It’s April and that means it’s also National Poetry Month.   An opportunity to remember the Buddhist inspired poetry of Joanne Kyger, who passed away March 22 at age 82.

Kyger became interested in Buddhism when she was living in San Francisco during the late 50s and involved in the Beat Generation poetry scene there.   Her obituary in the NY Times quotes her as saying,

“My own interest in Zen came about because I had been studying Wittgenstein and Heidegger in Santa Barbara. Their philosophy just comes to an end saying you just have to practice the study of nothing.”

She met fellow poet/Buddhist Gary Snyder in 1958, and in 1960 they went to Japan and got married.  They also went to India with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky and met with the Dalai Lama.

Upon her return to the U.S., she published her first book, The Tapestry and the Web.  Kyger went on to publish more than twenty books of poetry and prose during her life.

Her work was a mix of dharma and the Beat Generation scene that became a part of the whole counter culture scene during the 1960s, including experimentation with psychedelic drugs.

Robert Creely said of Kyger, “There is no poet with more whimsically tough a mind… She’s the best of the west.”  And David Meltzer:  “No other poet of my gen­eration has been able to make the pleasures and particu­lars of the ‘everyday’ as luminous and essential and central.”

Basho Says Plants Stones Utensils
     have individual feelings
     similar to those of humans   
A zillion little butterfly thoughts
      simultaneously flap.

You are the sum
      of all you ‘know’
        and the more you forget
          the more ordinary
             you are really nothing
                 special   so why
                    all the anxious push-push
                      just hang

the clothes on the line
   Put the black ones
       in the washer
         Feel the myriad little bits
             of sensation
               that make up emotion

                            As the Sun
                           rises high
                         in the sky
                     so does the arrogance
         I’m still  waiting
           for the ‘Buddhist’
              poem to arrive

                 Darn it takes so long
                      for the Dharma
                      Up in arms
                  on the moral high road
              wanting to sum it up
          and END it

April 2002