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.

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You got to go back to Mother Earth

One person I greatly admire is David Suzuki, the Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist.  He is perhaps the most iconic environmental activist in North America, and in the last ten years or so, he and his foundation has worked to raise awareness and promote dialogue about the critical issue of global warming.

I ran across something on his blog the other day that I want to share with you.  In a post from January, he says,

We can’t just look at the world as a source of resources to exploit with little or no regard for the consequences.  When many indigenous people refer to the planet as “Mother Earth”, they are not speaking romantically, poetically or metaphorically.  They mean it literally.  We are of the Earth, every cell in our bodies formed by molecules derived from plants and animals, inflated by water, energized by sunlight captured through photosynthesis and ignited by atmospheric oxygen.”

feuerbach_gaea2Modern archaeological findings suggest that ancient peoples may have worshipped the earth as a living, female being.  She was part of the mythology in a number of cultures.  In Greek mythology, Mother Earth was a goddess called Gaia (“earth” or “land”) who represented the earth and was the mother of all life (Gaia, by Anselm Feuerbach, 1875 at right).  The Romans called her Terra.  The Hindus knew her as Parvati.  And Damp Mother Earth is the most ancient deity in Slavic mythology . . . As far as I am aware, Buddhism did not have a specific  “Mother Earth” deity, except for some cultural figures in various Asia countries that were independently incorporated into Buddha-dharma.

Nonetheless, Suzuki’s remarks are in line with the Buddhist concept of interdependency (pratitya-samutpada) that maintains we are all inter-connected.  And when we talk about that we don’t mean just people, we are interconnected with the earth, the ocean, the sky, even the most distant stars – everything.

Thich Nhat Hanh has said,

You carry Mother Earth within you.  She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment . . . Many people get sick today because they get alienated from Mother Earth . . . When we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born . . . We want to be connected. That is the meaning of love, to be at one.”

I imagine most of you are already on board with this thinking, but it is good to be reminded from time to time that we’ve got to go back to Mother Earth.

In 1951, blues singer Memphis Slim wrote a song called Mother Earth:

You may own a half a city even diamonds and pearls
You may buy that plane baby and fly all over this world
Don’t care how great you are, don’t care what you worth
When it all ends up you got to go back to mother earth

Now you know where Bob Dylan got the idea for his song, Gotta Serve Somebody.

In 1968, a band called Mother Earth recorded Slim’s song.  Here it is, featuring the vocals of the great but still to this day relatively unknown Tracy Nelson.

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