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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Earth Day and Smokey the Buddha

It’s Earth Day, when each year we remind ourselves of all the things we can do to help and protect Mother Earth.

I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. It was called a “national teach-in on the environment.” Teach-in is term you don’t hear anymore. The first major teach-in was organized by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1965. What made Earth Day rather epic is that it was really the first mass movement born out of the counter-culture to gain wide-spread support from mainstream America. And that first Earth Day was a big deal. On April 22, 1970, over 20 million people participated – on the streets, in parks, churches and auditoriums, 2000 colleges and universities and 10,000 elementary and high schools.

We had a rally that day at my high school, which was not that big of a deal unfortunately. Just sitting in the bleachers on the football field listening to some students and teachers give speeches. Pretty boring, actually.

It is heartening to see how Earth Day has grown over the years, but disheartening to think that we are still abusing our planet in ways that could have been stopped at any time during the last four decades. Three years after that initial Earth Day celebration, the United States had the first “oil crisis” when OPEC decided on an oil embargo to protest the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military during the Yom Kippur war. To save gas, Nixon reduced the speed limit on highways to 55. Here it is 2011 and we are still dependent on oil.

I’ve always thought of Buddhism as a “green” philosophy. Many of the core principles relate directly to our relationship with the environment, particularly interdependency (pratitya-samutpada), which teaches that all things, sentient and non-sentient, are interconnected. Japanese Buddhism has the term esho funi or “self and environment are two but not two.” Our environment is only a reflection of ourselves. If the Buddha were still around and if he was invited to speak at an Earth Day event, I imagine he’d tell us that we will never clean up our outer environment until we clear up our environment within. The green revolution is really an inner revolution. You already know that, yet I don’t think we can remind ourselves of it too often.

Since it’s also National Poetry Month, I think this is the perfect occasion to present Smokey the Bear Sutra, the poem that Gary Snyder wrote for the 1969 Sierra Club Wilderness Conference. It takes the form of a Buddhist sutra with Smokey the Bear as the reincarnation of Vairocana Buddha, a celestial Buddha who first appeared in the apocryphal Chinese text, Fan-wang ching or “Brahma’s Net” (also the origin of the Mahayana Bodhisattva ordination precepts). It is a somewhat satirical piece (some might say sacrilegious), but satire often allows a writer to communicate valuable principles without having to get up on a soapbox and preach.

 

Ancient statue of Smokey/Vairocana found in Chinese cave

SMOKEY THE BEAR SUTRA

BY GARY SNYDER

Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite Void gave a discourse to all the assembled elements and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings, the flying beings, and the sitting beings–even the grasses, to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

“In some future time, there will be a continent called America. It will have great centers of power called such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur, Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon. The human race in that era will get into troubles all over its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”

“The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth. My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger: and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”

And he showed himself in his true form of

SMOKEY THE BEAR

A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and watchful.

Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless attachments, and flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;

His left paw in the mudra of Comradely Display–indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow in the realm of the Dharma;

Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save but often destroys;

Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the west, symbolic of the forces that guard the wilderness, which is the Natural State of the Dharma and the true path of man on Earth:

all true paths lead through mountains

With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of those who think things can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;

Round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her;

Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs, smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism;

Indicating the task: his followers, becoming free of cars, houses, canned foods, universities, and shoes, master the Three Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind; and fearlessly chop down the rotten trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country America and then burn the leftover trash.

Wrathful but calm. Austere but Comic. Smokey the Bear will Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would hinder or slander him…

HE WILL PUT THEM OUT.

Thus his great Mantra:

Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana Sphataya hum traka ham mam

“I DEDICATE MYSELF TO THE UNIVERSAL DIAMOND BE THIS RAGING FURY BE DESTROYED”

And he will protect those who love the woods and rivers, Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children:

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television, or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR’S WAR SPELL:

DROWN THEIR BUTTS

CRUSH THEIR BUTTS

DROWN THEIR BUTTS

CRUSH THEIR BUTTS

And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy out with his vajra-shovel.

Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands of Arizona and Nevada.

Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick.
Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature.
Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and beasts.
Will always have ripened blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.

AND IN THE END WILL WIN HIGHEST PERFECT ENLIGHTENMENT

…thus we have heard…

(may be reproduced free forever)

 

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