How Do We Respect the Buddha-Nature of Nature?

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How Do We Respect the Buddha-Nature of Nature?
Citation: Loy, David R. "How Do We Respect the Buddha-Nature of Nature?" Dharma World 45 (2018): 16–19.


According to traditional biographies, Gautama Buddha had a special relationship with trees. He was born among trees in Lumbini Grove, when his mother went into premature labor. As a child, while sitting under a tree and watching his father plow a field as part of a religious ceremony, he naturally fell into a meditative trance. Later, when he left home on his spiritual quest, he went into the forest, where he studied with two teachers, later engaged in ascetic practices, and then meditated by himself under a tree, where he awakened. Afterward he continued to spend most of his time outdoors, often teaching under trees and eventually dying between two trees.
      Unsurprisingly, the Buddha often expressed his appreciation of trees and other plants. According to one story in the Vinaya monastic code, a tree spirit appeared to him and complained that a monk had chopped down its tree. In response, the Buddha prohibited monastics from damaging trees or bushes, including cutting off limbs, picking flowers, or even plucking green leaves. One wonders what he would say about our casual destruction of whole ecosystems today.
      We may also wonder about the larger pattern: why religious founders so often experience their spiritual transformation by leaving human society and going into the wilderness by themselves. Following his baptism, Jesus went into the desert, where he fasted for forty days and nights. Mohammed's revelations occurred when he retreated into a cave, where the archangel Gabriel appeared to him. The Khaggavisana Sutta (Rhinoceros Horn Sutra), one of the earliest in the Pali canon, encourages monks to wander alone in the forest, like a rhinoceros. Milarepa lived and practiced in a cave by himself for many years, as did many Tibetan yogis after him. Today, in contrast, most of us meditate inside buildings with screened windows, which insulate us from insects, the hot sun, and chilling winds. There are many advantages to this, of course, but is something significant also lost?
      Although we normally relate to nature in a utilitarian way, the natural world is an interdependent community of living beings that invites us into a different kind of relationship. The implication is that withdrawing into it, especially by oneself, can disrupt our usual ways of seeing and open us up to an alternative experience. Does that also point to why we enjoy being in nature so much? We find it healing, even when we don't understand why or how, but clearly it has something to do with the fact that the natural world offers us a temporary escape from our instrumentalized lives. (Read the entire article here.)

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