Nature & Spirit

It is in nature that we feel connection. I remember my first spiritual experiences in nature, not in church. Church never had anything of the spirit for me (I was raised Catholic, and went to a Catholic school). But I remember lying on the grass looking at the sky and the sense of wonder at the stars. And I remember the stretch of marsh at the river’s edge, and the mysterious creatures that populate that space.

There is a special quality to the air in such places, and I am reminded that the “spirit” is, in its origin, just this same air, which we draw in, borrow for a time, and let go forth once more.

There is something about nature that escapes the instrumental. We have nothing to do there. Nothing to change or perfect. It is and grows as it always has. We clear it to build our Euclidean structures, but even before they are finished, nature colonizes them: insects and weeds, breaking the formalism of architectural geometry.

Why do we create forest monasteries? I don’t know, unless it has something to do with this connection. We are moved to contemplation, in the face of something so beyond us in time and space.

Yet for all this, we spend much of our lives battling nature. As soon as we see a cockroach, we want to get rid of it. Even the slightest, most harmless intrusion of nature’s apparent chaos prompts a swift response. Nature is an ideal for us, to be approached for a special experience, and otherwise kept at arm’s length.

And it is one of our practical problems that humans live most efficiently apart from nature, in cities. This has been pointed out by James Lovelock: ants solved the problem of high density housing of massive populations long ago. If we care about nature, we would live in massive tower blocks. We don’t need to save nature, just to get out of the way.

But of course, if we do so we cut ourselves off. City living creates alienation from nature. So the practical solution is spiritually deadening.

What to do? I have no answers. I live a twilight life, sometimes in the forest, sometimes in the city, not at home in either. Like the air that sweeps from the city to the forest, from the factory chimney to your lungs, I have no real home. I experience life as a guest, and try not to be intrusive about it.

It takes balance to live in between. To be like the breath, now part of the environment, now part of ourselves. Constantly dissolving the artificial distinctions between “self” and “other”, “artificial” and “natural”, “real” and “fake”.

People are crazy. They still argue about whether this bushfire was due to climate change, or whether that flood was. They monumentally don’t get it: everything is climate change.

Every breath you breathe in has been changed by human activity. It has less oxygen, more carbon dioxide; and it has a cocktail of substances that never existed before humans invented the factory. Every interchange in the vast surface area of your lungs is different because of climate change. Every cell in your body is different because of climate change. Every time you breathe out, you are adding more CO2 to the atmosphere. And when you die, your rotting corpse will add even more. Everything, forever, is different.

We can’t go back, and there may be no forward for us. There remains what is, and that is vanishing even as we watch. Our proud dreams of dominion will become nothing but dust. And the air will howl over the dust, but there will be no-one to listen.


Buddhist Fury

Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand

Michael K. Jerryson

Thanks to Annie for bringing this to my attention. This is a study of the religious and social context of the ongoing violence in Southern Thailand between Thai Buddhists and ethnically Malay Muslims. You can read the introduction on Google books. It looks like an excellent study, based on extensive personal interviews over several years.

The conflict in southern Thailand has been a dreadful one, with over 3000 dead and no signs of stopping. It provides an example of how the Buddhist philosophy of peace works in real-world contexts of violence.

Helping Tamil children orphaned in the Sri Lankan war

The following message is from our good friend Ramya Panagoda. She spoke to me of her recent visit to Sri lanka, and about the urgent need for support in the reconstruction. The war’s over: now we must win the peace.

While in Sri Lanka last December we travelled to the security areas in the northern province. The simplicity of the ordinary Tamil and Sinhalese people touched our hearts. But a lot of work needs to be done. I visited Nagadeepa, Anuradhapura and many other Buddhist areas. I am currently working with 64 Tamil orphans who their parents entrusted to the local Buddhist temple during the conflict years, in a remote boarder village. The youngest was 4 days old when he was left at the temple door by his fleeing parents. The Buddhist monk with the help of the army protected these children all these years and gave them an education. The children are unpolluted and is a breath of fresh air. They do not know anything about Television or radios. Their needs are simple, soap, washing powder and milk!! The children attend school and after school attend to agricultural work on temple grounds.

We managed to get a lot of publicity for the temple and Sri Lankan government declared Sethsevena Children’s Home as a charitable institution. Recently there was a news paper article about this monk and the article appears on their website.

I have been fund raising for the basic needs of these children. Our Tamil friends in Sydney have offered to provide beds for the children and this in a small way is uniting the two communities in Sydney.

If people want to donate I have the bank details for the Children’s Home. I can be contacted by email: ramyapanagoda[at]yahoo[dot]com[dot]au

One day I would like to take you and Ajahn Brahm to visit these children. Recently they discovered a big cave in the jungle near the temple. Apparently it was used by about 500 Arahaths during the time of King Dutugamunu when Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka some 1500 years ago. The Monk told me that the energy in the cave is so powerful that monks from all over the world now visits the Cave for meditation. Bhante that’s an inspiration for you to visit the cave!