This issue comes out just before Earth Day. How can we celebrate this Earth Day birthday?
Ziyong, a Zen woman teacher from 17th-century China, tells us, “The dharma does not rise up alone… If I take up the challenge of speaking I must surely borrow the form and the emptiness of the mountains and hills, the call of the magpies and the cries of the crows.”
Ziyong tells us that to speak truly, we humans must speak with the voice of the whole natural world. Likewise, contemporary Thai monk Phra Paisal Visalo says, “Learn how to listen to the trees and rocks that teach dharma all the time.”
All the beings of the Earth have their own voices. Children know this. Along with their first human words, they like to learn what different animals say. On Old MacDonald’s farm, the cow goes MOO! MOO! the dog goes BOW WOW! and the rooster goes COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!
When I was a child, I spent a lot of time in our backyard apple tree. I heard the sound of the leaves moving in the wind as a voice, talking to me. These days, kids don’t get to spend much time in apple trees.
When we speak up on behalf of the frogs and the spotted owls, we think of them as “voiceless.” True, they don’t speak English (or any of the other 7,000 human languages), and there are no frogs lobbying in Washington, D.C., so it is good that we lobby for them, to save their habitats. But at the edge of a pond on a spring evening, frogs are anything but voiceless. “RIBBIT! RIBBIT!”
Not a sound would come from our throats, not a drop of ink would fall on the page to form a word, if not for the voices we are given by the wind and the mountains. Can you feel the wind in your vocal chords?
And while we speak for the trees, the trees speak for us too. They sigh and wave their boughs around. And the crows, who caw a warning when danger approaches the forest, are telling us humans that we, too, are an endangered species.
Zen laywoman Chen wrote in the 8th-century:
Up on the high slopes, I see only old woodcutters.
Everyone has the spirit of the knife and the axe.
How can they see the mountain flowers
reflected in the water—glorious, red?
When we relate to the natural world with “the spirit of the knife and the axe,” seeing trees as fuel to be burned, we miss the red flowers and we lose our connection to nature. Theravada monk Bhikkhu Bodhi says, “The assumption that happiness is to be won by extracting the living riches of the earth and turning them into lifeless commodities” is a fiction.
Acting with the spirit of the knife and the axe, we destroy our own habitat. Just like the owls and the frogs, we humans depend on the place where gravity holds us, the place we inhabit, even when our minds are in cyberspace.
We occupy the Earth. The Occupy movement is saying, among other things, this ground is where we live. We all have a home here and we’re all connected. As Noah Fischer writes, “I melted into the crowd, my body vibrating to the shared voice. . . .”
So we take up the challenge of speaking; we journey to the ancient shrine of the sun goddess Amaterasu; in our genes we bring with us our ancestor LUCA, first life form on Earth; we reach our arms forward to our great, great, great, great-grandchildren; and we join our hearts with the melting glaciers.
— Sue Moon, Guest Editor
Audrey Kral, Roots, 30 x 30 inches. Oil painting. 2009.
Painter Audrey Kral spent her youth gazing at the clouds and wandering the open fields and streams of Pennsylvania, noticing that nature created peace in her. A professional dancer, she is often found dancing while painting, adding movement to the finished work. Insights during her many retreats at Spirit Rock Meditation Center are essential to Kral’s ability to paint from a place of core presence. Traveling in America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific has brought her an appreciation of the earth’s beauty that is expressed in her work. See more at audreykral.com.
For budgetary reasons, we’ve focused on archiving Inquiring Mind’s original articles, interviews and poetry. For the most part, that’s meant leaving out anything that was adapted or excerpted from another publication. We are also respecting the wishes of contributors who asked us not to put their work online.
“Our Right to a Place at Mother Nature’s Table” by Toni Lester was omitted per the author’s request.
“Global Warning versus Dharma Cooling” by Phra Paisal Visalo was adapted from a longer piece by Chompoo Trakullertsathien published in the Bangkok Post on August 20, 2009.
“What Rises in the Sea at Night, Rises in Dreams” and “Long Distance: England” by Ellery Akers were later published in her book Practicing the Truth (Autumn House Press, 2015)
Interview with Gary Snyder: Not a Throwaway World
Impermanence doesn’t mean we lose our manners! Veteran environmentalist Gary Snyder invites us to bring some dignity to our relations with our non-human neighbors. It’s a matter of etiquette. And of course he reminds us to simplify our lives.
Make Your Body a Sundial
Imagine your life as a leaf in the generations of leaves, says Susan Moon, who invokes Zen Master Dogen, the Andromeda galaxy and a 2,000-year-old baby to remind us we are timepieces, albeit flashes in the perennial pan.
Interview with Joanna Macy: Woman on the Edge of Time
Elder Joanna Macy discusses the mind-destroying acceleration of time and urges us toward an expanded inner clock that encompasses ancestors and future generations alike.
Our Right to a Place at Mother Nature’s Table
Toni Lester reminds us that nature has been a dangerous place for African Americans, historically, and she encourages people of color to claim their rightful connection to the green world.
Just a couple of degrees of temperature change could bring deliverance or devastation. Physicist Robert Fraser champions collective mindfulness and collective action.
Global Warming Versus Dharma Cooling
As the world’s temperature steadily soars, the temperature inside our minds is also heating up, says forest monk Phra Paisal Visalo. Global and mental warming are not so different.
Sitting at the Edge of a Melting Glacier
Step by step and breath by breath, professor Joe Galewsky visits the melting Quelccaya Ice Cap and reflects on change. Even glaciers are impermanent. All the more reason to save all beings.
All My Relations
Did you know that we share 26 percent of our genes with yeast? Zenshin Florence Caplow feels the flutter of moth wings upon her face and asks, “Is there anything that is not a relation?”
Interview with Mayumi Oda: Pilgrimage to the Sun Goddess
In the aftermath of Fukushima, artist and activist Mayumi Oda works despair into hope through art, practice, “vegetable nirvana” and pilgrimage.
Drawing Back from the Edge of a Cliff
Sitting under a tree is not enough, even if it’s the bodhi tree. Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi warns us to wake up to systemic greed and delusion before it takes us all over the cliff.
In the park, love reigned. Artist Noah Fischer takes us with him into the streets of New York City to turn confrontations into connection. “Occupy-operas” and the trust of hundreds of strangers blur lines between real life and performance, between us and them.
Dukkha for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
“May I touch this pain, may I touch this sorrow.” Rebecca Johnson takes us to Mossville, LA, where local people join together and stand up to the corporations and factories that are poisoning their community.
Richard Lang and his wife Judith comb the beach for polymerized hydrocarbon (plastic trash). They turn this detritus of our consumer consciousness into art.
Making Paper with Charnel Rag
Up to her elbows in slurry, Barbara Gates makes love and war come alive through combat papermaking.
Practice: Walking a Landscape of Change
From Mt. Tamalpais to Rio de Janeiro to butter lettuce fields by the sea at Green Gulch, Wendy Johnson walks with intention, bringing the Dharma down to earth.
The Dharma & The Drama
Wes Nisker gives us good reason to love all beings as ourselves, including LUCA (“last universal common ancestor”) and the ill-fated frog. From marine worms to pre-human primates, all of our ancestors deserve our devotion.