Natural Spirituality: Opening the Book of Nature
by Lama Surya Das
(In January of 1999, we met Lama Surya Das through the Omega Institute¹s programs in the Virgin Islands. In our first discussions, Surya and I quickly discovered that the “natural mindfulness / awareness” desired in the field of hard ground tracking is very similar to the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. Surya offered to write a page for our newsletter and I took him up on it. Here is what he sent. His words extend our natural awareness into the realm of the Buddha, the Vajra-yana…. and beyond. John Stokes)
“Nature is the only book I need to read.”
– Tibetan Yogi Milarepa (11th Century AD) from A Song of Enlightenment.
Natural spirituality is all around us. We can hardly escape from it, although we do often tend to overlook it. According to the tantric or all-inclusive dualistic view of Tibetan Buddhism, everything is sacred, all is holy, all are equal- human and animal, all creatures and living things seen and unseen are manifestations embodying pure and untrammeled Buddha-Nature. This sacred outlook or spiritual sight helps us re-enchant our everyday human lives.
As spiritual seekers, travelers on this sacred journey, we can practice awakening to this immanent reality, or the “beyondness” in the most ordinary thing- seeing the infinite in the finite- through the spiritual practice of “pure perceptions” or sacred outlook. This Vajra-yana (Diamond Path) Buddhist approach helps us transcend our ordinary, limited, dualistic perceptions and egocentric judgments and enter directly into the magic of reality, wherever we are. Just try to look a little more deeply, and recognize the light shining in everyone and in everything. This is a daily meditation practice you can do at home, at work, alone or with others, with or without sitting down. Just cultivate the higher “view,” recognizing “this land as the Pure Land, paradise; this body as the Body of Buddha,” as Japanese Zen Master Hakuin once sang.
Tibetan Lamas teach us that each of the five basic elements (earth, water, fire air and space) are goddesses. We can learn to transcend ourselves and be transported into a more splendidly divine reality through the dharma-gate (or spiritual access) offered by the naturally moving beauty and grandness of nature as well as through prayer, bows, or contemplation in any great cathedral, temple, or mosque. Is there a loftier, more uplifting cathedral than a redwood forest or massive mountains, or any shrine or sanctuary more soulful than silently watching a vast, shimmering desert or sunset over the ocean?
I myself take a walk outside every morning. This is how I open the book of nature, and reconnect naturally with spirit. Sometimes I take a walk along with God or Buddha, my “eternal companion” as it were; other days with my dog, depending whether I am at home or abroad. I seem to need this sacred time outside in nature- rain or shine, even in the snow, in a city or at home in the country- to grow my inner garden and stay healthy, sane and awake. I can feel it. My Concord neighbor Thoreau said he needed four hours a day of walking outside in the hills and woods, or he became rust. I know what he means!
Nature is the original fountain of knowledge, beauty, sustenance and inspiration for all people around the globe. Mother Nature or the Goddess Gaia is mother womb to all of us. She belongs to no one, and she belongs to us all. We should cherish her, just as she embraces and holds us. In Tibetan we call it the Dra-la principle, referring to the intrinsic magic of reality; the “beyondness” that is available through each moment. We can call upon the drala as an ally, as a way to reach beyond ourselves, when we need to take refuge from confusion and distress and find a safe harbor for respite from the stormy emotions and travails of daily life. We also can simply recognize the drala through those moments of what I call “natural meditation” when we are moved and pulled out of ourselves almost accidentally, by whatever most transports us and reconnects us to that which is beyond, yet simultaneously within, each of us.
Nature is our treasure: this world is our home and our garden. The earth is like an altar, and we are all the gods and goddesses, Buddhas and bodhisattvas, on that altar. In that light, reverence comes naturally. We are not merely human beings trying to live a more spiritual life, but spiritual beings learning how to live a human one here on planet earth. The book of nature is our operating manual; try to read a chapter daily. You’ll love it.
This article appeared in The Tracking Project’s July 4, 1999 newsletter.