Every part of the earth is sacred to my people.
Every shining pine needle,
every sandy shore,
every mist in the dark woods,
every humming insect.
All are holy in the memory and experience
of my people.
This we know.
We belong to the Earth.
The Earth does not belong to us.
The Buddha knew this too. And called upon, not stars or angels or gods, but dear sweet Mother EARTH as witness to his spiritual enlightenment.
by John Stanley and David Loy
In one of Buddhism’s iconic images, Gautama Buddha sits in meditation with his left palm upright on his lap, while his right hand touches the earth. Demonic forces have tried to unseat him, because their king, Mara, claims that place under the bodhi tree. As they proclaim their leader’s powers, Mara demands that Gautama produce a witness to confirm his spiritual awakening. The Buddha simply touches the earth with his right hand, and the Earth itself immediately responds: “I am your witness.” Mara and his minions vanish. The morning star appears in the sky. This moment of supreme enlightenment is the central experience from which the whole of the Buddhist tradition unfolds.
The great 20th-century Vedantin sage, Ramana Maharshi said that the Earth is in a constant state of dhyana (meditative absorption). The Buddha’s earth-witness mudra (hand position) is a beautiful example of “embodied cognition.” His posture and gesture embody unshakeable self-realization. He does not ask heavenly beings for assistance. Instead, without using any words, the Buddha calls on the Earth to bear witness.
Kentucky farmer, essayist, and philosopher Wendell Berry offers a similar embodied understanding of the nature of humanity’s relationship to Mother Earth in this offering that generalizes from the “deplorable” status of rural people in contemporary Kentucky to the “catastrophic consequences” of world-wide industrialization.
March 25, 2015
by Wendell Berry
All of us who are living owe our lives directly to our connection to the land. I am not talking about the connection that is implied by such a term as “environmentalism.” I am talking about the connection that we make economically, by work, by living, by making a living. This connection, as we see every day, is going to be either familiar, affectionate and saving, or distant, uncaring and destructive.
The loss of a saving connection between the land and the people begins and continues with the destruction of locally based household economies. This happens, whether in the United States after World War II or in present day China, by policies more or less forcibly moving people off the land. It happens also when the people remaining on the land are persuaded by government or academic experts that they “can’t afford” to produce anything for themselves, but must employ all their land and all their effort in making money with which to buy the things they need or can be persuaded to want. Leaders of industry, industrial politics, and industrial education decide, for example, that there are “too many farmers,” and that the surplus would be “better off” working at urban “jobs.” The movement of people off the land and into industry, away from local subsistence and into the economy of jobs and consumption, was our nation’s policy after World War II, and it has succeeded.
This division between the land and the people has happened in all the regions of rural Kentucky, just as it has happened or is happening in rural places all over the world. The problem, invisible equally to liberals and conservatives, is that the forces that destroy the possibility of a saving connection between the land and the people destroy at the same time essential values and practices. The conversion of an enormous number of somewhat independent producers into entirely dependent consumers is a radical change that in many ways is immediately catastrophic. Without a saving connection to the land, people become useless to themselves and to one another except by the intervention of money. Everything they need must be bought. Things that cannot be bought they do not have.
To dissolve the matrix, let us slip beneath its shiny artificial surface and the “money” which feeds it — and return: return to our bodies, to our souls, to the soil.