A few weeks ago I attended a spiritual drumming class in the glade round the back of Clarence House. The class was very enjoyable and the setting led me to think about spirituality and nature.
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” – Buddha.
It is said the first Zen sermon was given by Buddha, silently. As he simply held a white flower in his hand, the onlooking monks bar one were confused at what Buddha was trying to communicate. The monk who understood smiled. Zen gardens are intended to imitate the inner essence of nature, an aid to meditation on the meaning of life. Japanese researchers claim the subconscious mind is sensitive to a subtle association of between the rocks in these gardens.
Many cultures have ‘sacred groves.’ In Genesis, 21.33, it says,’Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there the name of God.’ In druidry, sacred groves are seen as places to reconnect with divine essence in nature. This is an example of animism, the belief that non-human entities like animals, plants, stones etc. contain a spiritual essence. In India, sacred groves are also used to protect biological resources, to provide sanctuaries for flora and fauna, especially medicinal herbs. They are also used to provide oxygen and deep ground water reserves.
Sources and bodies of water are also considered sacred in many religions. In the Hindu festivals Durga Puja and Ganseh Chaturthi, thousands of devotees immerse themselves in water to influence a deity. Baptism is far from being just a Christian practice. It is also practiced in Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, Baha’i, Shinto, Taoism and Rastafarianism. Being in harmony with nature is central to Rastafarianism. This is an African influence. Traditionally, African religions embrace the ebb and tide, waxing and waning of the moon, rain and drought. These phenomenas are seen as natural rhythms. Perhaps these rhythms are expressed in African drumming, which can uplift the ‘spirit.’
Sufi poet Rumi often referred to nature – “raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” Of God, Rumi wrote, “a mountain keeps an echo deep inside. That’s how I hold your voice.” To man, he said, “but listen to me. For one moment quit being sad. Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.”
Along with its gardens, poetry in Zen also reveres nature with its haikus, very short poems that capture a moment. Zen paintings literally makes human beings look very small compared to nature. This is sometimes seen as ‘nature mysticism,’ when man is held in awe by the divinity he sees in nature.
One famous Zen master by the name of Dogon Zenji said, “when we pick up a lettuce leaf or a carrot, or engage in relationships, each moment and interaction is the body of the Buddha.” Perhaps this can be compared to one of Christ’s sayings in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, “cleave the wood, I am there; lift up the stone, and you shall find me there.”
By Daniel Tavet