Only Connect: Buddhism and Ecology Both Refuse to Separate the Human and Natural Worlds - and Demand That We Act Accordingly
Once, while waiting for a wilderness permit at a ranger station in North Cascades National Park, Washington state, I overheard the following message, radioed into headquarters by a backcountry ranger: ‘Dead elk in upper Agnes Creek decomposing nicely. Over.’ This ranger was not only a practical and profound ecologist, she also possessed the wisdom of a Buddhist master. The ‘over’ in her communication seemed especially apt. For Buddhists, as for ecologists, all individual lives are eventually ‘over’, but their constituent parts continue ‘living’ pretty much for ever, in a kind of ongoing process of bio-geo-chemical reincarnation.
People who follow ecological thinking (including some of our hardest-headed scientists) might not realise that they are also embracing an ancient spiritual tradition. Many who espouse Buddhism — succumbing, perhaps, to its chic, Hollywood appeal — might not realise that they are also endorsing a world view with political implications that go beyond bumper stickers demanding a free Tibet.
Plenty of us recognise that Buddhist writings and teachings — especially in their Zen manifestation — celebrate the beauty and wisdom in the natural world. A monk asks a master: ‘How may I enter in the Way?’ The master points to a stream and responds: ‘Do you hear that torrent? There you may enter.’ Walking in the mountains, the master asks: ‘Do you smell the flowering laurel?’ The monk says he does. ‘Then,’ declares the master, ‘I have hidden nothing from you.’