Caring for the Earth

7 of 7

Touching the earth

In a time of ecological crisis, to experience oneness with other beings and the Earth is also to feel pain. As Gary Snyder writes:

The extinction of a species, each one a pilgrim of four billion years of evolution, is an irreversible loss. The ending of the lines of so many creatures with whom we have traveled this far is an occasion for profound sorrow and grief.

The balance between hope and despair is a delicate one.

Does this feel true to you? Do you tend more toward either hope or despair?

Buddhists in the past have succumbed to hopelessness especially when they feared that they were living in the last days of the Dharma. Most engaged Buddhists understand that too much despair vitiates the energy needed for constructive action. So does too much hope. Whether this is a time of perishing Dharma or flourishing Dharma, the plants must be watered.

Buddhist environmental teachers such as Joanna Macy and Stephanie Kaza have emphasized the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the damage we have done to the Earth. Kaza suggests:

With regard to the natural world, this may mean expressing grief, remorse, or regret that people have done such extensive and unthinking damage to other living beings. One acknowledges human fallibility and the limits of human wisdom and understanding.

Shakyamuni touching the Earth

According to traditional sources, Shakyamuni Buddha was assailed by severe torments before his breakthrough to enlightenment. When Mara, personification of all torments, challenged Shakyamuni's commitment as a seeker, Shakyamuni reached down with his right hand and lightly touched the Earth, because the Earth had intimately witnessed his long course of spiritual exertion. This Earth-touching posture became the classic visual representation of Shakyamuni's awakening. Self-realization, however transcendent, is also rooted in a place.


Is being in touch with the Earth linked to enlightenment in ways that have not been fully examined?

Could this image double as a symbol of profound spiritual and ecological awareness?