Letter from Bodhgaya:
Arboreal antidote to an inconvenient truth
“Understand that your internal world is much deeper, more profound. It is like the universe – the internal world is like the universe – rather than this physical appearance.”
Participating in light offerings at the holy stupa last night, and strolling alone through Maitreya Project’s spacious grounds this morning reciting mantras, I was nurtured and silently inspired by nature in the form of magnificent trees. How I love them, these “thoughts of God,” as Jung is said to have called them.
Eighty thousand square miles of rainforest were being destroyed annually in the late 1980s (an almost inconceivable area, twice the size of the state of Virginia), in the name of some god of progress no doubt, and leading inexorably to the “Inconvenient Truth” broadcast by Al Gore – and also no doubt predicted by the holy beings millennia ago.
In contrast, at the time of the Buddha, northern India would have been one continuous carpet of verdant mixed forest and bamboo groves. (The fact that the Buddha patterned monks’ robes on the example of checkered paddy fields shows that we Indians were well past the hunter-gatherer stage by then, ha!) It was taken as a given that the vast majority of land area was the domain of forest. Very recently, the lands across the river Nairanjana from Bodhgaya, referred to in the early chapters of Old Path, White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh, were the abode of mango groves. Now all you see is an ever-advancing, usually dry, river-bed. The trees have been cut for profit and for firewood by the greedy and the poor respectively.
Therefore, as an example that we hope will move others, we’ve been assiduously creating arboreal sanctuaries at both Root Institute and Maitreya Project for about twenty years now, so that future generations of students have something other than concrete, plastic, and Melamine-ware to look at and touch. Thich Nhat Hanh planted a banyan tree behind our clinic in 1988, and Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche planted and strongly blessed three bodhi trees in 1991, next to the current dining area. Just this year at Maitreya, Lama Zopa Rinpoche blessed a four-foot bodhi tree sapling that the indefatigably resourceful and devoted Peter Nelson had managed to obtain. It had been growing half-way up the northern face of the holy stupa, and was in danger of being destroyed or carried away by motley natives. It now has a place of honor in what we hope will be part of the monastic complex here in the not-too-distant future.
Trungpa Rinpoche said that to heal our society we’d have to heal our personal and elemental connection with the phenomenal world. That’s hard because of our crystallized and limited view of self, our belief that our mind inhabits our physical brain alone and that a genuine interconnectedness with nature is the romantic idea of space-cadets like Wordsworth and sixties’ hippies, unworthy of serious contention in this scientific age. We now know much better of course, thanks in no small part to Buddhism and modern physics, and we don’t any longer find it absurd to hear references to “mutual creation of world and self arising out of the non-dual ground.”
Be that as it may, I’d like to encourage the esteemed readers who have not yet ever planted a sapling to kindly do so, get your hands into that soil that sustains us, watch and rejoice in its growth help the mother planet however you can, and abide closely to what the wise ones say. Rinpoche spoke recently on “Radical action in troubled times,” and it looks like in the end it’s up to us, doesn’t it? Let’s get on with it then!