Reflections on Nature

Delicate Leaves

One of the trans­la­tions for dham­ma is ‘nature,’ and to real­ize the truth is equiv­a­lent to thor­ough­ly under­stand­ing and har­mo­niz­ing with the laws of nature. As Ajahn Chah points out in the quo­ta­tion below every­thing that man­i­fests is a part of nature and can be applied as a teach­ing to devel­op wis­dom. This quo­ta­tion notwith­stand­ing, the word nature can be defined as a ‘wild prim­i­tive state untouched by man’ or as ‘unspoilt coun­try­side.’ These def­i­n­i­tions are not con­tra­dic­to­ry because wild, unspoilt envi­ron­ments are often most con­ducive for peace, inspi­ra­tion, ener­gy, and insight. Although the Latin say­ing vis med­ica­trix nat­u­rae—‘the heal­ing pow­er of nature’—usually refers to the body’s abil­i­ty to rebal­ance itself, it is equal­ly accu­rate to say that time spent in wild, nat­ur­al places helps to rebal­ance the mind. Below are some teach­ings and inspired vers­es on this rela­tion­ship to nature.


Dhaulagiri Circuit


The col­or of blue-dark clouds,


cooled with the waters

of clear-flow­ing streams,

cov­ered with crim­son beetles:

those rocky crags

delight me.

Vanavac­cha Thera (Thag. 13)—based on Ajahn Thanissaro’s translation.

I have heard that on one occa­sion the Blessed One, on a wan­der­ing tour among the Kos­alans with a large com­mu­ni­ty of monks, arrived at a Kos­alan brah­man vil­lage named Icchā­naṅ­gala. There he stayed in the Icchā­naṅ­gala for­est grove….

The Blessed One addressed Ven. Nāgi­ta: ‘May I have noth­ing to do with fame, Nāgi­ta, and may fame have noth­ing to do with me. Who­ev­er can­not obtain at will—without dif­fi­cul­ty, with­out trouble—as I do, the plea­sure of renun­ci­a­tion, the plea­sure of seclu­sion, the plea­sure of peace, the plea­sure of awak­en­ing, let him con­sent to this vile plea­sure, this tor­por-plea­sure, this plea­sure of gains, offer­ings, and fame.

Nāgi­ta, there is the case where I see a monk sit­ting in con­cen­tra­tion on the out­skirts of some vil­lage. The thought occurs to me, “Soon a monastery atten­dant or a novice will dis­turb this ven­er­a­ble one in some way, and rouse him from his con­cen­tra­tion.” And so I am not pleased with that monk’s abode.

But then there is the case where I see a monk seat­ed nod­ding in the for­est. The thought occurs to me, “Soon this ven­er­a­ble one will dis­pel his drowsi­ness and fatigue and estab­lish the ‘for­est-per­cep­tion’ (arañña-saññā), [his mind] uni­fied.” And so I am pleased with that monk’s forest-abiding.

Then there is the case where I see a for­est monk sit­ting uncon­cen­trat­ed in the for­est. The thought occurs to me, “Soon this ven­er­a­ble one will com­pose his uncon­cen­trat­ed mind, or pro­tect his con­cen­trat­ed mind.” And so I am pleased with that monk’s for­est abiding.

Then there is the case where I see a for­est monk sit­ting in con­cen­tra­tion in the for­est. The thought occurs to me, “Soon this ven­er­a­ble one will lib­er­ate his unlib­er­at­ed mind, or pro­tect his lib­er­ate mind.” And so I am pleased with that monk’s forest-abiding.’

(A. III. 341–44—based on Ajahn Thanissaro’s translation.)


Elfin Forest


Asso­ci­at­ed with wis­dom are self-com­po­sure and restraint which, in turn, can lead to fur­ther insight into the ways of nature. In this way, we will come to know the ulti­mate truth of every­thing being anic­ca, dukkha, and anat­tā. Take trees, for exam­ple: all trees upon the earth are equal, are one, when seen through the real­i­ty of anic­ca-dukkha-anat­tā. First, they come into being, then grow and mature, con­stant­ly chang­ing, until they final­ly die, as every tree must.

In the same way, peo­ple and ani­mals are born, grow and change dur­ing their life­times until they even­tu­al­ly die. The many changes which occur dur­ing this tran­si­tion from birth to death show the way of Dham­ma. That is to say, all things are imper­ma­nent, hav­ing decay and dis­so­lu­tion as their nat­ur­al condition….

Every­thing is Dham­ma. Not only the things we see with our phys­i­cal eye, but also the things we see in our minds. A thought aris­es, then changes and pass­es away. It is nāma-dham­ma, sim­ply a men­tal impres­sion that aris­es and pass­es away. This is the real nature of the mind. Alto­geth­er, this is the noble truth of Dham­ma. If one doesn’t look and observe in this way, one does­n’t real­ly see! If one does see, one will have the wis­dom to lis­ten to the Dham­ma as pro­claimed by the Buddha….

Whether it is a tree, a moun­tain, or an ani­mal, it’s all Dham­ma, every­thing is Dham­ma. Where is this Dham­ma? Speak­ing sim­ply, that which is not Dham­ma doesn’t exist. Dham­ma is nature. This is called the sac­ca-dham­ma, the True Dham­ma. If one sees nature, one sees Dham­ma; if one sees Dham­ma, one sees nature. See­ing nature, one knows the Dhamma.”

(Ajahn Chah—‘Dhamma Nature’)


Li Anzhong's Bird on a Branch


It’s sun­ny. The birds are quite excit­ed; they’re call­ing out to each oth­er. They real­ly enjoy life, not like human beings. Human beings are gloomy, dis­sat­is­fied, com­plain­ing, dull, and most of them are depressed. I’ve nev­er seen a depressed bird in my life! I’ll learn from the birds, not from depressed and ungrate­ful human beings.”

Sayā­daw U Jotika

The wise delight in the (silence of the) forest,

As pea­cocks thrive on poi­so­nous plants

Or as ducks rejoice in the water of the lake.

Just as crows rev­el in dirty places,

So do ordi­nary peo­ple flock to the city.

Where­as, like ducks has­ten­ing to the lotus pond.

Do peo­ple of wis­dom seek the forest.

(Atisha—translation by Sharpa Tulku)


Brilliant Moss

Magnolia Park 

Autumn hills tak­ing the last of the light

Birds fly­ing, mate fol­low­ing mate

Bril­liant greens here and there distinct

Evening mists have no rest­ing place

(Wang Wei—translated by G. W. Robinson)


The birds have van­ished into the sky

And now the last cloud drains away.

We sit togeth­er, the moun­tain and me

Until only the moun­tain remains.

(Li Po—translated by Sam Hamill)


Hyacinth Macaw in the Pantanal


I sat there absorb­ing sights and colours, my mind in the blank and recep­tive state that the Bud­dhists tell us is the first step towards Nirvana.”

(Ger­ald Durrell—‘Encounters with Animals’)

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