I was thinking about this and then it occurred to me that we, humans, are not that different from the bird. If there is one representation of (post)modern living, it is the shopping mall. Here, we buy - to wear, to eat, to watch; here we play, we win, get discounts, and exchange loyalty vouchers; here, we hang out where we see no sun, feel no breeze, hear no rustling leaves. This is the world of brands, from McDonalds to iPhones, it is meant to disorient, it is decadent, it draws you in and it is not letting go. Not now, not ever.
Aren’t we too well and truly caught in this delusion that we have created for ourselves?
We have this misplaced idea that somehow we are separate from nature. Out of this comes two necessary outcomes – first, we build zones of safety, made of rocks, concrete and ‘culture’ that epitomises the human world, which stands distinct from the natural world. Second, it justifies the exploitation of nature in whichever way possible. It is psychotic to cut off one’s own arm because it is a part of ourselves. To destroy something, it has to be first seen as separate. As we remove ourselves away from nature, it further facilitates its destruction. Strange as it sounds, the shopping mall is a directly ally of those who scar the face of the earth with their mines and those who pollute our air.
Our lives have irrevocably changed in the past 200 years. For tens of thousands of years, the natives have lived in harmony with nature, taking only what was absolutely needed and leaving the rest so that the land, the rivers and the seas could revive. They understood that they were only a part of the circle of life. Fast forward two centuries and we have torn down our rainforests, poisoned our rivers, raked up the sea beds, drilled into the earth’s womb, and pumped chemicals into our skies.
Today, we no longer understand or appreciate our intimate connection to the earth, to the seasons, to the magnificent diversity of plants and animals. There is a story about the Buddha that occurs on the night of his enlightenment. Siddhartha Gautama, once prince and heir to a kingdom is now a beggar-saint, sitting under the Bodhi tree. Mara, the Evil One and the lord of desire, having failed to tempt the awakening Gautama seated in equanimity, devises one last method to unseat him – an appeal to the gnawing self-doubt that plagues the heart of men. “What makes you worthy of attaining Enlightenment, who will vouch for you?”, Mara snarls.
Gautama smiles gently and reaches out to touch the ground before him with the tips of his fingers. In silence, he says, “The Earth is my witness”. Mara flees and as the morning star rises, Siddhartha becomes Buddha, the awakened one.
Whether Mara or any other demons really bothered the historical Buddha on that night, this mythological story conveys an important point. For the Buddha to awaken from delusion and into perfect understanding, he had to first call upon the earth – the mother, the giver and the source of all life. He saw clearly that his journey towards enlightenment was not a solitary journey, separate from the interconnected web of life on this earth. His journey was the journey of all living beings, from the lowest forms of life to the highest. To be fully enlightened, is to first see one’s true place in this magnificent world from which we have emerged.
Humanity is a flower of this earth. The atoms which were once rain forests, which were rivers, which were clouds, are now in us. We exist only as a frozen snapshot in time. To think otherwise, to imagine nature as separate from us, something given to us to plunder and exploit, is pure delusion and a recipe for our own destruction.
~ “You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children that we have taught our children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves”. - Chief Seattle