Wildness: Buddha and the forest

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    When I was out in France earlier this year, with the abundance of poppies, the almost continuous bird song and a visit from a red squirrel, Dharmavidya said something to me about Buddha and the forest.

    We were talking about the Buddha’s experience at the ploughing festival – where he sees the cutting of the earth and becomes aware of suffering.

    Dharmavidya reminded me that the Shakya people – the Buddha’s clan – had only recently transitioned from herding to farming. The cutting of the earth was not just significant to the Buddha but to his whole community. It marked taking from the land in a way that was different to what had gone before.

    This casts a different light, or adds a new significance to the Buddha creating a community of forest dwellers who lived lightly on the earth. There seems to be an ecological/environmental reason to the move, as much as a spiritual one.

    In fact, I’m coming to think that ecological practice and spiritual practice are deeply connected.

    We don’t often talk about the description of the Pure Land in the Larger Pure Land Sutra. Perhaps it’s because the language of jewelled trees doesn’t speak to modern, western people. But there is a forest at the heart of the sutra. The Larger and Smaller sutras describe a complex ecosystem of trees, pools and birds that proclaim the Dharma.

    Recently I’ve been wondering if this is a call back to the forest community that the Buddha created, and a call to us to rejoin spiritual practice with the natural world.

    I explore some of these ideas in the most recent episode of my podcast. Have a listen  and then leave a comment below.




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