By Andy Wistreich
In Mahayana Buddhism, the wisdom understanding emptiness is sometimes referred to as the mother. This is because the beings liberated from samsara – arhats, ārya bodhisattvas and buddhas – are all born from the wisdom realising emptiness. Because emptiness is the ultimate nature of everything, we might call these highly realised beings mother nature’s children, because they have realised directly through meditation the final nature of all things.
Conventionally speaking, mother nature refers to the natural world, the environment, and mother earth. All life on earth is born from this mother, through interaction with space and the sun, thereby producing earth’s atmosphere. Because we are all, along with everything that grows and moves on planet earth, children of mother earth or mother nature, we are siblings of all humans, other species, trees et cetera.
Is there any link or correlation between these two mother natures? Very much so. All evolution is a process of cause and effect. Ecologically every life-form is interdependent with many other life-forms and elemental substrata. Because of cause and effect and interdependence, nothing exists independently. The absence of independent existence is what we buddhists call emptiness.
Generally, people mean the natural environment when they speak about nature. In buddhism we can talk about relative nature, for example the hardness of the earth element, and ultimate nature, the lack of independent existence, or emptiness.
Relative and ultimate natures are sometimes called the two truths, and everything that exists always has both these truths, depending on which way you look at it. So, for example, if you look at a tree, relatively it is a tree and ultimately it is emptiness.
As Buddha said in The Heart Sutra, “Form is empty; emptiness is form; emptiness is not other than form; form also is not other than emptiness.” Realisation of this fundamental non-duality of form and emptiness is what liberates us from suffering, samsara.
With the pandemic, mother nature has brought her human children to their knees. We have collectively been shown that mother nature is more powerful than us. Not surprisingly, people get back up again, and many try to forget that this mother is in charge of her family.
This is unfortunate, because the climate and ecological crisis is much more devastating and powerful than the pandemic, and unless we begin to live by the natural laws, our mother will destroy us.
The natural laws are simply the laws of cause and effect of actions, what we commonly call karma. If you heed the teachings of the buddha and other sages, you will not perform destructive actions. Instead, you will practise non-violence and non-harming towards other living beings and their environments.
The ecology is governed by natural laws of cause and effect, and our happiness and misery are also so governed. If we practise kindness towards our relative mother nature – the environment and living beings – and practise wisdom towards our ultimate mother nature by abandoning false notions of independent existence, all will be well. Thus, we will live harmoniously with everything.
I was inspired to write this by our XR Buddhists retreat. It became increasingly clear to me during the retreat how our problematic relationship with mother earth may be healed through the Dharma – the teachings of the Buddha – if we only take it to heart. I am deeply grateful to XR Buddhists for providing me with this insight.
Posts and articles are the views of their authors and not necessarily of the XR Buddhists group.