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A Love Letter to the Planet

Thích Nhất Hạnh shares intimate conversations with Mother Earth

calligraphies by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Interbeing—our true nature

Dear Mother, every time I step on the Earth, I am now able to transcend the notions of mind and matter. Your sublime reality also transcends the notions of mind and matter. Matter and mind are just ideas, two faces of the same reality. The pine tree is not just matter, as it possesses a sense of knowing. A dust particle is not just matter, since each of its atoms has intelligence and is a living reality. Our nature is your nature, which is the nature of the cosmos. This is the nature of interbeing—of no-being and no-nonbeing, no-birth and no-death, no increasing or decreasing, no matter and no mind, no inside or outside, no coming or going. Earth is thought to be one of the four basic elements, but Mother Earth is also composed of the other three non-earth elements—water, air, and fire. The four elements carry in themselves time, space, and consciousness. Each step reveals to us the Buddha nature that is not only present in humans but in all things.

…without the mud, lotuses will not grow. Mud and lotus are not enemies. Lotus and mud depend on each other to manifest.

Dear Mother, you are a great Bodhisattva, giving birth to countless buddhas and bodhisattvas. Your heart embraces the whole cosmos and your wisdom radiates in the ten directions. We cannot compare our capacity to understand and to love with yours. Some of us resent you for giving birth to them, causing them to endure suffering, because they are not yet able to understand and appreciate you. With the practice of looking deeply, we see that we can overcome all of our suffering and resentment. Getting in touch deeply with the historical dimension, we can see the ultimate dimension and thus come to better understand what is happening in the historical dimension.

In the ultimate dimension, there is no birth, no death, no suffering, no happiness, no coming, no going, no good, and no evil. We must learn to look at the world of signs and appearances from the perspective of the ultimate dimension. In the historical dimension, if there is no death, there will be no birth. If there is no suffering, there will be no happiness. Without evil, good cannot be; without the mud, lotuses will not grow. Mud and lotus are not enemies. Lotus and mud depend on each other to manifest. The same is true for suffering and happiness, good and evil. But since our understanding of good and evil is still very dualistic, some of us resent, blame, and reproach the Earth and the Sky.1 We use our small minds to judge the great mind of the Earth and the Sky.

We have learned the lesson that when we perpetrate violence toward our own and other species, we are violent toward ourselves...

The floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis are not punishments or manifestations of your anger, but are things that must occur on occasion in the historical dimension, out of necessity, so that balance can be reestablished; the same is true of a shooting star. For balance in nature to be achieved, at times some species have to endure loss. But when the need to survive is replaced with greed and pride, there is violence, which always brings about unnecessary devastation. We have seen that when one species develops too rapidly, exceeding its natural limit, causing great loss and damage, threatening the lives of other species, then naturally causes and conditions will arise to bring about the destruction and annihilation of that species. Equilibrium can then be restored among the remaining species. These causes and conditions often surface from within the very species causing the destruction. We have learned the lesson that when we perpetrate violence toward our own and other species, we are violent toward ourselves; when we know how to protect all beings, we are protecting ourselves.

Continuing the mind of love

Dear Mother, each of us has Buddha nature because we are all your offspring, whether we are humans, animals, plants, or minerals. We humans are often proud of our mind consciousness, but this is only one of the many functions of mind, such as Store Consciousness2 and Vimala (pure, non-defiled) Consciousness. Our mind consciousness gives us the ability to recognize our own presence and the presence of the cosmos in this moment, but it is limited by our habitual tendency to differentiate between being and nonbeing, birth and death, inside and outside, individual and collective. Some of us have practiced, contemplated, and purified ourselves, and attained the wisdom of nondiscrimination. We are able to be in touch with nirvana, with the nature of no-birth and no-death in ourselves. You must be very proud of those of us who are able to continue you on the path of evolution, those who have the capacity to guide and to lead others toward the insight of nonduality, transforming all differentiation, discrimination, fear, hatred, and despair.

You have given birth to many great buddhas and bodhisattvas. We make the deep vow to follow those who have gone before us on this path. We make the vow to confidently embody your wondrous and sublime consciousness, so as to be worthy of calling ourselves your children. We understand that all things are impermanent and without a separate self-nature; you, the Sun, and all buddhas and bodhisattvas are of the same nature. We know that in the ultimate dimension, your lifespan, Father’s, and that of all beings, including leaves and budding flowers, are limitless—transcending birth and death, being and nonbeing. Yet in the historical dimension, we still want to protect you, our Mother Earth, so that you can continue for a long time in this beautiful and precious form, not just five hundred million years, but even beyond. We want to protect you so that you can be here with us, within this cozy solar system, for a very long time.

Returning to intimacy with Mother Earth

Respected Mother, some of us ask what will happen to them once their physical form disintegrates. We know clearly that we will return to you. It is only natural. If we know how to contemplate, to look deeply, we will recognize the true no-coming and no-going nature of all things. We will no longer have any questions about coming and going. Knowing that we have manifested from you in the past and that we will continue to manifest from you again and again in the future, each time fresh and new, we have no more worries, no more fears.

We know that when we suffer, you also suffer in us. At these times, we have turned to you, dear Mother, and asked you whether or not we could count on you, on your stability and compassion.

Dear respected Mother, I see the whole cosmos in you, and you in me. Although you are the mother of all species, as humans we are capable of conversing intimately with you, capable of seeing you and understanding you. We know that you want us to live in such a way that in each moment of our daily lives we can produce the energies of mindfulness, peace, solidity, and love. We vow to obey your wish and respond to your love. We have the conviction that if we keep producing these wholesome energies, we will be able to help reduce suffering on Earth, especially the suffering caused by war, hunger, and illness. We will learn to appreciate and enjoy our own presence and the presence of the cosmos. With these wholesome energies we can help reduce the number of natural disasters like floods, storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

Dear Mother, there have been times when your children suffered greatly as a result of natural disasters. We know that when we suffer, you also suffer in us. At these times, we have turned to you, dear Mother, and asked you whether or not we could count on you, on your stability and compassion. You did not answer us right away. And then, looking at us with great compassion, you said, “Yes, of course, you can count on your Mother. I will always be there for you. But, dear children, you must ask yourselves whether your Mother can count on you.” Dear Mother, we have passed many nights without sleeping because of this koan given to us. Today, our faces covered in tears, we come to kneel before you, compassionate and holy Mother, to tell you that, “Yes, Mother, you can count on us.”

1 In Taoist cosmology, the world of man and Heaven.

2 In Buddhist psychology, one of the eight parts of consciousness; a field in which every kind of seed-potential can be planted—such as seeds of suffering, sorrow, fear, happiness, or compassion; in Western psychology, the unconscious mind.

This is an excerpt from A Love Letter to the Planet, published by Parallax Press.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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