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Earth Holding and Protecting Practices at Deer Park and Beyond

Working meditation, Deer Park Monastery oak grove; photo courtesy of monastic Sangha

We are a continuation ...

In the fall of 2008, Thay spent a couple of weeks at Deer Park Monastery. One afternoon, all the monastics sat with Thay for a Be-In. During his sharing, Thay stressed that the first thing we all must do is consume less. He encouraged us to consider our means of transportation, how we could combine trips, continue car-free days, etc. During the US Tour of 2007, in all public talks, Thay had shared in detail about the consequences of meat and alcohol consumption for our environment. Continually watering our seeds of love and care for the Earth for them to be expressed in our daily life, our teacher is a great gardener.

The inauguration of Deer Park’s solar panels was a joyous occasion in September of 2007. They were in use by February of 2008 and were calculated to cover all of our electric use after an energy audit had been completed and all light fixtures had been replaced. Thanks to the support of many Friends of Deer Park, our water use has been reduced. We use mulch rather than growing grass that is ultimately eaten by rabbits. Water-free urinals as well as native and drought-resistant planting have contributed to lessening our collective water consumption. We have also tried to replenish the groundwater by slowing, spreading, and sinking the rainwater we receive. This is an ongoing Earth project.

Together, the fourfold Sangha also looked at what are we already doing to use less and lighten our footsteps on our precious home. This gave rise to The Greening Way of Deer Park (a list of ways we are reducing our impact on the Earth and learning to care for our Mother) and an article, “Walking the Green Path,” written by Laura Hunter several years ago, which was published in the Mindfulness Bell and Buddhist Culture.

A Shared Aspiration: Earth Protection

A couple of years ago, I asked myself if, in my life of practice and service, I would regret anything when I looked back ten or twenty years from now. Spontaneously and immediately, an aspiration arose: to find more ways of bringing mindfulness and community practice to the area of climate change. In a way, it surprised me because my biology knowledge peaked in sixth grade. I also have never been an activist. I have always found solace in nature, though, and by nurturing the concentration on and insight of interbeing on a daily basis, I feel more connected and responsible. I realized that suffering caused by discrimination, war, social justice, and so on, all stem from the ignorant view of separation from the Earth and other living beings.

I shared about this inspiration with the Dharma Teacher Council at Deer Park, and many others also felt inspired. The first concrete manifestation of this inspiration was a blog. When we were planning our yearly retreat schedule for 2014, I asked to include a theme weekend on Earth Protection, which was accepted. In the process, Heather Mann and Nomi Green (OI members) shared their aspiration in this area with me, both inspired to find more ways of serving. They are sincere practitioners who are also educated in ecology and have activist experience, so I invited them to come and help. The theme weekends at Deer Park include only four sessions for the topic, so we had much sharing on how to use this limited and precious time.

The first evening, we gathered in the Green Yurt for our introduction to each other and the evening. Once it got dark, we each lit up a candle, and in the spirit of a pilgrimage on the Earth, we practiced walking meditation up to Yen Tu Mountain, the highest plateau at Deer Park, where the White Buddha statue is sitting peacefully. We gathered in a circle to sing “May Earth be filled with loving kindness, may Earth be well, may Earth be peaceful and at ease, may Earth be happy,” to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” We continued our practice of returning to the embrace of the Earth while facing Escondido with all its lights and freeways, and reading one of Thay’s love letters to the Earth. As we stood with lit candles, peacefully following our breathing, reflecting on our lives here on Earth, one friend asked herself, “What have we done?”

On Saturday morning, as a group we practiced working meditation in the oak grove of Clarity Hamlet, removing non-native invasive grasses under the oaks. Some of us were not comfortable to pull out the grasses and instead helped to collect them. This offered an opportunity to practice supporting the health of the oaks and to find a way to work together whether we were happy to remove the grasses or not.

The greatest benefit seemed to be simply coming together to practice with others who have Earth holding and protecting at the forefront of their work or engagement. It was very healing to hear sharing on how people practiced internally with despair, battle-weariness or doubt, and maintained a healthy and balanced engagement. We also shared about finding skillful ways to share with friends, neighbors, or colleagues without getting caught in dogmatic views. The talk and sharing from the retreat are available on the Deer Park Dharmacast, for those with a taste for more samples of this retreat.

Engaging Together in Love

During our last session together, we reflected on how to continue our engagement individually and collectively. A couple of concrete things also took shape. To help us continue to learn from others’ insights and experiences, a newsletter will be put together quarterly; it will include practices as well as individual and local Sangha stories of practice and engagement, all with the growing edge of climate crisis as a theme. In addition to these ongoing efforts, we hope to collect practice tools and links in an Earth Holding booklet. Our intention is to continue to offer support, reminders, and inspiration so that the engagement that is already taking place individually and collectively can continue to grow and develop. New seeds will also have the occasion to sprout and blossom.

During the last sharing with Heather, Nomi, and Lyn Fine after the retreat, it was clear to me that the strength of our Sangha in relation to climate crisis is to contribute in a way that:

  • we engage in love, not fear,
  • we engage in togetherness, not in separation, and
  • we engage diligently and

Mindfulness of breathing and walking, loving speech, and deep listening are powerful sources of refuge and energy in this practice and engagement. We continue Thay as we sing, “Happiness is here and now. I have dropped my worries.”

Earth Holding Resources:



Deer Park Dharmacast:

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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