Parallax Press, 2013, pbk, 128 pp
Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
Despite the fact that the concept of Planet Earth as animate, as imbued with life—or in other words as a living being—was a basic belief in most cultures 2,500 years ago, only a few writers have been willing to promote the idea in modern times, and only quite recently.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a primary figure in the movement known as ‘engaged Buddhism,’ has now set in print a beautiful and loving tribute to Gaia, our precious planet. I just wish everyone in the world could read this lovely book. Thich Nhat Hanh’s main point, of course, is that we don’t live ON a planet; the planet is not just our environment. In fact we ARE the Earth. We are cells in the body of a living organism. We are the Earth and the Earth is us.
It has been said before that we will not protect what we do not love. This author not only shows his love for the planet, but fully explains how the planet is lovable. He reminds us of Earth’s many blessings and leaves us with practical examples of how it behoves every one of us to create a loving relationship with her. To him, Earth is a bodhisattva.
In the same way that many Christians find it hard to reconcile the fire-and-brimstone God of the Old Testament with the loving God of the New, many of us judge the Earth as kind and loving when she gives us the spring flowers and baby robins but angry and vengeful when natural disasters happen, such as floods and earthquakes. Thich Nhat Hanh’s wise answer to this is that: “…the idea of kind and unkind are a pair of opposites that originate in our own minds. The Earth is neither kind nor unkind. She is there in all her stability and solidity, nourishing us with equanimity and without judgment or discrimination. If we look deeply, we can look at her without judgment and discrimination as well.”
Real change will happen, he tells us, only when we fall in love with our planet. Only love can show us how to live in harmony with nature and with each other and save us from the devastating effects of environmental destruction and climate change.
He refers to …what we mistakenly call ‘the environmental problem.’ For the Earth, as he explains, is not just the environment. The Earth is us. Everything depends on whether we have that insight or not.
The author, in the true spirit of his Buddhist tradition, includes a whole range of tried and tested techniques for a spiritual practice that is grounded in love of the Earth. These include mindfulness, awareness of the breath, meditation, mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful listening (to ourselves, to others and to the Earth), taking refuge, taking responsibility and the cultivation of joy. He explains the concept of karma and speaks of the power of thought. The book ends with a set of ten beautiful love letters addressed directly to the Earth (including one to the sun.)
This book is another in a long line of Thich Nhat Hahn’s inspired offerings to the world and one that I hope will find a good home on every GreenSpirit bedside table.