In memory of Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, we publish today the ninth in our series of his Ten Love Letters to Earth, with the final one next Sunday...
Love Letter IX: Homo Conscius
Dear Mother Earth,
We have given ourselves the name homo sapiens. The precursors of our species began to appear only a few million years ago, in the form of apes such as orrorin tugenensis who could stand, leaving their hands free to do many things. As they learned to use tools and communicate, their brains grew and developed, and over six million years they gradually evolved into homo sapiens. As agriculture and societies emerged, we acquired new capacities unique to our species. We became self-aware and began to question our place in the cosmos. Yet we also developed traits in discord with our true nature. Because of our ignorance and suffering, we have acted with cruelty, meanness, and violence. But we also have the ability, with spiritual practice, to be compassionate and help- ful toward not only our own species but also other species - to become buddhas, saints, and bodhisattvas. All humans, without exception, have this potential to become awakened beings able to protect you, our Mother, and preserve your beauty.
Whether we’re human, animal, plant, or mineral, each of us has the nature of awakening because we are all your offspring. Yet we humans are often proud of our mind consciousness. We are proud of our powerful telescopes and ability to observe distant galaxies. But few of us realize that our consciousness is your own; you are deepening your understanding of the cosmos through us. Proud of our capacity to be aware of ourselves and the cosmos, we overlook the fact that our mind consciousness is limited by our habitual tendency to discriminate and conceptualize. We differentiate between birth and death, being and nonbeing, inside and outside, individual and collective. Nonetheless, there are humans who have looked deeply, cultivated their mind of awareness, and overcome these habitual tendencies, to attain the wisdom of nondiscrimination. They have been able to touch the ultimate dimension within them and around them. They have been able to continue you on the path of evolution, guiding others toward the insight of nonduality, transforming all separation, discrimination, fear, hatred, and despair.
Dear Mother, thanks to the precious gift of awareness, we can recognize our own presence and realize our true place in you and in the cosmos. We humans are no longer naive in thinking ourselves the masters of the universe. We know that in terms of the universe we are tiny and insignificant, and yet our minds are capable of encompassing numberless worlds. We know that our beautiful planet Earth is not the center of the universe, and yet we can still see it as one of the universe’s many wondrous manifestations. We have developed science and technology, and discovered reality’s true nature of no-birth and no-death, of neither being nor nonbeing, neither increasing nor decreasing, neither the same nor different. We realize that the one contains the all, that the greatest is contained within the smallest, and that each particle of dust contains the whole cosmos. We are learning to love you and our Father more, and to love one another in the light of this insight of interbeing. We know that this nondualistic way of seeing things can help us to transcend all discrimination, fear, jealousy, hatred, and despair.
Shakyamuni Buddha was a child of yours who attained full awakening at the foot of the Bodhi tree. After his long journey of seeking, he realized that the Earth is our true and only home, and that heaven, the whole cosmos, and the ultimate dimension can be touched right here with you. Dear Mother, we promise to remain with you throughout countless lifetimes, offering you our talent, strength, and health so that many more bodhisattvas can continue to rise up from your soil.
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