In the Soto Zen tradition, emphasis is placed on ethical or mindful acts in everyday practice. This Earth Day practice held at Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center in Northern California is offered to benefit all beings.
A Buddhist practice center is distinct from other rural retreat spots because of the shared intention to practice certain guidelines and teachings. Here community is sustained not just by external spatial and temporal reference points, but by the cultivation of internal reference points for choices of action.
In the Soto Zen tradition, emphasis is placed on ethical or mindful acts in everyday practice. The simple, repetitive acts of eating, breathing, walking, and greeting others become opportunities for deepening a sense of interdependence and community. Each moment in place reflects myriad causes and conditions that all contribute to the particular experience of community at that instant for that person.
One year for Earth Day we held two ceremonies that placed Buddhist teachings in a green framework. The first was an Animal Memorial service that invited us to express our grief for the animals and plants who died inadvertently or deliberately as part of the organic farming and gardening work at Green Gulch. Gophers, snakes, spiders, field mice, moles all were acknowledged as members of the community impacted by human actions. We also invited people to submit names of endangered species, or pets who had died, or any other specific animals of concern. We repeated a litany of interdependence, a primary law of Buddhist philosophy, highlighting the dynamic nature of life and death in the wider community.
The second ceremony honored the Three Treasures and Three Pure Precepts in front of an altar by the coast live oak outside the zendo. We were inspired by stories of tree ordinations in Thailand and wanted to ordain one of our own trees of merit. The idea was that this tree would then serve to bless and protect all the other trees in the area, and beyond this to the whole valley. When I later learned that a thrashing windstorm had sent this beloved oak tree crashing to the ground, I felt a shudder reverberate through my inner landscape.
From a green Buddhist perspective, the Three Treasures can be seen in a very broad light. In an ecological sense, all beings are Buddhas with teachings to offer. One can see the great horned owl as having Buddha nature; one can listen to the ravens and redwoods as teachers. One can sit by the side of the creek Buddha and learn the teachings of water. The dharma is the truth of relationships, of interdependence, of the emptiness of a separate self in all things.
One can witness in each moment how the place is a truth of mutually conditioned relationship, shaped by the landscape as well as the mind of the one who walks in the landscape. One can see the wider sangha of all beings practicing/being together, sharing our commonality of impermanence. The ecocentric sangha practices in the context of place, in witness to place, and in service to place. As we chanted our vows not to abuse the Three Treasures, we were strengthening our internal reference points for acting in the world.
In repeating our vows to tree and place, we affirmed the Three Pure Precepts, often condensed as, “Do no evil, do good, and save all beings.” The act of saying vows is a practice that shapes the internal landscape, the realm of choice and intention. It is also a practice that bonds people into a community. The vows represent an agreement to behave well together, with human as well as plant, animal, and landscape beings. They acknowledge the impacts of our actions and encourage awareness and restraint. By vowing to benefit all beings, we vow to benefit our own lives in turn.
From Green Buddhism by Stephanie Kaza © 2019 by Stephanie Kaza. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com