One of the translations for dhamma is ‘nature,’ and to realize the truth is equivalent to thoroughly understanding and harmonizing with the laws of nature. As Ajahn Chah points out in the quotation below everything that manifests is a part of nature and can be applied as a teaching to develop wisdom. This quotation notwithstanding, the word nature can be defined as a ‘wild primitive state untouched by man’ or as ‘unspoilt countryside.’ These definitions are not contradictory because wild, unspoilt environments are often most conducive for peace, inspiration, energy, and insight. Although the Latin saying vis medicatrix naturae—‘the healing power of nature’—usually refers to the body’s ability to rebalance itself, it is equally accurate to say that time spent in wild, natural places helps to rebalance the mind. Below are some teachings and inspired verses on this relationship to nature.
The color of blue-dark clouds,
cooled with the waters
of clear-flowing streams,
covered with crimson beetles:
those rocky crags
Vanavaccha Thera (Thag. 13)—based on Ajahn Thanissaro’s translation.
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One, on a wandering tour among the Kosalans with a large community of monks, arrived at a Kosalan brahman village named Icchānaṅgala. There he stayed in the Icchānaṅgala forest grove….
The Blessed One addressed Ven. Nāgita: ‘May I have nothing to do with fame, Nāgita, and may fame have nothing to do with me. Whoever cannot obtain at will—without difficulty, without trouble—as I do, the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of awakening, let him consent to this vile pleasure, this torpor-pleasure, this pleasure of gains, offerings, and fame.
‘Nāgita, there is the case where I see a monk sitting in concentration on the outskirts of some village. The thought occurs to me, “Soon a monastery attendant or a novice will disturb this venerable one in some way, and rouse him from his concentration.” And so I am not pleased with that monk’s abode.
‘But then there is the case where I see a monk seated nodding in the forest. The thought occurs to me, “Soon this venerable one will dispel his drowsiness and fatigue and establish the ‘forest-perception’ (arañña-saññā), [his mind] unified.” And so I am pleased with that monk’s forest-abiding.
‘Then there is the case where I see a forest monk sitting unconcentrated in the forest. The thought occurs to me, “Soon this venerable one will compose his unconcentrated mind, or protect his concentrated mind.” And so I am pleased with that monk’s forest abiding.
‘Then there is the case where I see a forest monk sitting in concentration in the forest. The thought occurs to me, “Soon this venerable one will liberate his unliberated mind, or protect his liberate mind.” And so I am pleased with that monk’s forest-abiding.’
(A. III. 341-44—based on Ajahn Thanissaro’s translation.)
“Associated with wisdom are self-composure and restraint which, in turn, can lead to further insight into the ways of nature. In this way, we will come to know the ultimate truth of everything being anicca, dukkha, and anattā. Take trees, for example: all trees upon the earth are equal, are one, when seen through the reality of anicca–dukkha–anattā. First, they come into being, then grow and mature, constantly changing, until they finally die, as every tree must.
In the same way, people and animals are born, grow and change during their lifetimes until they eventually die. The many changes which occur during this transition from birth to death show the way of Dhamma. That is to say, all things are impermanent, having decay and dissolution as their natural condition….
Everything is Dhamma. Not only the things we see with our physical eye, but also the things we see in our minds. A thought arises, then changes and passes away. It is nāma-dhamma, simply a mental impression that arises and passes away. This is the real nature of the mind. Altogether, this is the noble truth of Dhamma. If one doesn’t look and observe in this way, one doesn’t really see! If one does see, one will have the wisdom to listen to the Dhamma as proclaimed by the Buddha….
Whether it is a tree, a mountain, or an animal, it’s all Dhamma, everything is Dhamma. Where is this Dhamma? Speaking simply, that which is not Dhamma doesn’t exist. Dhamma is nature. This is called the sacca-dhamma, the True Dhamma. If one sees nature, one sees Dhamma; if one sees Dhamma, one sees nature. Seeing nature, one knows the Dhamma.”
(Ajahn Chah—‘Dhamma Nature’)
“It’s sunny. The birds are quite excited; they’re calling out to each other. They really enjoy life, not like human beings. Human beings are gloomy, dissatisfied, complaining, dull, and most of them are depressed. I’ve never seen a depressed bird in my life! I’ll learn from the birds, not from depressed and ungrateful human beings.”
Sayādaw U Jotika
The wise delight in the (silence of the) forest,
As peacocks thrive on poisonous plants
Or as ducks rejoice in the water of the lake.
Just as crows revel in dirty places,
So do ordinary people flock to the city.
Whereas, like ducks hastening to the lotus pond.
Do people of wisdom seek the forest.
(Atisha—translation by Sharpa Tulku)
Autumn hills taking the last of the light
Birds flying, mate following mate
Brilliant greens here and there distinct
Evening mists have no resting place
(Wang Wei—translated by G. W. Robinson)
The birds have vanished into the sky
And now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me
Until only the mountain remains.
(Li Po—translated by Sam Hamill)
“I sat there absorbing sights and colours, my mind in the blank and receptive state that the Buddhists tell us is the first step towards Nirvana.”
(Gerald Durrell—‘Encounters with Animals’)