Our Journey of Eons
Dear Mother Earth,
Do you remember when you and Father Sun first formed from the dust of exploded stars and interstellar gas? You didn’t yet wear the silken cloak of freshness that you do today. At that time, Mother, more than four and half billion years ago, your robe was made of molten rock. Soon it cooled to form a hard crust. Although Father’s light was far less than it is today, your thin atmosphere captured the heat and kept your oceans from freezing. In those first few hundred million years, you overcame many great difficulties to create an environment capable of sustaining life. You released great heat, fires, and gases from your volcanoes. Steam was expelled from your crust to become vapor in your atmosphere and the water in your great oceans. Your gravity helped anchor the life-sustaining sky, and your magnetic field prevented it from being stripped away by solar winds and cosmic rays.
But even before forming the atmosphere, you endured a collision with a great heavenly body, almost the size of Mars. Part of the impacting planet became you; the rest of it, along with some of your mantle and crust, became the moon. Dear Mother, the moon is a part of you, as beautiful as an angel. She is a kind sister to you, always following you, helping you slow down and keep your balance, and creating tidal rhythms on your body.
Our entire solar system is one family, revolving around Father Sun in a joyful and harmonious dance. First there is Mercury, metallic and cratered, closest to the sun. Next is Venus with her intense heat, high-pressure atmosphere, and volcanoes. Then there is you, beloved Mother Earth, the most beautiful of all. Beyond us orbits the Red Planet, cold and desolate Mars; and after the asteroid belt there comes the gas giant Jupiter, by far the largest planet of all, attended by an assembly of diverse moons. Beyond Jupiter orbits Saturn, the spectacularly ringed planet, followed by Uranus, tilted on his side after a collision, and, finally, distant blue Neptune with his turbulent storms and high winds.
Contemplating this splendor, I can see that you, Mother Earth, are the most precious flower in our solar system, a true jewel of the cosmos.
It took you a billion years to begin to manifest the first living beings. Complex molecules, perhaps brought to you from outer space, started to come together in self-replicating structures, slowly becoming more and more like living cells. Light particles from distant stars, millions of light years away, came to visit and stay a while. Small cells gradually became larger cells; unicellular organisms evolved into multicellular organisms. Life developed from deep within the oceans, multiplying and prospering, steadily improving the atmosphere. Slowly, the ozone layer could form, preventing harmful radiation from reaching your surface, and allowing life on land to prosper. It was only then, as the miracle of photosynthesis unfurled, that you began to wear the exquisite green mantle you do today.
But all phenomena are impermanent and ever-changing. Life over vast areas of the Earth has already been destroyed more than five times, including sixty-five million years ago, when the impact of a giant asteroid caused the mass extinction of dinosaurs and three quarters of all other species. Dear Mother, I am in awe of your capacity to be patient and creative, despite all the harsh conditions you have endured. I promise to remember our extraordinary journey of eons and to live my days with the awareness that we are all your children, and that we are all made of stars. I promise to do my part, contributing my own energy of joy and harmony to the glorious symphony of life.
Your Ultimate Reality: No Death, No Fear
Dear Mother Earth,
You were born from the dust of distant supernovas and ancient stars. Your manifestation is but a continuation and when you cease to exist in this current form you too will continue in another. Your true nature is the ultimate dimension of reality—the nature of no-coming and no-going, no-birth and no-death. This is also our true nature. If we’re able to touch this we can experience the peace and freedom of non-fear.
And yet, because of our limited view, we still wonder what will happen to us when our physical form disintegrates. When we die, we merely return to you. You have given birth to us in the past, and we know that you will continue to give birth to us time and time again in the future. We know we can never die. Each time we manifest, we’re fresh and new; each time we return to the Earth, you receive and embrace us with great compassion. We promise to train ourselves to look deeply, to see and touch this truth—that our lifespan is your lifespan, and your lifespan is limitless.
We know that the ultimate and the historical—the noumenal and the phenomenal—are two dimensions of the same reality. Touching the historical dimension—a leaf, a flower, a pebble, a beam of light, a mountain, a river, a bird, or our own body—we can touch the ultimate. When we deeply touch the one, we touch the all. This is interbeing.
Dear Mother, we vow to see you as our body, and to see the sun as our heart. We will train ourselves to recognize you and the sun in every cell of our body. We will find you both, Mother Earth and Father Sun, in each tender leaf, in each flash of lightning, in each drop of water. Diligently, we will practice to see the ultimate and realize our own true nature. We will practice to see that we have never been born and we will never die.
We know that in the ultimate dimension there is no birth and no death, no being and no nonbeing, no suffering and no happiness, and no good and no evil. We will train ourselves to look deeply into the world of signs and appearances with the insight of interbeing, in order to see that if there were no death, there could be no birth; without suffering, there could be no happiness; without the mud, the lotus can’t grow. We know that happiness and suffering, birth and death, lean on each other. These pairs of opposites are only concepts. When we transcend these dualistic views of reality, we’re freed from all anxiety and fear.
Touching the ultimate we’re happy and at ease—we’re in our element, free from all notions and concepts. We’re as free as a bird soaring in the sky, as free as a deer leaping through the woods. Living deeply in mindfulness, we touch our true nature of interdependence and interbeing. We know we are one with you and with the whole cosmos. The ultimate reality transcends all notions and concepts. It can’t be described as personal or impersonal, material or spiritual, nor as the object or subject of mind. Ultimate reality is always shining and shining on itself. We don’t need to look for the ultimate outside of ourselves. We touch the ultimate in the very here and now.
Father Sun, My Heart
Dear Father Sun,
Your infinite light is the nourishing source of all species. You are our sun, our source of limitless light and life. Your light shines upon Mother Earth offering us warmth and beauty, helping Mother Earth to nourish us and make life possible for all species. Looking deeply into Mother Earth, I see you in Mother Earth. You aren’t only in the sky but you are also ever-present in Mother Earth and in me.
Every morning, you manifest from the East, a glorious rosy orb shining radiantly in the ten directions. You are the kindest of fathers with a great ability to understand and be compassionate, and yet at the same time you are incredibly bold and courageous. The light particles you radiate travel over 150 million kilometers from your immensely hot crown to reach us here on Earth in just over eight minutes. Every second you offer a small portion of yourself to the Earth in the form of light energy. You are present in every leaf, every flower, and every living cell. But day by day, your great physical mass of fusing plasma, 330,000 times the size of our Earth, is slowly diminishing. Within the next ten billion years most of it will transform into energy, radiating throughout the cosmos, and even though you will no longer be visible in your present form, you will be continued in every photon you have emitted. Nothing will be lost, only transformed.
Dear Father, your creative synergy with Mother Earth makes life possible. Mother’s slight tilt in her orbit offers us the four extraordinary seasons. Her miracle of photosynthesis harnesses your energy and creates oxygen for the atmosphere to protect us from your blazing ultraviolet radiation. Over the eons, Mother has skillfully harvested and stored your sunlight to sustain her children and enhance her beauty. Birds can enjoy soaring through the sky and deer can enjoy darting through the woods because of your creative harmony with Mother Earth. Each species can delight in its element thanks to your nourishing light and the miraculous canopy of the atmosphere embracing, protecting, and nurturing us all.
There is a heart inside of each and every one of us. If our heart were to stop beating, then we would die instantly. But when we look up toward the sky, we know that you, Father Sun, are also our heart. You aren’t just outside of this tiny body of ours, you are within every cell of our body, and the body of Mother Earth.
Dear Father, you are an integral part of the whole cosmos and our solar system. If you were to disappear, then our life, as well as that of Mother Earth, would also end. I aspire to look deeply to see you, Father Sun, as my heart, and to see the interrelationship, the interbeing nature between Father Sun, Mother Earth, myself, and all beings. I aspire to practice to love Mother Earth, Father Sun, and for human beings to love one another with the radiant insight of nonduality and interbeing in order to help us transcend all kinds of discrimination, fear, jealousy, resentment, hatred, and despair.
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.
Can You Count on Us?
Dear Mother Earth,
The human species is but one of your many children. Unfortunately, many of us have been blinded by greed, pride, and delusion, and only a few of us have been able to recognize you as our Mother. Not realizing this, we have done you great harm, compromising both your health and your beauty. Our deluded minds push us to exploit you and create more and more discord, putting you and all your forms of life under stress and strain. Looking deeply, we also recognize that you have enough patience, endurance and energy to embrace and transform all the damage we have caused, even if it takes you hundreds of millions of years.
When greed and pride overtake our basic survival needs, the result is always violence and unnecessary devastation. We know that whenever one species develops too rapidly, exceeding its natural limit, there is great loss and damage, and the lives of other species are endangered. For equilibrium to be restored, causes and conditions naturally arise to bring about the destruction and annihilation of that species. Often these causes and conditions originate from within the destructive species itself. We have learned that when we perpetrate violence toward our own and other species, we are violent toward ourselves. When we know how to protect all beings, we are protecting ourselves.
We understand that all things are impermanent and without a separate self-nature. You and Father Sun, like everything else in the cosmos, are constantly changing, and you are only made of non-you elements. That is why we know that, in the ultimate dimension, you transcend birth and death, being and nonbeing. Nonetheless, we need to protect you and restore balance, so that you can continue for a long time in this beautiful and precious form, not just for our children and their children but for five hundred million years and beyond. We want to protect you so you can remain a glorious jewel within our solar system for eons to come.
We know that you want us to live in such a way that in each moment of our daily lives we can cherish life and generate the energies of mindfulness, peace, solidity, compassion, and love. We vow to fulfill your wish and respond to your love. We have the deep conviction that generating these wholesome energies, we will help reduce the suffering on Earth and contribute to alleviating the suffering caused by violence, war, hunger, and illness. In alleviating our suffering, we alleviate yours.
Dear Mother, there have been times when we suffered greatly as a result of natural disasters. We know that whenever we suffer, you suffer through us. The floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis aren’t punishments or manifestations of your anger, but are phenomena that must occur on occasion, so that balance can be restored. The same is true of a shooting star. For balance in nature to be achieved, at times some species have to endure loss. In those moments, we have turned to you, dear Mother, and asked whether or not we could count on you, on your stability and compassion. You didn’t answer us right away. Then, beholding us with great compassion, you replied, “Yes, of course, you can count on your Mother. I will always be there for you.” But then you said, “Dear children, you must ask yourselves, can your Mother Earth count on you?”
Dear Mother, today, we offer you our solemn reply, “Yes, Mother, you can count on us.”
From Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh (2013). Parallax Press, the publishing house of the Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism.