Buddhism has a long history with the forest. Siddhartha Gautama fled the comforts of the Shakya Kingdom and immersed himself with the lands beyond to better understand the human condition. In the years that followed he reached enlightenment beneath a sacred fig tree, known as the Bodhi Tree in the Indian town of Bodh Gaya, and frequently gave Dharma talks in and around forested areas such as the famous deer park in Sarnath.
Even today, there are some traditions within the schools of Buddhism that remain committed to continuing the practice of living in and around forests. A prime example is the Thai Forest Tradition, also known as the Kammaṭṭhāna Forest Tradition.
These traditions reject the modern amenities that we frequently take for granted, believing that they are distractions that prevent practitioners from reaching Nirvana.
More than two millennia ago, Siddhartha outlined his Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. In Mahayana Buddhism we teach people to look at the things they are troubled by and to not fight or flee from them.
When you’re angry, acknowledge your anger, do not ignore it by pushing it down inside of you or make it grow by feeding into it. Instead, just look at it. Observe it. Give the ego the attention it demands without empowering it.
With this method you will find the cause of your anger. Not the superficial cause, but the true cause, and from that understanding you will learn how to tend to your anger and eventually transcend it the next time it arises, without getting stuck in it.
The Four Noble Truths teach us that the ego or the self is a false entity, a projection of ourselves that is not real, a hologram of desires. Anger is one of the many facets or aspects of this ego or false self. Others include pride, lust, shame, greed, among many others.
Saying the self is a false entity does not mean that we don’t exist or that we are not real, it just means that we are not separate from the whole. We are not islands in an empty ocean, not even separate islands within an archipelago. Mahayana scripture teaches us that just like islands we are all connected beneath the surface, you just have to be brave enough to dive down deep to see those connections.
What is true for human beings is true for all other living things. If you look hard enough, you will see that all life is connected, and that no one is a separate self. The trees, nature, we are all part of the whole.
Studying and practicing Mahayana Buddhism aided me in my search for self. It taught me that the self I was searching for didn’t exist, it was a false vestige of desire and fear, and many other things. The true self is the collective self, the whole. The connection is the self.
Sometimes in order to understand what we are facing, we must remove ourselves from our comfort zone or familiar environment to truly focus on our current condition. Just as the Buddhist monks have done for centuries by joining a sangha or community removed from the general populace.
This is not running away from or escaping from our problems, rather this change in environment can lead to a change in perspective. Allowing us to see our issues and ourselves differently and more clearly. Nature is perhaps the greatest sangha to become a part of.
Research on the therapeutic qualities of nature go back decades. The environment in which we immerse ourselves plays a huge role in how we feel, both physically and mentally. Just as a chemically toxic environment is dangerous for the body, an emotionally toxic environment is bad for the mind.
Once you understand that we and nature are a part of the same whole, it only makes sense that being in nature provides a deep connection to the self. The trees, the birds, the smells, the sounds, they are all one interconnected system and we humans are a part of that.
Being removed from this system depletes our energy and our stability, not to mention there are vast amounts of pollution in urban environments. Unfortunately today, the rural environments are also becoming increasingly polluted with pesticides and other contaminants.
The sanctuary of nature is at risk of becoming a hazard to our health. Without woodlands we lose touch with ourselves, we become unwell and have difficulty controlling our emotions. We get caught up in the world we have created, becoming lost to its many distractions and impurities.
Nature is a place that teaches us many lessons, from survival to death, from patience to tenacity. The very ecology of forests impacts our minds and bodies, from the microorganisms in the soil to the trees that provide oxygen. Humans evolved to live in the wild, yet we are often so very far removed from it.
Liberation from the ego means letting go of the self and reconnecting to the whole. This connection cannot be felt more deeply than in nature. We must return to the sacred. To learn more about the effects of nature on the human body and mind, check out the included links below.
Links of Interest:
US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health Publications: