Touching the Earth

In the same way that the Buddha turned to Mother Earth to witness his enlightenment, we can turn to our deep connection with the earth when the demons of our minds haunt us.

By John McIlwain

We all need to be the kind stewards that this planet needs right now while making room for all the grief, fear, and anger that might rage through us. Cool the fire around you by mustering all the Love you can access. Guided by Love work toward playing your part in the healing that is needed. —Abdi Assadi

We are bombarded these days with upsetting news, whether about climate change and the environment or other aspects of the world. Frequently, “grief, fear and anger … rage through [me],” especially as we now live in a world seemingly thrown into chaos.

As I seek to find my footing in this new world, I have been inspired by a simple image of the Buddha as he neared enlightenment. The story is simple.

It is said that just before reaching enlightenment, while sitting under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha was challenged by the evil Mara. Mara claimed his spiritual accomplishments were greater than the Buddha’s, and that he, not the Buddha, was the one to sit under the Bodhi tree. Mara’s fierce monsters roared to scare the Buddha off, but he was unafraid. Holding up a single flower, he silenced the monsters. Then, once again they roared, this time saying that it was Mara’s right to sit under the Bodhi tree, and Mara asked, “Who will be your witness?” In reply, so the story goes, the Buddha gently lowered his right hand and touched the earth. In that moment, the earth shook and a loud voice was heard, saying, “I am his witness.” Mara, defeated, slunk away. Later, as the night ended and the morning star rose, the Buddha awakened.

The image of the Buddha reaching down and touching the earth has great power for me. I am especially moved that the Buddha turned to Mother Earth for witness, and not to gods in the heavens above.

That the Buddha touched the earth suggests that we, too, can do the same, and turn to our deep connection with the earth when the demons of our minds haunt us with fears of what may come. Ungrounded, we become lost, angry, and ineffective. When grounded, however, and connected to nature and the earth, we are connected to the sources of life within and around us, and to our deepest wisdom.

Sadly, we live in a materialistic and hungry culture, and so often lose our connection with the earth. Simply noticing this disconnection, however, allows us to reach down once again and touch the earth in whatever ways work for us. We are, after all, an inextricable part of all the life around. Personally, I find that the actual physical act of touching the earthor a tree, or an animalcan connect me, and bring me inner peace in the midst of the tumult. It centers and focuses me, and I find I am better able to do what I can to serve life while caring for myself as well.

So remember that when facing his greatest challenge, the Buddha called on Mother Earth as his witness; as she stood by him, so she will for each of us when we ask.

John McIlwain is the director of the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Mind and Behavior program.

Image courtesy of Prayudi Hartono on Flickr 

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