How Nature Is Viewed Across Buddhism, Taoism, Native Americans, & Christianity

Nature and Buddhism and Taoism and Christianity

I strongly believe that nature is one of the most fundamental guides we have in this life. In fact, when I use the word nature, I’m almost always including myself in that word. The idea that humans or our “self” is somehow outside of nature is a false sense of importance. I was curious to investigate how nature has been discussed within these important belief systems.

I certainly have my preconceived ideas about what each philosophy will espouse, but I think putting them side by side will be useful.

What I hope to learn from this is to continue to discover ideas and beliefs that align with my own life philosophy. So, let’s see what Buddhism, Taoism, Native Americans, and Christianity have to say about nature.

Buddhism and Nature

In Buddhism, nature is viewed through the lens of interconnectedness and interdependence. This foundational concept is rooted in the teachings of the Buddha, which emphasize the intimate connection between all living beings and the natural world. One of the parts of the 8-Fold Path is “Right Action” which instructs to refrain from taking life of any kind. Here’s a closer look at how Buddhism perceives the relationship between spirituality and nature:

Interconnectedness and Dependent Origination:

Buddhism teaches that all life is interconnected. This interconnectedness is succinctly encapsulated in the concept of “dependent origination” (paticca-samuppada). It asserts that all phenomena arise in dependence on other phenomena. Nothing exists in isolation. This principle extends to the natural world, emphasizing the profound connection between human beings and the environment. In Buddhist philosophy, there is no separation between the observer and the observed; rather, they are part of a unified whole.

Interdependence with All Life:

Buddhism also underscores the interdependence between human beings and all other forms of life. The tradition’s ethical principles, particularly the first precept of not causing harm (ahimsa), extend to one’s relationship with all sentient beings and the environment. This ethic promotes compassion and respect for the welfare of all living creatures, recognizing their intrinsic value.

Mindful Engagement with Nature:

Buddhist practice, especially mindfulness meditation, encourages a deep and mindful engagement with the natural world. By cultivating awareness of the present moment, practitioners can experience the interconnectedness of life on a profound level. Nature, in its ever-changing and impermanent state, serves as a rich ground for meditative insight and contemplation.

Environmental Stewardship:

Buddhism’s teachings on compassion, non-harming, and the recognition of interconnectedness have led to an ethos of environmental oneness. Contemporary Buddhist communities and organizations around the world are actively engaged in ecological conservation and sustainability efforts. For example, the “Green Buddhism” movement promotes eco-friendly practices within Buddhist monasteries and temples, fostering a greater sense of responsibility towards the environment.

The temple I go to has only built the minimally necessary buildings and has committed to preserving all the other land in its natural state.

No Permanent Self:

Buddhism teaches the doctrine of anatta, often translated as “no-self” or “no-soul.” This doctrine asserts that there is no permanent, unchanging self or soul that is distinct from the rest of the universe. Rather, our individual identity is a product of various interrelated factors, including our body, mind, and environment. Furthermore, this identity is in constant flux. This reinforces the idea that humans are part of the natural world, not separate from it.

As Buddhists explore the interconnectedness of all life and the concept of interdependence, their spiritual relationship with nature deepens, leading to greater reverence and a commitment to preserving the delicate balance of the natural world. This perspective provides a rich foundation for understanding humanity’s role in caring for the Earth and its many inhabitants, in line with the broader theme of harmony and balance within the Buddhist tradition.

Taoist view of the natural world as an expression of the Tao, emphasizing harmony and balance

Taoism, deeply rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy and spirituality, holds a distinctive perspective on the natural world. Central to Taoist thought is the concept of the Tao (or Dao), often translated as the “Way” or the “Path.” According to Taoist teachings, the natural world is seen as a profound expression of the Tao, embodying principles of harmony, balance, and unity. Here, we delve into the Taoist view of the natural world and its spiritual significance:

The Tao as the Underlying Principle:

In Taoism, the Tao is considered the ultimate and unnameable source of all existence. It is the unifying principle that underlies and guides the natural world. The Tao is formless, beyond definition, and transcends dualistic thinking. It is the source from which all things originate and to which all things return – it’s basically what the Force from Star Wars was based on.

Harmony and Balance in Nature:

Taoism places great importance on the idea that nature operates in harmony and balance, guided by the natural flow of the Tao. Natural processes, such as the changing seasons, the flow of rivers, and the growth of plants, are seen as exemplifying the effortless and spontaneous movement of the Tao. This balance and harmony are manifested in the natural world’s cyclical patterns and the interconnectedness of all things.

Wu Wei: Effortless Action:

The concept of “Wu Wei” is fundamental in Taoist philosophy. It can be translated as “non-action,” “effortless action,” or “actionless action.” Wu Wei encourages individuals to align with the natural flow of the Tao rather than imposing their will. It’s about acting in a way that is in harmony with the natural world, much like the way nature operates effortlessly. This principle of non-interference with the natural order emphasizes humility and yielding to the wisdom of the Tao.

“Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.” – Lao Tzu

The Reflection of Human Life:

Taoist philosophy teaches that observing the natural world can offer valuable insights into human life. By mirroring the simplicity, spontaneity, and balance found in nature, individuals can achieve greater harmony and fulfillment. The Taoist ideal is to live in accordance with the Tao, embracing the flow of life and accepting both its challenges and joys.

Nature as a Spiritual Teacher:

Nature is regarded as a profound spiritual teacher in Taoism. The natural world serves as a place for meditation, reflection, and a source of inspiration. Taoist sages often seek solitude in the mountains or forests to align with the Tao and gain wisdom from the rhythms and cycles of nature.

Environmental Stewardship:

Taoism, with its reverence for the natural world, naturally promotes kindness to the environment. It encourages respect for the Earth and responsible interaction with the environment. The balance and harmony seen in the natural world serve as a model for human conduct, inspiring the preservation of ecological balance and the protection of the Earth.

In summary, Taoism views the natural world as a profound expression of the Tao, embodying principles of harmony, balance, and unity. The Taoist perspective emphasizes living in alignment with the natural flow of the Tao, practicing Wu Wei, and recognizing the spiritual wisdom that nature imparts. This outlook encourages both personal well-being and a responsible approach to environmental conservation, reflecting the deep interconnectedness of humans and the natural world in Taoist thought.

Native Americans creation stories and the deep connection between indigenous peoples and the land

Native American spirituality and worldview are deeply intertwined with the natural world. Indigenous cultures across North America have a profound connection to the land, and their creation stories and beliefs reflect this relationship. In this section, we explore the significance of creation stories and the deep connection between Native American peoples and the land:

Creation Stories and Connection to the Land:

  1. Diverse Creation Stories: Native American cultures are incredibly diverse, with each tribe having its own unique creation stories and cosmologies. These stories often feature a deep reverence for the land, animals, and the forces of nature. For example, the Navajo creation story centers around emergence from the earth, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the people with the land.
  2. Land as a Source of Life: In many Native American creation stories, the land is not just a backdrop but a living entity with a spirit. It is often portrayed as the source of life, providing sustenance, shelter, and spiritual nourishment. The relationship between indigenous peoples and the land is one of reciprocity, respect, and responsibility.
  3. Animals and Nature Spirits: Creation stories frequently highlight the role of animals and nature spirits as guides and protectors. The stories emphasize the interdependence between humans and the natural world. For instance, the Lakota people have the story of White Buffalo Calf Woman, who bestowed sacred teachings on the relationship between humans and the Earth.

Deep Connection with the Land:

  1. Ceremonies and Rituals: Indigenous peoples hold ceremonies and rituals that connect them with the land and natural elements. These rituals often involve songs, dances, and offerings to honor and show gratitude to the land, water, sky, and animals. The Sun Dance, the Green Corn Ceremony, and the Potlatch are examples of such rituals.
  2. Sacred Sites: Native Americans have sacred sites and landscapes that hold spiritual significance. These places are considered portals to the spirit world and are often protected and preserved. Native Americans hold pilgrimages, vision quests, and other ceremonies in these sacred areas to deepen their connection with the land.
  3. Stewardship and Sustainability: The deep connection to the land translates into an inherent sense of stewardship and sustainable practices. Indigenous communities have traditionally lived in harmony with their environments, practicing responsible land management and conservation.
  4. Contemporary Environmental Activism: Many Native American communities today are at the forefront of environmental activism and conservation efforts. They often lead movements against land exploitation, advocating for the protection of sacred sites, and addressing environmental issues affecting their communities.
  5. Cultural Revival: Native Americans are working to revitalize their cultural practices, languages, and spiritual traditions. This revival includes a renewed emphasis on the spiritual connection with the land and the transmission of this wisdom to younger generations.

The Navajo Emergence Story: A Journey from Darkness to Light

In the heart of Navajo tradition lies the profound narrative of emergence, a story that illuminates the origins of the Navajo people and their unbreakable bond with the natural world.

In a time long past, the Navajo people resided in what they refer to as the “First World” or the “Black World.” It was a world cloaked in darkness, a place where existence was demanding and harsh, devoid of the essential elements needed for human life to thrive. The First World was marked by a lack of light, water, air, and the nurturing embrace of the Earth.

But from this challenging beginning, the Navajo people embarked on an extraordinary journey, one guided by the spiritual beings known as the Holy People. With the Holy People as their protectors and guides, they undertook a series of transitions, moving through various worlds, each distinct in its character and elements.

As they journeyed from one world to the next, the Navajo people ultimately arrived in what is now recognized as the “Fourth World.” This world was the world of light and life, the world in which we reside today. Here, they encountered the natural elements that were missing in the First World, including Earth, water, air, and the radiant light of the sun.

In this Fourth World, the Navajo people realized their deep and inseparable connection with the land. The Earth was not merely a realm to inhabit; it was the provider of sustenance, shelter, and spiritual nourishment. They came to understand that their journey from the darkness of the First World to the light of the Fourth World was a testament to their resilience and their role as stewards of the land.

The emergence story emphasizes harmony with nature and the essential balance between humans and the environment. It underscores the reverence the Navajo people hold for the Earth, the Mother, and their role as caretakers of the natural world. The story serves as a reminder of the interdependence between all life forms and the sacred duty to honor and protect the Earth in return for the abundant gifts it bestows.

Native American creation stories and the profound connection to the land reflect an enduring relationship rooted in reverence, respect, and reciprocity. This spiritual perspective shapes their cultural practices, environmental stewardship, and contemporary activism. The land, for Native Americans, is not merely a resource but a sacred and essential part of their identity and spirituality.

Judeo-Christian Narrative of Creation and Stewardship of the Earth

Christianity, deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, presents a distinct narrative of creation and humanity’s role as stewards of the Earth. This narrative is chiefly found in the Bible, specifically in the book of Genesis. In this section, we delve into the Judeo-Christian perspective on creation and the responsibility of humans to care for the Earth:

The Judeo-Christian Narrative of Creation:

  1. Creation in Genesis: The Bible, in the book of Genesis, describes the creation of the world in a narrative often referred to as the Genesis creation story. It depicts God as the Creator of the universe, who brings the Earth and all living beings into existence in six days. On the seventh day, God rests, consecrating the Sabbath.
  2. Humanity as Stewards: A fundamental element of this narrative is the creation of humanity, as Adam and Eve, in the image of God. Humans are given dominion over the Earth, which entails both responsibility and authority. This stewardship implies that humans are tasked with caring for and managing the Earth and its resources. This is in stark contrast to the previously explored beliefs that viewed humans as inextricably one with the Earth rather than rulers of the Earth.

Stewardship of the Earth:

  1. Caring for God’s Creation: The idea of stewardship in Christianity emphasizes that humans are not owners but caretakers of the Earth. This perspective calls upon believers to acknowledge that the Earth belongs to God and that they are entrusted with its care. It promotes a sense of responsibility and accountability.
  2. Environmental Ethics: Christian environmental ethics draw from this narrative, emphasizing principles of responsible management and conservation. This includes the concept of “creation care,” which advocates for safeguarding the environment, addressing ecological challenges, and reducing harm to the Earth.
  3. Sabbath Rest: The Sabbath, as established in the Genesis narrative, underscores the importance of rest and renewal. This principle has influenced Christian thinking about sustainable living and the need for periods of reflection and restoration in harmony with natural rhythms.
  4. Contemporary Environmental Concerns: In contemporary Christianity, there is growing awareness of environmental issues, such as climate change, deforestation, and pollution. Many Christian communities and organizations engage in environmental activism, advocating for responsible environmental policies and conservation efforts.
  5. Eco-Theology: Eco-theology is a branch of Christian theology that explores the relationship between religion and the environment. It reflects on how faith can inform and inspire ecological awareness and environmental advocacy.
  6. Stewardship Sermons and Initiatives: Many churches incorporate stewardship of the Earth into their teachings and activities. Sermons, programs, and initiatives are designed to raise awareness about environmental issues and encourage responsible action.

The Judeo-Christian narrative of creation and stewardship of the Earth underlines the idea that humans are entrusted with the care and responsible management of the Earth, based on their relationship with God. This perspective has influenced Christian environmental ethics, advocacy, and eco-theological reflections, highlighting the ethical duty to protect and preserve the environment in accordance with biblical teachings.

Quick Review of The Various Views of Nature

  1. Christianity’s Divine Creation: Christianity views nature as a divine creation by God. The natural world is seen as the result of God’s creative act, and humanity is tasked with stewardship over this creation. This theological framework sets Christianity apart, as it places a strong emphasis on the idea that humans have dominion over the Earth and should care for it as a responsibility ordained by God.
  2. Taoism’s Harmony and Balance: Taoism emphasizes harmony and balance with the Tao, or the Way, which is the fundamental principle guiding all of existence. Nature is viewed as an expression of this divine and harmonious force. Taoism stands out for its focus on living in accordance with the natural flow and spontaneity of the Tao.
  3. Buddhism’s Interconnectedness: Buddhism highlights the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life, including nature. It teaches that all existence is intertwined, and there is no fundamental separation between humans and the environment. Buddhism’s distinctive feature is its emphasis on impermanence and the recognition that everything is in a state of constant change.
  4. Native American Spirituality’s Animism: Native American spirituality is characterized by its animistic view of nature, where the land, animals, and natural elements possess spirits. This deep spiritual connection and reverence for the land are central to indigenous identity. Native American spirituality’s unique feature is its recognition of the land as a living entity.

Words To Express Your Connection With Nature

Words To Express Your Connection With Nature

Sometimes I just need words and phrases to say when I want to convey what I believe – even if that’s to myself. Here are a few offering “prayers” that may help with that.

Prayer 1: “As I journey through life, may I walk with wisdom and grace, embracing the interconnectedness of all beings and the ever-changing flow of existence. Let me find inner peace, compassion, and contentment. May I be a humble steward of this sacred land, honoring the spirits of the Earth, and may my actions bring harmony to the world.”

Prayer 2: “I seek to harmonize with the wisdom of impermanence, the balance of nature, and the spontaneous flow of the Way. May I cultivate inner peace, compassion, and a heart full of gratitude. Let me be a caretaker of the Earth, respecting the spirits of the land, and may my journey be one of harmony and serenity.”

Prayer 3: “I embrace the wisdom of interconnectedness and the balance of nature. May I find inner peace, compassion, and joy. Let me walk as a steward of the Earth, paying homage to the spirits of the land, and may my actions be a source of harmony and reverence in this beautiful world.”

Pilgrim Solarrson