THICH NHAT HAHN: ZEN AND ECOLOGY
Thich Nhat Hahn (or “Thay,” as his students called him) was a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who helped bring meditation and mindfulness practices like walking meditation to the Western world. According to him, “to practice meditation is ‘to look deeply into the heart of reality, to see things that others can’t see. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise what is the use in seeing.” Thay taught that the one thing we have the ability to change is our mind or perception. Through our minds, we relate to and understand the world around us. Developing insight through practices like meditation helps bring about a clearer picture of our realities—one that is not clouded by our fears and personal stories.
Interconnection and “interbeing” are two main ideas that Thay taught, which express the profound integration between all things and beings in the world. These principles are important for understanding the importance of living in more sustainable ways. Because we are all connected, caring for our natural environment is also caring for ourselves and our loved ones.
The next time you sit down to a meal, perhaps imagine all the people involved in making this food possible: the farmers, the packagers, the vendors, your family, employers, etc. Then, think of the non-human lives and elements that it took to bring you this meal: the plants, animals, soil, rainfall, etc. Don’t forget the many generations of people who came before you to discover the ways of farming, processing, and cooking that were used to prepare this meal. Inside your own body, there are processes to break down and use this food that took thousands of years of evolution to make it possible for your body to absorb the nourishment of this meal. Looking at a task as simple as eating a meal in this way illuminates the truth that you are far from being a separate individual.
Seeing the world and our experiences in this light is what Thich Nhat Hahn meant when he taught of interconnection. Our existence is woven into the fabric of life on this planet just as every other animal, plant, weather pattern, and mineral is. We in the modern Western world tend to focus on our relationship with other humans but forget that our species is one piece in a very delicately balanced whole that has come into being through billions of years.
- Hahn, Thich Nhat.
Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, Harper Collins, 2021.