Nature as Temple

This morning, I went to the beach as usual for meditation at dawn … and for the first time (at my local beach, anyway), I found the shore strewn with garbage. Plenty of it floating out in the water, too — a “gift” from our neighbor to the north, no doubt, by way of the Pearl River that feeds Hong Kong’s waters, carried here by recent storms.

I felt heartsick. Even more, I felt personally — in particular, spiritually — violated.

Twice this week I have been interviewed on film for an educational program, the topic of which is faith-based environmental initiatives. Other interviewees included an Anglican priest and a Muslim imam. I was asked, “What does your faith’s holy book say about the environment and the responsibility of your faith’s adherents?” I motioned around me (I was being interviewed out-of-doors by request) and replied, “Nature is my ‘holy book’ — as my faith is a nature-based, animistic approach through a humanistic lens [by which I mean, not literally but metaphorically anthropomorphic, in order to elicit empathy]. Therefore, to violate the natural world, or even to adopt a neutral, apathetic stance, would be to violate my faith.”

I was further asked if I had any thoughts as to why faith traditions generally don’t make a connection between their faith and principles of sustainability. I expressed my views that, as several major faiths have specifically set humans apart from nature, either positioning people benignly as “gardeners” or less so as “masters” of the natural world, the false distinction further separates environmental responsibility from spiritual belief. However, for those traditions which do not make this distinction, the connection is more readily acknowledged, though not always acted upon.

Finally, the interviewer asked if I thought faith traditions had a responsibility to the environment, and if so, could they conceivably come together toward this initiative. My response: it is imperative that faith traditions more overtly support sustainable lifestyles, connecting it with faith itself, in order to involve the greatest number of people around the world in this premise of living in ways least harmful to the environment. It is also one of the only areas in which, hypothetically, the myriad of faiths around the world have no specific conflict — that is, as it is not a direct part of most belief systems, it therefore doesn’t challenge them. This is “common ground” — pun intended — upon which all faiths can stand united.

Toward this goal I will continue to devote my life. For me: faith and nature are one.

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