There is but one sky, and it embraces us all,
There is but one earth, and it shelters us all,
There is but one wind, and it nourishes us all,
There is but one Life, that is lived by us all.
* * * * *
Humanity's relationship to the earth is meant to be one of harmony and respect for the sacred. This sacred earth, this holy vessel of God's life, is Divine light merging with Divine form. Have we known this always? Have we forgotten it? Has it slipped to the background of our awareness because we have been too busy to see?
The answer is complex, for we in the West, imbued with the Judaeo-Christian tradition, have had to go through a long evolution in order to understand the principle of one Life - something that Native peoples have known since the beginning of time. This is not because a mistaken path was taken. Rather, it is because the evolution of Western consciousness has progressed along a different spiritual current than that of Native peoples - one which needed to pass through the awareness of 'mastery'
in order to return to the will-to-share and to the perception of unity. This Western path, moving through complexity and through the union of opposites, is meant to join in a circle the 'drive toward mastery' with the perception of unity, bringing us back (and forward) to the sensibility which Native peoples have devoutly anchored for millennia. This singular
quest, so essentially human, has been the source of our expansion as well as the source of our separation from truth. For as we have achieved greater mastery, we have also lost the unity which is essential to our nature and to the nature of our relationship with the earth. Whether this had to be to the extent that now is, is a question of mystery and of reflection. For we have departed sufficiently from our original nature so that both we suffer and the earth suffers as well.
Today, there is an ever-growing hunger for the reunion that awaits us, and so it will be, despite the fact that many in high office continue to make decisions that are contrary to the purposes of this joining. What is at stake here is not whether
this will happen, for it is bound to happen as spiritual life progresses. What is at stake is how much harm to the earth and to people will take place in the meantime.
In the Book of Genesis, we see the current toward 'mastery' in its incipient form, resonating in the word 'dominion', where man is given 'dominion' over the earth and its creatures (Genesis 1:26):
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
But what does 'dominion' mean? For centuries, and increasingly in the presence of advancing technology, 'dominion' has meant subjugation
of nature to the growing appetites of society for greater comfort, greater convenience, greater speed of implementation of our own 'will'. But subjugation or 'power over' is only one possible interpretation of 'dominion'. It is the interpretation that derives from and that parallels
the original, Hebraic perception of God as the supreme Power of the universe - God-as-omnipotent. This is what is revealed to us in Genesis, as if God were saying to us in that time:
"Just as I, God, have power over human life and reign supreme, so shall you, man, have power over the kingdom of nature and reign supreme."
The word 'dominion', used here, reflects and mirrors the original interpretation of God's relationship with man, establishing a symmetrical meaning in man's relationship with nature. This orientation has prevailed in the West for a long, long time, despite spiritual developments to the contrary. For even as time has passed and our understanding of God's being has expanded, the consciousness of man, though constantly evolving, has also remained fixed in its attraction to power and to mastery in relation to the earth. And so the evolution of consciousness has often not made itself visible in the actual practice
of the way we treat nature. This is particularly true within the last century, as Western society as a whole has become more secular and more mechanized. Nevertheless, in terms of spiritual progress, the Judaeo-Christian current has already
moved us forward, from the perception of God-as-Power to the perception of God-as-Love. This change occurred with the advent of Christianity two thousand years ago. What opened up then did not leave the former perception of God behind, but rather incorporated it within a larger whole. In a parallel vein, our interpretation of the biblical word, 'dominion', and our relationship with nature, was meant to evolve as well.
If we recognize God-as-Love, and if we are in a parallel relationship with the realms of nature, the concept of 'dominion' must symmetrically change and soften as well, no longer reflecting the attribute of dominance, but rather of 'wise stewardship'. Such a redefinition ceases to emphasize God as omnipotent but as wise and loving Father, knowing what is best for his children. 'Wise-stewardship' reflects our changing understanding, through love,
of God's relationship with man, mirrored in our own relationship with the creatures of the earth. In this second stage, the practice of wisdom and of loving-kindness toward nature becomes part of what God-as-Love gives to his children - a stewardship based in love. Of course, this is not what has been practiced over the centuries. Quite the opposite has been true as society has moved further away from
the sacred. Yet it has been there in principle, evolving out of a growing consciousness of God as a loving God. This consciousness of love still waits to be integrated with man's physical life upon the earth.
Today, we have taken yet another step in the direction of spiritual evolution, and are at a new place, going through another translation of the being of God. Beyond God-as-Love, there is, today, the growing awareness of God as the 'ground of all Being' - That which unifies every living thing. Thich Nhat Hanh has described this as ''Interbeing'
- the awareness that "everything is in everything else." Because of this, there is the growing possibility for no longer seeing ourselves as separate from each other or from the life of the earth. This emerging awareness does not exclude love at its foundation, but rather adds to it the understanding that we are all part of one self - the self of God. Awareness of the unified self of God which includes all creatures, takes us beyond the practice of loving-kindness as an aspect of 'wise stewardship', to the practice of loving-kindness because the 'other' is part of ourself and of the one Life of which we are a part.
Clearly and sadly, it is visible that so-called 'developed nations' have yet to realize much of either of the latter two stages of this flow of spiritual evolution. For many, the drive toward mastery has become sufficiently overpowering in its attraction that neither the consciousness of God-as-Love, nor the consciousness of God as the 'ground of Being' has replaced the consciousness of God-as-Power in relation to nature and in relation to the original use of the word, 'dominion'. Nevertheless, the ultimate joining of 'mastery' with 'unity' lies ahead for all of us, even for those who presently remain unaware of this as a goal.
The degree to which our relationship with the earth has become unbalanced due to greed, combined with unconsciousness and indifference to the suffering of others (See: Bhopal - Human Rights in Toxic Shock
), has brought sorrow to many. It has also been the cause of frequent warnings by Hopi Elders
, by Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Matthai
, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, as well as by others. This lack of balance is a clear signpost of the time we are in - a time of danger for the earth and for the people on it. Though there are an increasing number of people who have become advocates for the earth, the forces which seek 'dominion over' are still powerful. They have sought to regulate economic priorities of government and society so that often, only very limited growth can be made toward regaining balance, sometimes none at all, and sometimes only a step backward
may be seen.
The importance of 'balance' in relation to the earth cannot be overstated. And the importance of asking the question, for each of us, of what kind of sacrifices we might be willing to make to renew and regain balance, cannot be overstated either. Would we drive slower to maximize fuel efficiency, share transportation more often, use less energy in our homes, conserve water, remove ourselves from the top of the food chain, care more about what we put into the earth, reduce our need for air conditioning, and in general, attend less to how things and people 'look' rather than to who they 'are'? Would we, in a word, be willing to become less self-centered and more centered in the heart that we share with all of life?
This is the basis for a new attitude toward one another. It involves a new priority to be given to participating in the one Life of which we are a part -
- with other human souls, wherever they may be, and whoever they are, for those who have less are also our brothers.
- with the creatures of the earth who are our 'little brothers', so that they benefit from our respect and care.
- with the earth itself, so that we do not take it for granted, nor ask from it more than it is wise for it to give.
When the perception of oneness has achieved greater focus within our collective consciousness, then the desire to share and the ability to share will become something that happens of its own accord, emerging out of a growing sense of unity. In the meantime, we must each endeavor to dismantle those attitudes within us that separate us from others and from our oneness with the earth. We must become better friends to all of life.
* * * * *
"Nobel Winner Maathai Sounds Alarm Over Planet." (Dec. 10, 2004)
'Climate Witnesses' Testify About Effects Of Global Warming." (Dec. 11, 2004)
"U.S. Firmly Anti-Kyoto as U.N. Climate Talks Start." (Dec. 7, 2004)
"Bush Sets Out Plan to Dismantle 30 Years of Environmental Laws." (Dec. 5, 2004)