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Freedom in the Simple Joy of Nature

Hiking near the Gold Coast, Australia. Photo by Raymond Lam

When we encounter the beauty of nature, we cannot help but be shameful of the wounds our Earth has suffered at humanity’s hands. It is really true: we share this world with all beings, and we need to protect their physical dignity if we want to preserve our own. But there is always cause for hope. As the Avatamsaka Sutra or Flower Ornament Scripture teaches, the cosmos is reflected in every atom. The universe is within a single atom. Nature’s moving power and beauty is evident even in the most mundane of phenomena, and we are free to share in this simple joy if only we are mindful of it. Through this joy, solace and spiritual freedom can be found. But this freedom is not found in a vacuum. We are also aware of the urgency of our efforts to alleviate the harm done to Earth. We must be aware, because it is part of our responsibility as citizens of the planet.

Hiking near the Gold Coast, Australia. Photo by Raymond Lam

The dew-kissed grass on sporting ovals is particularly beautiful on a sun-dappled spring morning. I’ve noticed that watching grass and dew often helps bring me back to the present moment. The present moment offers mental unity with nature. Walking across grass with bare feet, or stroking the rough bark of a tree, all return sensations that cannot be ignored or brushed aside since they are so raw and physical. It is a call to mindfulness, and we need to listen to it. Only by being alert can we notice the morning star in the sky, which is the same astral body that heralded Prince Gautama’s enlightenment.

It is ideal to take time off to visit sites of nature—preferably secluded ones, where there are relatively few people. To listen deeply to the birds and the rushing crash of waterfalls is a gift of alertness from nature. Freedom in the present moment can be found in the experience of moisture and sunlight on skin and the crunch of bark underneath feet.

Hiking near the Gold Coast, Australia. Photo by Raymond Lam

These simple joys are mostly found in nature, but even in the bustle of the city, we can take time out to admire the gardens and trees that have been planted amidst a forest of steel and concrete. Perhaps the hint of green that stands amidst a sea of grey is the most important witness to the suffering of our ecology. If the universe is in a single atom, then all the more reason to protect and nourish nature’s offspring in the midst of towering skyscrapers.

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