The Proportions of Life

By Tiffani Gyatso
Buddhistdoor Global | 2021-01-19 |

Mandala. Image courtesy of the author

As above, so below, as within, so without, 
as the universe, so the soul . . . 
— Hermes Trismegistus

Each atom that forms our body has its nucleus with all the electrons spinning around it. Our solar system has the Sun at its center with all the planets in orbit, much like the atomic system. Our body is composed of around 60 per cent water; our planet Earth contains roughly the same percentage, so our body works in many ways just like this planet. Our cities have clean rivers coming in and dirty water flowing out from the sewers. We intake clean food and excrete impure substances, and our heart works to pump clean and unclean blood through our veins, just like the waters of the cities in which we live.

This makes me think about just how much of what we see is a reflection of who we are, and how much of what we are is just a reflection of something bigger. Understanding nature is understanding ourselves and vice versa.

These are some of the infinite comparisons of the phenomena arising from the matrix of creation, from the subatomic to the cosmic. We are not different from this planet, this planet is not different from the galaxy, and the cells in our bodies are not different from the stars. And perhaps . . . maybe (we might never be able to prove it) each galaxy could be a curly hair growing out of the Buddha’s head, as the Tibetan Buddhist canon describes in sacred imagery.

Calm Storm. Image courtesy of the author

So I ask myself, at which point did we become convinced that we are separate from the planet, from the universe—I from you and you from I? As ignorant as someone looking at his own hand and thinking it is something separate from himself.

As we entered into social quarantine last year, I was fortunate to be able to move to my house in the countryside, quite far from civilization. Not going out often, I was able not only to contemplate, but to slowly slip in tune with a more patient rhythm of life. I was in a lot of pain from a recent divorce, and I felt separated from the life I had come to know so well with someone I loved so much, and which was suddenly gone . . . 

Finding myself in a complete empty state, I immersed myself in the contemplative, lonely, and quiet nights; the different times of day when birds, frogs, and monkeys made their own timings. The cows crossed the pasture only when the sun came down, the moon cycled from bright to dark, the greens changed depending on whether or not it had rained. What an orchestra! What a proof of proportional living! I realized that I was simply going through a harsh winter of the soul and that I had to be patient, as the flowers, as beautiful as they could have been, are taken and become compost for other life forms.

Calm Storm. Image courtesy of the author

Who am I to wish to maintain such love, if the world goes round and the winds are strong and earthquakes take the good ones as well? I am part of the flow. I am not separate from nature. I am like a tree, like a bee, like honey melting, like the Sun setting, like the Moon waning and waxing. I am the old bones of a dog, I am water and soil and thunder and boring Sundays. The moment I deny the laws of nature by resisting, that is when I suffer most. For many months, as slow as the passage of Jupiter . . . I surrendered to what I could not change. Like a rose is a rose, the Sun is hot, flowers are beautiful but ephemeral, love can be all and then nothing, like the day that turns into night. What an experience of acceptance; and only then, pain and loneliness had this quality to mature forgotten seeds of my intimate garden, to evoke its buds to rupture the surface of the earth with a wild and determined passion to survive and live. One must have an enormous love for life above all, to be able to live a life of true love. Love dies when you are stuck in denial of its cyclic nature and is reborn afresh only after one accepts its death.

Calm Storm. Image courtesy of the author

One of the rare days I came out of my “sacred mountain” was to visit a friend, an amazing artist in the big city of São Paulo. She had recently begun supporting the Brazilian indigenous community, which still holds to its own language and culture with a lot of effort, and it happened that one of the elders came by and we were able to talk. The pain he carried, with immense humility, about how humans are treating nature is inconceivable in his inner world. How can one trash their own home when home is not only a house, but the forests and the rivers too?

How can we take more than we need? What kind of fear leads our lives to such a point that we think it will never be enough? So many times have we thought “why not take more, if I have the opportunity?” Why are we so distrustful of life? The way we treat nature is the way we treat ourselves and others; our mothers and our own sacred feminine, the archetype that gives birth to all. We abuse, we take without asking, we don’t give it back, we don’t look back, we ignore the pain of the hidden ones in order to sleep in artificial beauty and personal comfort. Our need to take advantage has grown out of all natural proportion and has become our reference for surviving—we are lost. We have lost the notion of inseparableness and we think we need to help nature, instead of realizing that we need to help ourselves: what we are doing collectively is a reflection of how we treat ourselves, our mental, psychological, and inner spiritual ecosystem. 

We are polluted, intoxicated, confused by the spell of consumption. An artificial system that turns our basic needs into monstrous desires that feed on objects, power, sex, lovers, money, fame, and even the consumption of intellectual knowledge, becoming obese on information in our minds and insensitive in our hearts . . . and so is the environment we create in our own image. Obese minds and empty hearts are easier to manipulate and are great supporters of a capitalistic world in which we are always looking for entertainment to divert, rather than looking into our real disconnect from nature—our own nature and that beyond us. Because someone disconnected from their own core will always seek contentment outside of themselves, hungry like a ghost, becoming the perfect consumer of nature that has become lost from its own nature. Unless we change our consciousness, we will not change how we treat the forests, the air, the oceans, the animals, and other human beings.

The first stage of change is to take more responsibility over what we intake, how we allow ourselves to be influenced by samsara, which is always squeezing our weak joints and corroding our doubtful truths. Having the courage to inquire abut the world we helped to create, to nourish our connection with nature, to be loyal to our convictions, and to practice discipline and become our own masters by dissolving egoistic desires—like we do with our dreams when we wake up—and to dance toward true undistorted freedom with unshakable respect and deeper integrity.

I am thinking about interdependence, inseparableness, co-emerging existence. I am thinking of a mandala in which each point is connected to its center in a direct or indirect way. Think of a leaf; the conditions for its manifestation are not limited to the edges of its shape, but extend to extensive interaction with the rays of the Sun, with each drop of water fallen from the sky that is absorbed by the roots running like veins through the darkness of the earth, threading with such energy, pulling against gravity to allow green tips to unfold into leaves, so that the Sun and the rain will continue to be an intricate part of its existence. The leaf unfolds and shines in green splendor, until another force rushes to manifest and the leaf falls dry onto the soil, becomes earth, and the earth it fertilizes supports the same tree from which it emerged.

The one contains the many and the many contains the one.
Without the one, there cannot be the many.
Without the many, there cannot be the one.

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Image courtesy of the author

Once we understand that we are nature, we will take better care of our mental health, we will choose more sacred and conscious behavior in every act and word. There is no way that, without the bud of compassion unfolding out of our branches, we will create a balanced and harmonious ecosystem—inner, outer, and secret. Be a generous tree to yourself, support other trees, offer protection if you are an older and bigger tree, let your roots guide others into deep waters, as stronger roots support taller branches. Healthy trees feed all animals, which help to spread all its seeds.

If we are cutting down healthy trees, it means we are cutting down healthy people, forcing them to grow too fast against the natural rhythm and feeding those who think they need more—those who are hungry for personal power, who want to be the only powerful tree. But with no awareness of interdependent existence, how can a single tree live long without the humid ground and fresh air, which only a forest made of a thousand different trees can offer? Such limited awareness leads only to a few huge trees in an abandoned desert. Let us instead accept our own nature, our winters and springs, our lives and deaths. Let us not create unsustainable lives of artificial comfort. Life is all. Accept it and flow like a river. Let fire burn what its already dry and let the ashes feed the soil, trust more, let the soil grow its seeds in its own time, and with a vision of unity we will finally dissolve the biggest fear of humanity that we have resisted so violently: the illusion of death. Death is merely a dot in the circle of existence to a next fresh dot: rebirth.

Happy 2021!

Tiffani Gyatso
January 2021

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Tiffani Gyatso

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