The Earth Spirit of This Place:
Mornings here include 50 minutes of sitting meditation plus about 10 minutes of chanting in a standard Soto Zen service. Part of that service is a dedication of merit, based on a standard dedication with some particular tweaks. I’m copying part of that dedication here, for reasons which will hopefully become clear as we go along.
- “…to all dharma-protecting devas;
- to the dharma-protecting saints;
- to the protectors of the whole earth;*
- to the earth spirit of this place,
- and to the monastery-protecting spirits….
- [for peace, harmony, donors, tranquility and sustenance for the monastic community],
- [for deceased, sick, etc];
- for all who have entered the ways of separation and do great harm, may they return to wholeness;*
- to all teachers, leaders, and healers of every land and lineage; may they increase in wisdom, faith, and courage, trust in the support of all beings, and without hesitation offer the gifts of the dharma everywhere;*
- to all who protect, sustain, replenish, and renew every kind of life, may their work flourish;*
- to this temple and its members and benefactors;
- to mountains, hills, valleys, plains, meadows, deserts, glaciers, oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, the whole earth and all who live upon it;*
- to the myriad beings of the three worlds, and to all sentient beings,
- may they equally perfect awakening.” [*my words]
I’m pointing out here that it’s traditional to acknowledge the earth spirit of a place, and other spirits as well. I felt the need to name places on the earth, which might be forgotten even by those of us who recognize sentient beings including animals and plants, and to add some extra groups of humans in the dedication.
Mountains and Waters Alliance is based on this awareness of earth spirits, water spirits, tree spirits, and all of them. The Buddha acknowledged devas, tree spirits, and others, and we acknowledge them as well. The Alliance is humans vowing to support and sustain all these other beings, to join with them in protecting the earth, protecting everyone – and asks them to welcome us and work together. This is a time of crisis on the earth – the Sixth Great Extinction, time of climate change, time of violence for some, fear for some, difficulty for many. It is time for all of us to come together.
Yesterday I walked around the land with some friends who see nature spirits and feel what they call subtle energies. Today I walked again, alone, visiting some of the same, and felt aliveness and consciousness everywhere. (One might say I imputed consciousness, but one might also say others impute lack of it.) I am reminded of the time when I walked the land, on the last day of sesshin, and found myself asking for help from the trees, the hills, the birds, the mosquitoes, the earth and rocks, the water and air, all living things – and feeling a reply from them. That walk was the origin of Mountains and Waters Alliance. I could name the vow but not name any action.
Now I envision a step toward forming alliance with mountains, waters, and all beings:
We dedicate some time, next spring, to listening and connecting with the spirits of this place. This would include walks in the woods and by the river and creeks, under the pines. We might create shrines. We might create camping spaces and sleep on the earth. We would surely work in the woods, tending to the movement of water and erosion, bringing in beneficial species and removing invaders, while ourselves learning intimacy with these places, place spirits, beings. And we would tend to the orchard and berries and gardens in the spirit of communion rather than profit. We might live very much as community. Surely we would do formal meditation, traditional ceremony, as well as creating our own as we listen to the spirits of this place. We would invite teachers, teachers of plants and wilderness, of Dharma, of chanting and ceremony, of gardening, of subtle energies – and their teaching would enrich the community.
We do this some time after the bitter cold is gone and before the mosquitoes arrive. Some of us are here for the whole time, some come for weekends, some come as they can. We hold council from time to time, both as needed for the human community, and as called for to find alliance.
That thought, alliance, was once translated into the Dakota language as “We will hold you forever in our hearts.” From this, appropriate response can arise.
I should mention the fundraiser is still going on, $2534 from our goal, donations of any size welcome. Work days November 14 and December 12. With volunteers welcome almost any time. Future work days, classes and retreats to be scheduled.