By Suma Varughese
For those who have the sensitivity to see the sublime, nature is an incomparable guru. an embodiment of the enlightened state, she silently waits for man to emulate her wisdom and serenity, her generosity and self-sacrifice.
Nature is but a name for an effect whose cause is God… william cowper
Nature never makes any fuss, and yet it does everything… lao-tzu
The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapour is ever rising john muir
Ever since I first embarked on my quest in 1991, nature has conspired to place me in offices and homes with a fantastic view of the sky. The marvelous expanse of the Mumbai sky, with its serene spectacle of eagles wheeling in calm motionless circles, has been a visual metaphor of the goals that drive me.
That limitless distant radiant blue dome set my sights on infinity, while the eagles symbolize the sense of confident repose and lofty overview I hope to reach one day. Could it be a coincidence that I was destined to always occupy the highest floor of any building I lived in, or have a room with a view? Oh, no. That sky, that all-encompassing, benevolent sky watching over me, has played as crucial a role in my growth as any other element of my spiritual practice. And the love and gratitude I feel for it, the kinship it kindles in me, is a response to the role nature plays in my life – and in my growth.
Nature is the guru of gurus. Mother of mothers. God manifest. In every movement and manifestation of her myriad life forms and forces, she conveys a teaching – sometimes powerful and vibrant, sometimes subtle and silent, sometimes ruthless and terrifying. She shows us through her own unsurpassable integrity, beauty and being, the states of mind and attitude we must adopt if we wish to attain self-realisation. She is the enlightened state, pure and natural, and it is this that she coaxes us to recognize, in her infinitely patient, infinitely creative, way.
Says dancer Mandakini Trivedi, who runs an ashram in the salubrious environs of Lonavla, a hill station two hours from Mumbai, “Whatever your problem, you only have to look at nature for a solution.”
She adds, “I tell people at the ashram that we do modules on dance and mythology here, but the real teacher is nature. Nature embodies the inner principle. How completely in the moment she is, how still and free, holding on to nothing! There is no ego operating.”
She rhapsodises, “Nature teaches through the smallest life experience. What really moves me is the sight of autumn leaves falling. They depart with no drama, so cheerfully. When they live, they do so with no sense of achievement or vanity. With equal grace, they exit.”
She is in awe of the complete contentment manifest in nature. “It is this that makes you feel peaceful in her presence. We have abused our mind by using it beyond need. The more the mind, the less the intelligence. You can stand in wonderment and awe at nature’s intelligence. And we are part of that. When we recognize that, the ego crumbles.”
Prem Nirmal, an electronics engineer, entrepreneur and workshop trainer, is equally responsive to nature’s teachings. He says, “I learned cybernetics from a German called Mewes, who had formulated fundamental laws learnt from nature on how to attain success. For instance, he pointed out that when fresh leaves grow from a stalk, it does not hinder the fall of sunlight on the other leaves. It fills in the space inbetween instead. Or look at flowers in a hedge. Each fresh flower will fill in a gap, instead of taking the place already occupied. They will never push and shove the way we do in the local train. There is great co-operation in nature. Look at the big trees in a jungle. During the monsoons they absorb a great amount of water in their roots, which they release later during the dry climes, thereby allowing plants and shrubs to thrive. Their harmony is fantastic!”
He adds, “I learnt to use my intuition from nature. Every time I get stuck in a technological problem, I spend time alone with nature and look for signals. The logical mind cannot go beyond the dictates of reason. If you look at how creativity manifests in nature, you will first see an aura of what is to come and then the actual fruit or flower. It is the equivalent of the meditative mind.”
Nirmal uses the wisdom manifest in nature to help him solve the most pragmatic of problems such as investment decisions. He says, “I had a sum for investment but I was unsure of how to invest it. When I looked for signals from nature, I kept seeing yellow flowers. So I invested in gold and made a lot of money soon after.”
His brushes with nature have not always been quite so benign. He recalls riding a motorcycle one late night in the forest area adjoining his home, and coming across a panther about to cross the road. He says, “There was no fear, we were both creatures of nature with no intention of harming each other. The panther went its way and I went mine. I understood the meaning of the term ‘kinship with nature’ for the first time.”
Nirmal also conducts nature camps where he invites corporates to unwind and sit at the lotus feet of Mother Nature.
Vijaya Venkat is one of Mumbai’s leading advocates of natural hygiene, a philosophy akin to naturopathy. She advocates a diet based largely on raw vegetables and fruits and the complete avoidance of synthetic or refined products such as sugar, maida or refined oil. Healing through natural means is an important maxim of the philosophy. Her advocacy of nature’s ways and wisdom is total and radical. She says, “Nature is God and God is nature. Nature has unconditionally taken responsibility to nurture, protect, uplift, share with and care for us. I don’t look for anything other than nature.”
She adds, “Very often, a child does not take his medicine when ailing, but heals nevertheless. Nature heals. The tree does not cry when it sheds leaves. It just grows some more in due season. I have seen extreme suffering in the case of some of my clients. But they heal when exposed to nature. I tell depressed people to sit on the beach for six weeks. They cannot but heal in the presence of nature. Nature is consciousness.” Like Nirmal, Vijaya claims that alignment to nature’s wisdom has awakened her intuitive powers. She recalls a time of frustration and stasis in her own life when she was repeatedly woken for three to four days at a stretch at 4 a.m., by a voice which proclaimed oracularly, “Take one step for the solution you already have.” When she ignored the advice, it came before her in writing. “That was the turning point in my life, “ she recalls, “after that, no matter what the problem, the solution just comes.”
Nature touches all who come within sniffing distance. Mahesh Rao, banker, is a trekking enthusiast and member of the Explorers and Adventurers group, Mumbai. Says he, “Being with nature humbles you. When you stand in front of a huge mountain, you see how much more there is to life than just you. You also learn never to take nature for granted. There are certain aspects of ecology that are fragile and need to be protected. You also see the interconnection. For instance, the indiscriminate felling of trees has created climatic extremities, which makes trekking more difficult.” A classical singer, he adds, “When I am with nature I feel like singing. Anything to do with art has to do with nature.”
There are some, who, though born in the urban zone, continue to resonate with the rhythms of nature. Roozbeh Gazdar, an animal and nature lover who works with a travel agency, says, “I’ve always loved animals, plants and hills. I feel more at home with them than in the human world. Nature is the greatest evidence of God, or a kind and benevolent force. There is no form in which I see that as much as in Nature. Nature gives so many free joys, like air and water and its sheer beauty. I also find there is no wastage in nature. Animals and plants survive, just as humans do, but they do not display negative excesses. There is no greed and jealousy. I think there is a lesson of hope here. In spite of all the abuse, it continues to endure.”
Another nature enthusiast is writer-academic, Amodini, whose spiritual practice has included living in caves and in the bosom of nature. She says, “There is so much magic in nature. I would love to live like a dewdrop dancing on a blade of grass. My goal is to make my mind like the sky, which reflects the electric storms and returns to serenity. I wish to allow life to pass through me without clinging.”
Such awe and reverence is rare among urban dwellers, but standard practice for those who live in natural surroundings.
In the book, Earthmind, written by Paul Devereux, John Steele and David Kubrin, the authors give evidence of the extraordinary kinship which existed between man and nature, so much so ordinary levels of perception were enhanced and the interconnection of all was clearly experienced.
Here, for instance, is an old Eskimo song, called Magic Words:
In the earliest time
when both people and animals lived on earth
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
…all spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic
the human mind had mysterious powers
a word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences
it would suddenly come alive.
Strange evocative words that recall the fairy tales and Panchatantras of childhood with their oddly probable interaction between man and nature.
In our own country, there is the signal example of our rishis, forest dwellers, patiently trawling their own consciousness in the loving arms of nature, emerging with the great truths of life and God.
Unfortunately, modern society’s focus on conquering and controlling nature has strained our kinship with it and damaged the ecology, while impoverishing the quality of our lives.
This horrifically suicidal stance has been oft written about and we need not stain our paean with similar fulminations.
On the bright side is the growing environmental movement gaining support all over the world, thanks to the world-wide degradation of soil, water, and air.
One of the theories that has given this burgeoning movement scientific validity is the concept of Gaia, or the living earth, propagated by scientist James Lovelock. Lovelock suggests that the earth has many self-sustaining systems that control weather and temperature, among other things. Self-sustaining systems is a characteristic of living things and therefore it may be said that the earth is a living organism.
The Gaia theory has given an emotional twist to the environmentalists’ plea to respect the earth and restrain from exploiting it. Writes Scientist Lyall Watson, in a foreword to Earthmind, “The Gaian point of view is turning out to be one of the most seminal of the century, forcing cosmologists, biologists, geologists and geographers to deal with the world in holistic terms…
“We are, as a result, beginning to hear more about the planet’s physiology, her nutrition and digestion. There are studies in progress on geometabolism and telluric healing. And more cautiously, on the growth and maturation of a global nervous system.”
It may seem extraordinary that nature’s obvious wisdom and greatness was, and is, invisible to the many millions who advocate the concept of progress at any cost. However, few question the way of life they have been born into and progress has been God for the last 300 years of industrial rule. It is the rare mind that can transcend prevailing wisdom and question truisms taken for granted for centuries.
Yet artists, poets, writers, and seekers have always intuitively understood the greatness and majesty of the manifest universe and man’s own subservient role in it. It is they who have persisted in pointing out man’s folly in exploiting and destroying his very source of life; and who have celebrated and revered Mother Nature.
Here, for instance, is the Lebanese poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran’s thoughtful words, “Everything in nature bespeaks the mother. The sun is the mother of the earth and gives it its nourishment of heat; it never leaves the universe at night until it has put the earth to sleep to the song of the sea and the hymn of the bird and brooks. And this earth is the mother of trees and flowers. It produces them, nurses them, and weans them. The trees and flowers become kind mothers of their great fruits and seeds. And the mother, the prototype of all existence, is the eternal spirit, full of beauty and love.”
H.D. Thoreau, the well-known American thinker and writer whose Walden Pond is a brilliant and scathing indictment of modern western values, left civilization to live for a while in the midst of nature.
He writes in Walden Pond, his reason for his decision, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation; unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swathe and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”
Living a life of independent self-reliance, honing his needs to the bare minimum, he learnt experientially the folly of our busy urban lives, full of everything but the essential, which is the ability to live life.
He writes, “I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands.
“Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revelry, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.”
Poets from time immemorial, have sung lustily of the greatness and wonder of nature. Rejoices Wordsworth, one of the greatest of Victorian nature poets:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
So was it when my life began,
So is it now when I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
All the great prophets have over and over again pointed to nature as the embodiment of the enlightened stage. Jesus, for instance, said, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you:
That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matt 5, 44,45.
What they all affirm is that nature is one vast teaching, a manifest tapestry of the majesty and might of the Absolute. We see the Creator in every aspect of nature: in the order and stillness with which she arranges her affairs, in the beauty and abundance with which she loads her trees and vines; in the endless variety of her leaves and flowers, species and faces; in the intricacy of her packaging—who can beat the coconut for safe packaging of fragile goods? We see God in the justice with which she offers herself to all. God lives in the humility and self-sacrifice threaded nature’s every manifestation, from the water that sacrifices itself to feed the earth, of the grass that gives itself as fodder for cattle, which in turn feed man. God manifests in nature’s miraculous alchemy whereby flesh turns to soil and soil to food; and in the economy of her self-sustaining systems that ensures perfect and ongoing recycling. Studying the book of nature is as close as we get to seeing the Creator, and what a Creator! Is there a limit to God’s wonders and glories? Can the tongue ever tire of singing God’s praises? Through nature we grow to love and venerate the source behind it and so move Godward.
In nature we find the embodiment of every enlightened quality, if we are sensitive enough to open our minds to receive.
The great Dattatreya, said to be the forerunner of the legendary parampara of Navnaths, was one such. Lord Dattatreya is said to have had 24 gurus, ranging from the earth, water, fire, sky, moon, sun, pigeon, python, ocean, and so on. From the earth he learnt qualities of forgiveness, unselfishness and the strength to bear burdens. From the air he learnt detachment for it pervades every aspect of manifestation without remaining in any. From the water he learnt the ability to cleanse, purify and refresh all that comes in touch with it. He also learn the art of flexibility from it, of taking any shape but not retaining it.
In an article on the Internet titled, Disciple of Mother Nature, Swami Prembhava Saraswati writes, “It is the unpredictability of the rains and the power of storms that make us humble; and the tree laden with ripe fruit that shows us how to give unconditionally. We can learn courage and dignity from the tall majestic tree pushing through the concrete city sidewalk. We can see the value of social unity, as a team of ants carries a dead lizard to their nest. It is the shining golden flower on a so-called ‘weed’ that teaches us not to judge.”
It takes sensitivity and a passionate focus on growth to perceive nature’s lessons, but when we do so, the learning is ongoing, for every moment of life and every aspect of nature teaches you whatever it is you need to learn. This is most so when nature reveals her intransigent face.
Nileema Mahendrakar, Chief Manager, Systems, at the State Bank of India, Mumbai, has been an avid trekker for the last 20 years and she attributes her resourcefulness as well as ability to cope with life to her tutelage by nature. She says, “Being with nature in some of its harshest and most unpredictable moods teaches you to face any problem that arises. You develop courage and learn to become independent. You take your own decisions and also face their consequences. Nature also heals you. Being with nature is like a meditation. It relaxes you and rids you of all stresses and strains.”
She recalls the time when she and her group members from the organization,
The Nature Lovers, Malad, planned to set up a circular trekking route going up the Rajgadh Fort, near Pune. A group of 30, they were halfway through the mountainous route when they stumbled upon a beehive and were set upon by a swarm of angry honeybees. As thousands began to sting every part of their bodies, many began to get dizzy and to vomit. Neelima, among one of the most severely bitten, was fast losing consciousness. With her last bit of determination, she anchored herself with a rope and then fainted. Most had fled from the attack of the bees. When they retraced their steps to gather together their wounded comrades, Neelima was nowhere to be found. Concluding that she had fallen down and died, many burst into tears. Eventually, they found her after three hours, still in a dead faint, fallen against a rock.
After three weeks, the group had to go once again to open up the route to the public. Says she, “My father refused to send me but my mother intervened and insisted that I should go and face the situation once again. She said that I must not run from fear. So I went back and I think I learnt courage that trek.”
Sages and saints, in their sensitivity and depth, have always been receptive to the greatness and majesty of nature. Their devotionals on the subject make for enthralling reading. The Rig Veda, one of the world’s oldest religious books, is largely a paean to nature. The Biblical Psalms too is greatly inspired by the wonders of nature.
The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
In modern times perhaps one of the most powerful of such testimonies can be found in J. Krishnamurti’s Notebook, a compilation of spontaneous writing that reflects the enlightened mind’s detached and minute observation of the myriad moods and hues of Mother Nature, as well as awareness of the spirit sustaining creation.
He writes, “It had rained sharply and very heavily, washing off the white dust on the big round leaves by the unpaved road that went deep into the mountains… Walking up the road, one was aware of the beauty of the earth and the delicate line of the steep hills against the evening sky; of the massive, rocky mountain with its glacier and wide field of snow; of the many flowers in the meadows. It was an evening of great beauty and quietness…
“As one looked at the massive rocks, with their curves and shapes and the sparkling snow, half-dreamily with no thought in mind, suddenly there was immense, massive dignity of strength and benediction. It filled the valley on the instant and the mind had no measurement; it was deep beyond the world. Again there was innocence.”
Nature has been associated with the enlightenment experiences of many a sage. The Buddha, for instance, is forever associated with the Bodhi tree, under which he sat one full moon night, determined not to budge until he had chased the contents of his mind all the way to Nirvana. Krishnamurti himself had a similar experience while sitting under a pepper tree in Ojai, California, when the Kundalini Awakening he experienced culminated into a massive explosion.
Ramakrishna Paramahansa is said to have had his first samadhi in childhood. Walking in the fields one day eating kurmura, he fell into an ecstatic trance at the sight of snowy egrets flying past a giant thundercloud.
Dada Gawand, a modern-day sage living in the salubrious Yeeor Hills in Thane, Maharashtra, has always had nature as his guru. He recalls that he was once a keen sportsman and hunter, but on one such occasion, he shot a rabbit which did not die instantly. He was forced to watch its slow lingering death and it filled him with horror. He says, “Something in me stirred. I thought to myself that perhaps that rabbit had gone to get food for its young. I went home and told my mother, ‘I have done a great sin. Henceforth, I will not eat flesh. I will not use a gun. I have no right to take the life of others.’ That was the turning point of my life.”
Subsequently, after visiting many a guru and sage, he went into a desolate hut in the midst of the Mahabaleshwar forest in Maharashtra and began resolutely to go within. His process was greatly assisted by Mother Nature through his many experiences with wildlife.
Today, his home in the hills is verdant with greenery and he talks lovingly of a cobra that visits him every now and then. “It knows me; I know it. It will not do anything. If you don’t have fear, it will do nothing.”
He says, “I lived with nature for 12 to 13 years. We’re not different from nature. We are one with it. When you understand that, your vision opens up. You understand not through ideas but through feeling. Intuitive intelligence begins to flow.”
Deepa Kodikal, a spiritual adept, says, “Nature is the manifestation of cosmic consciousness. Nature can reveal the knowledge inherent in consciousness through visions and brainwaves.”
She recalls an experience that occurred a few years back when she became aware of dogs barking loudly in the middle of her sleep. Even as she hovered between sleep and wakefulness, she became aware that she could understand what they were saying. “There were two gangs throwing insults at each other vehemently. I understood that this is how consciousness teaches people at higher levels of awareness.”
She adds, “This is how our rishis could understand the conversation of animals and plants. And it explains the origin of ayurveda. Plants would have communicated their properties to them.”
Nature stands like a sentinel, waiting patiently for us to turn to her and intuit the many secrets of life and living she holds in waiting for us. Those who do so discover an incomparable friend and teacher; in her presence all loneliness and misery is banished and joy and wisdom blossom. But she is too proud to throw herself at those who spurn her. It is we who must make the first move. All we have to do is open our eyes… our ears… our minds… and hearts.
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