If we can become the disciple of Mother Nature and realize that she is here to nurture us, to be our dearest and closest friend, if we take time to listen and to feel her spirit, all our needs, spiritual, emotional, physical and mental, will be satisfied. If we open ourselves to the beauty and support that is within every aspect of creation, we will discover that it is the elements of nature that can teach and guide us in every aspect of life. To do this we must first reconnect and make the bond with nature.
Every human being has this bond, it is our heritage, but through the history of human existence we have moved further and further away from our spiritual connection with nature, neglecting our individual spiritual needs and the understanding of our place as humans in creation. How can we rediscover this bond? By simply asking, watching, listening and feeling. Just as we ask our own guru for advice and spiritual guidance, we can become a disciple of nature. As did Dattatreya.
For Dattatreya, the spirit of discipleship was one of learning from all existence. To do this we must become as innocent as a child, open to all we see and experience and able to receive all the teachings and guidance for spiritual life, ultimately, living in harmony with ourselves and nature. Dattatreya described his twenty-four gurus. They are composed of the elements, animals and different aspects of nature. He observed them and imbibed their essence (swabhava) as teachings into his life.
From the earth, Dattatreya learned the qualities of forgiveness, unselfishness and the strength to bear burdens. The earth supports the millions of species from the largest animal to the tiniest bacteria with total support and tenderness. Like a mother, she nourishes us all giving herself completely with unflinching steadiness. The air showed Dattatreya the experience of detachment. Air pervades every aspect of manifestation without remaining. It carries fragrances, but does not become the fragrance. It is continually moving, but is totally unaffected by the movement.
Water showed Dattatreya the qualities of a yogi, able to cleanse, purify and refresh all that comes in their presence, promoting new growth to higher awareness. It has the ability to become any shape yet will not retain that shape; it changes its state without destroying its innate structure. Fire destroys everything on the gross level, just as does the inner fire of awareness, the awareness that can reduce everything to its essence. In this way fire reminded Dattatreya of freedom from the defects of ignorance (avidya).
He learnt from the moon, the sun, and the birds. The ocean, the elephant, the fish, everything was his teacher, showing him the qualities that develop in a spiritual aspirant and are milestones on the path that one must follow. Dattatreya was a true disciple and through his level of consciousness, all of existence became his guru. His mind was open without the preconceived ideas and notions with which we live and perceive our world today.
We can also learn from nature in our own way, by simply keeping our eyes open to the world around us, with innocence. We can find warmth and compassion in the autumn morning sun, trust in the cycles of life as the full moon rises over the horizon, month after month. It is the biting wind on a cold winter's day that reminds us of the harshness and challenge of nature, making us strong. It is the whistle of the wind through the trees that guides us to the mystery of the unseen world, the world of spirits.
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 is the freedom and independence of a soaring eagle that we must follow in order to fly on our spiritual path. It is the crashing waves on the ocean that teach us respect and awe. It is the colours of the setting sun that can teach us how to paint a masterpiece, and the symphony of early morning birdsong that teaches us to sing.
The lessons are all around us, the lessons of Mother Nature, the lessons of God. God is not some hidden being watching and judging us, God is everywhere teaching, guiding and supporting us. If we can trust this we will never be alone. It takes courage to trust and surrender, but this is all that is needed to reconnect and be sensitive to the spirit all around.
At Ganga Darshan, Munger, we have a daily ritual called ashwattha pooja, or tree worship, performed by many of the students, and residents. It is a special time to connect to an aspect of nature, to make a bond with it and to thank it daily for everything it provides. Trees represent life and every quality of nature. They provide oxygen and food, nurture the soil and purify the air, give shelter and provide homes, sustaining, recycling, reproducing, growing, and decaying. Without trees we would not have life on earth as we know it.
This pooja is a very simple way to reconnect with nature, through spending time with a tree daily, watching the seasonal changes, observing the animals and birds that live in close relationship with that tree, and most importantly to feel the spirit, the atma of the tree.
As the relationship with the tree grows, we are also building a relationship with Mother Nature. With this relationship based on love and respect, how could we possibly want to abuse or destroy the earth? Through this process we can begin to learn what it is that nature needs, what it is that we need and how we can live in harmony with nature and with ourselves. We have been harming and damaging ourselves by abusing and misusing nature for our own ends, cutting ourselves off from the essence that nourishes our spirits and becoming starved of the nourishment we so much require to be happy individuals.
By creating simple daily rituals in our lives like adopting a tree, sitting under the stars for a short time each evening, following the phases of the moon, taking the time to simply feel and listen to the words on the wind, all we need is here in every moment of life.
Yogic lifestyle is one of awareness of body, breath, mind and atma, an awareness that extends outwards to the world around us. The ancient rishis and seers lived in tune with the forces of nature and through this understanding adapted the asana, pranayama and meditation practices that we are taught today.
However, we cannot all live in the forest surrounded by animals; millions of us live in cities. Within this environment we can also learn from the aspects of nature we are exposed to, simply by being aware and finding the beauty in all the manifestations of spirit around us. If we can do this, then we will always feel a sense of belonging to the world into we which we have been born.