Live In Harmony With Nature Essayist
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essays: Second Series 
The rounded world is fair to see,
Nine times folded in mystery:
Though baffled seers cannot impart
The secret of its laboring heart,
Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast,
And all is clear from east to west.
Spirit that lurks each form within
Beckons to spirit of its kin;
Self-kindled every atom glows,
And hints the future which it owes.
There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have heard of the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. These halcyons may be looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather, which we distinguish by the name of the Indian Summer. The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. The solitary places do not seem quite lonely. At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he makes into these precincts. Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her. We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom. How willingly we would escape the barriers which render them comparatively impotent, escape the sophistication and second thought, and suffer nature to intrance us. The tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year. How easily we might walk onward into the opening landscape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the present, and we were led in triumph by nature.
These enchantments are medicinal, they sober and heal us. These are plain pleasures, kindly and native to us. We come to our own, and make friends with matter, which the ambitious chatter of the schools would persuade us to despise. We never can part with it; the mind loves its old home: as water to our thirst, so is the rock, the ground, to our eyes, and hands, and feet. It is firm water: it is cold flame: what health, what affinity! Ever an old friend, ever like a dear friend and brother, when we chat affectedly with strangers, comes in this honest face, and takes a grave liberty with us, and shames us out of our nonsense. Cities give not the human senses room enough. We go out daily and nightly to feed the eyes on the horizon, and require so much scope, just as we need water for our bath. There are all degrees of natural influence, from these quarantine powers of nature, up to her dearest and gravest ministrations to the imagination and the soul. There is the bucket of cold water from the spring, the wood-fire to which the chilled traveller rushes for safety, -- and there is the sublime moral of autumn and of noon. We nestle in nature, and draw our living as parasites from her roots and grains, and we receive glances from the heavenly bodies, which call us to solitude, and foretell the remotest future. The blue zenith is the point in which romance and reality meet. I think, if we should be rapt away into all that we dream of heaven, and should converse with Gabriel and Uriel , the upper sky would be all that would remain of our furniture.
It seems as if the day was not wholly profane, in which we have given heed to some natural object. The fall of snowflakes in a still air, preserving to each crystal its perfect form; the blowing of sleet over a wide sheet of water, and over plains, the waving rye-field, the mimic waving of acres of houstonia , whose innumerable florets whiten and ripple before the eye; the reflections of trees and flowers in glassy lakes; the musical steaming odorous south wind, which converts all trees to windharps; the crackling and spurting of hemlock in the flames; or of pine logs, which yield glory to the walls and faces in the sittingroom, -- these are the music and pictures of the most ancient religion. My house stands in low land, with limited outlook, and on the skirt of the village. But I go with my friend to the shore of our little river, and with one stroke of the paddle, I leave the village politics and personalities, yes, and the world of villages and personalities behind, and pass into a delicate realm of sunset and moonlight, too bright almost for spotted man to enter without noviciate and probation. We penetrate bodily this incredible beauty; we dip our hands in this painted element: our eyes are bathed in these lights and forms. A holiday, a villeggiatura, a royal revel, the proudest, most heart-rejoicing festival that valor and beauty, power and taste, ever decked and enjoyed, establishes itself on the instant. These sunset clouds, these delicately emerging stars, with their private and ineffable glances, signify it and proffer it. I am taught the poorness of our invention, the ugliness of towns and palaces. Art and luxury have early learned that they must work as enhancement and sequel to this original beauty. I am over-instructed for my return. Henceforth I shall be hard to please. I cannot go back to toys. I am grown expensive and sophisticated. I can no longer live without elegance: but a countryman shall be my master of revels. He who knows the most, he who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man. Only as far as the masters of the world have called in nature to their aid, can they reach the height of magnificence. This is the meaning of their hanging-gardens, villas, garden-houses, islands, parks, and preserves, to back their faulty personality with these strong accessories. I do not wonder that the landed interest should be invincible in the state with these dangerous auxiliaries. These bribe and invite; not kings, not palaces, not men, not women, but these tender and poetic stars, eloquent of secret promises. We heard what the rich man said, we knew of his villa, his grove, his wine, and his company, but the provocation and point of the invitation came out of these beguiling stars. In their soft glances, I see what men strove to realize in some Versailles, or Paphos, or Ctesiphon. Indeed, it is the magical lights of the horizon, and the blue sky for the background, which save all our works of art, which were otherwise bawbles. When the rich tax the poor with servility and obsequiousness, they should consider the effect of men reputed to be the possessors of nature, on imaginative minds. Ah! if the rich were rich as the poor fancy riches! A boy hears a military band play on the field at night, and he has kings and queens, and famous chivalry palpably before him. He hears the echoes of a horn in a hill country, in the Notch Mountains, for example, which converts the mountains into an Aeolian harp , and this supernatural tiralira restores to him the Dorian mythology, Apollo, Diana, and all divine hunters and huntresses. Can a musical note be so lofty, so haughtily beautiful! To the poor young poet, thus fabulous is his picture of society; he is loyal; he respects the rich; they are rich for the sake of his imagination; how poor his fancy would be, if they were not rich! That they have some high-fenced grove, which they call a park; that they live in larger and better-garnished saloons than he has visited, and go in coaches, keeping only the society of the elegant, to watering-places, and to distant cities, are the groundwork from which he has delineated estates of romance, compared with which their actual possessions are shanties and paddocks. The muse herself betrays her son, and enhances the gifts of wealth and well-born beauty, by a radiation out of the air, and clouds, and forests that skirt the road, -- a certain haughty favor, as if from patrician genii to patricians, a kind of aristocracy in nature, a prince of the power of the air.
The moral sensibility which makes Edens and Tempes so easily, may not be always found, but the material landscape is never far off. We can find these enchantments without visiting the Como Lake, or the Madeira Islands. We exaggerate the praises of local scenery. In every landscape, the point of astonishment is the meeting of the sky and the earth, and that is seen from the first hillock as well as from the top of the Alleghanies. The stars at night stoop down over the brownest, homeliest common, with all the spiritual magnificence which they shed on the Campagna, or on the marble deserts of Egypt. The uprolled clouds and the colors of morning and evening, will transfigure maples and alders. The difference between landscape and landscape is small, but there is great difference in the beholders. There is nothing so wonderful in any particular landscape, as the necessity of being beautiful under which every landscape lies. Nature cannot be surprised in undress. Beauty breaks in everywhere.
But it is very easy to outrun the sympathy of readers on this topic, which schoolmen called natura naturata, or nature passive. One can hardly speak directly of it without excess. It is as easy to broach in mixed companies what is called "the subject of religion." A susceptible person does not like to indulge his tastes in this kind, without the apology of some trivial necessity: he goes to see a wood-lot, or to look at the crops, or to fetch a plant or a mineral from a remote locality, or he carries a fowling piece, or a fishing-rod. I suppose this shame must have a good reason. A dilettantism in nature is barren and unworthy. The fop of fields is no better than his brother of Broadway. Men are naturally hunters and inquisitive of wood-craft, and I suppose that such a gazetteer as wood-cutters and Indians should furnish facts for, would take place in the most sumptuous drawingrooms of all the "Wreaths" and "Flora's chaplets" of the bookshops; yet ordinarily, whether we are too clumsy for so subtle a topic, or from whatever cause, as soon as men begin to write on nature, they fall into euphuism. Frivolity is a most unfit tribute to Pan, who ought to be represented in the mythology as the most continent of gods. I would not be frivolous before the admirable reserve and prudence of time, yet I cannot renounce the right of returning often to this old topic. The multitude of false churches accredits the true religion. Literature, poetry, science, are the homage of man to this unfathomed secret, concerning which no sane man can affect an indifference or incuriosity. Nature is loved by what is best in us. It is loved as the city of God, although, or rather because there is no citizen. The sunset is unlike anything that is underneath it: it wants men. And the beauty of nature must always seem unreal and mocking, until the landscape has human figures, that are as good as itself. If there were good men, there would never be this rapture in nature. If the king is in the palace, nobody looks at the walls. It is when he is gone, and the house is filled with grooms and gazers, that we turn from the people, to find relief in the majestic men that are suggested by the pictures and the architecture. The critics who complain of the sickly separation of the beauty of nature from the thing to be done, must consider that our hunting of the picturesque is inseparable from our protest against false society. Man is fallen; nature is erect, and serves as a differential thermometer, detecting the presence or absence of the divine sentiment in man. By fault of our dulness and selfishness, we are looking up to nature, but when we are convalescent, nature will look up to us. We see the foaming brook with compunction: if our own life flowed with the right energy, we should shame the brook. The stream of zeal sparkles with real fire, and not with reflex rays of sun and moon. Nature may be as selfishly studied as trade. Astronomy to the selfish becomes astrology; psychology, mesmerism (with intent to show where our spoons are gone); and anatomy and physiology, become phrenology and palmistry.
But taking timely warning, and leaving many things unsaid on this topic, let us not longer omit our homage to the Efficient Nature, natura naturans, the quick cause, before which all forms flee as the driven snows, itself secret, its works driven before it in flocks and multitudes, (as the ancient represented nature by Proteus, a shepherd,) and in undescribable variety. It publishes itself in creatures, reaching from particles and spicula, through transformation on transformation to the highest symmetries, arriving at consummate results without a shock or a leap. A little heat, that is, a little motion, is all that differences the bald, dazzling white, and deadly cold poles of the earth from the prolific tropical climates. All changes pass without violence, by reason of the two cardinal conditions of boundless space and boundless time. Geology has initiated us into the secularity of nature, and taught us to disuse our dame-school measures, and exchange our Mosaic and Ptolemaic schemes for her large style. We knew nothing rightly, for want of perspective. Now we learn what patient periods must round themselves before the rock is formed, then before the rock is broken, and the first lichen race has disintegrated the thinnest external plate into soil, and opened the door for the remote Flora, Fauna, Ceres, and Pomona, to come in. How far off yet is the trilobite! how far the quadruped! how inconceivably remote is man! All duly arrive, and then race after race of men. It is a long way from granite to the oyster; farther yet to Plato, and the preaching of the immortality of the soul. Yet all must come, as surely as the first atom has two sides.
Motion or change, and identity or rest, are the first and second secrets of nature: Motion and Rest. The whole code of her laws may be written on the thumbnail, or the signet of a ring. The whirling bubble on the surface of a brook, admits us to the secret of the mechanics of the sky. Every shell on the beach is a key to it. A little water made to rotate in a cup explains the formation of the simpler shells; the addition of matter from year to year, arrives at last at the most complex forms; and yet so poor is nature with all her craft, that, from the beginning to the end of the universe, she has but one stuff, -- but one stuff with its two ends, to serve up all her dream-like variety. Compound it how she will, star, sand, fire, water, tree, man, it is still one stuff, and betrays the same properties.
Nature is always consistent, though she feigns to contravene her own laws. She keeps her laws, and seems to transcend them. She arms and equips an animal to find its place and living in the earth, and, at the same time, she arms and equips another animal to destroy it. Space exists to divide creatures; but by clothing the sides of a bird with a few feathers, she gives him a petty omnipresence. The direction is forever onward, but the artist still goes back for materials, and begins again with the first elements on the most advanced stage: otherwise, all goes to ruin. If we look at her work, we seem to catch a glance of a system in transition. Plants are the young of the world, vessels of health and vigor; but they grope ever upward towards consciousness; the trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment, rooted in the ground. The animal is the novice and probationer of a more advanced order. The men, though young, having tasted the first drop from the cup of thought, are already dissipated: the maples and ferns are still uncorrupt; yet no doubt, when they come to consciousness, they too will curse and swear. Flowers so strictly belong to youth, that we adult men soon come to feel, that their beautiful generations concern not us: we have had our day; now let the children have theirs. The flowers jilt us, and we are old bachelors with our ridiculous tenderness.
Things are so strictly related, that according to the skill of the eye, from any one object the parts and properties of any other may be predicted. If we had eyes to see it, a bit of stone from the city wall would certify us of the necessity that man must exist, as readily as the city. That identity makes us all one, and reduces to nothing great intervals on our customary scale. We talk of deviations from natural life, as if artificial life were not also natural. The smoothest curled courtier in the boudoirs of a palace has an animal nature, rude and aboriginal as a white bear, omnipotent to its own ends, and is directly related, there amid essences and billetsdoux, to Himmaleh mountain-chains, and the axis of the globe. If we consider how much we are nature's, we need not be superstitious about towns, as if that terrific or benefic force did not find us there also, and fashion cities. Nature who made the mason, made the house. We may easily hear too much of rural influences. The cool disengaged air of natural objects, makes them enviable to us, chafed and irritable creatures with red faces, and we think we shall be as grand as they, if we camp out and eat roots; but let us be men instead of woodchucks, and the oak and the elm shall gladly serve us, though we sit in chairs of ivory on carpets of silk.
This guiding identity runs through all the surprises and contrasts of the piece, and characterizes every law. Man carries the world in his head, the whole astronomy and chemistry suspended in a thought. Because the history of nature is charactered in his brain, therefore is he the prophet and discoverer of her secrets. Every known fact in natural science was divined by the presentiment of somebody, before it was actually verified. A man does not tie his shoe without recognising laws which bind the farthest regions of nature: moon, plant, gas, crystal, are concrete geometry and numbers. Common sense knows its own, and recognises the fact at first sight in chemical experiment. The common sense of Franklin, Dalton, Davy, and Black, is the same common sense which made the arrangements which now it discovers.
If the identity expresses organized rest, the counter action runs also into organization. The astronomers said, `Give us matter, and a little motion, and we will construct the universe. It is not enough that we should have matter, we must also have a single impulse, one shove to launch the mass, and generate the harmony of the centrifugal and centripetal forces. Once heave the ball from the hand, and we can show how all this mighty order grew.' -- `A very unreasonable postulate,' said the metaphysicians, `and a plain begging of the question. Could you not prevail to know the genesis of projection, as well as the continuation of it?' Nature, meanwhile, had not waited for the discussion, but, right or wrong, bestowed the impulse, and the balls rolled. It was no great affair, a mere push, but the astronomers were right in making much of it, for there is no end to the consequences of the act. That famous aboriginal push propagates itself through all the balls of the system, and through every atom of every ball, through all the races of creatures, and through the history and performances of every individual. Exaggeration is in the course of things. Nature sends no creature, no man into the world, without adding a small excess of his proper quality. Given the planet, it is still necessary to add the impulse; so, to every creature nature added a little violence of direction in its proper path, a shove to put it on its way; in every instance, a slight generosity, a drop too much. Without electricity the air would rot, and without this violence of direction, which men and women have, without a spice of bigot and fanatic, no excitement, no efficiency. We aim above the mark, to hit the mark. Every act hath some falsehood of exaggeration in it. And when now and then comes along some sad, sharp-eyed man, who sees how paltry a game is played, and refuses to play, but blabs the secret; -- how then? is the bird flown? O no, the wary Nature sends a new troop of fairer forms, of lordlier youths, with a little more excess of direction to hold them fast to their several aim; makes them a little wrongheaded in that direction in which they are rightest, and on goes the game again with new whirl, for a generation or two more. The child with his sweet pranks, the fool of his senses, commanded by every sight and sound, without any power to compare and rank his sensations, abandoned to a whistle or a painted chip, to a lead dragoon, or a gingerbread-dog, individualizing everything, generalizing nothing, delighted with every new thing, lies down at night overpowered by the fatigue, which this day of continual pretty madness has incurred. But Nature has answered her purpose with the curly, dimpled lunatic. She has tasked every faculty, and has secured the symmetrical growth of the bodily frame, by all these attitudes and exertions, -- an end of the first importance, which could not be trusted to any care less perfect than her own. This glitter, this opaline lustre plays round the top of every toy to his eye, to ensure his fidelity, and he is deceived to his good. We are made alive and kept alive by the same arts. Let the stoics say what they please, we do not eat for the good of living, but because the meat is savory and the appetite is keen. The vegetable life does not content itself with casting from the flower or the tree a single seed, but it fills the air and earth with a prodigality of seeds, that, if thousands perish, thousands may plant themselves, that hundreds may come up, that tens may live to maturity, that, at least, one may replace the parent. All things betray the same calculated profusion. The excess of fear with which the animal frame is hedged round, shrinking from cold, starting at sight of a snake, or at a sudden noise, protects us, through a multitude of groundless alarms, from some one real danger at last. The lover seeks in marriage his private felicity and perfection, with no prospective end; and nature hides in his happiness her own end, namely, progeny, or the perpetuity of the race.
But the craft with which the world is made, runs also into the mind and character of men. No man is quite sane; each has a vein of folly in his composition, a slight determination of blood to the head, to make sure of holding him hard to some one point which nature had taken to heart. Great causes are never tried on their merits; but the cause is reduced to particulars to suit the size of the partizans, and the contention is ever hottest on minor matters. Not less remarkable is the overfaith of each man in the importance of what he has to do or say. The poet, the prophet, has a higher value for what he utters than any hearer, and therefore it gets spoken. The strong, self-complacent Luther declares with an emphasis, not to be mistaken, that "God himself cannot do without wise men." Jacob Behmen and George Fox betray their egotism in the pertinacity of their controversial tracts, and James Naylor once suffered himself to be worshipped as the Christ. Each prophet comes presently to identify himself with his thought, and to esteem his hat and shoes sacred. However this may discredit such persons with the judicious, it helps them with the people, as it gives heat, pungency, and publicity to their words. A similar experience is not infrequent in private life. Each young and ardent person writes a diary, in which, when the hours of prayer and penitence arrive, he inscribes his soul. The pages thus written are, to him, burning and fragrant: he reads them on his knees by midnight and by the morning star; he wets them with his tears: they are sacred; too good for the world, and hardly yet to be shown to the dearest friend. This is the man-child that is born to the soul, and her life still circulates in the babe. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut. After some time has elapsed, he begins to wish to admit his friend to this hallowed experience, and with hesitation, yet with firmness, exposes the pages to his eye. Will they not burn his eyes? The friend coldly turns them over, and passes from the writing to conversation, with easy transition, which strikes the other party with astonishment and vexation. He cannot suspect the writing itself. Days and nights of fervid life, of communion with angels of darkness and of light, have engraved their shadowy characters on that tear-stained book. He suspects the intelligence or the heart of his friend. Is there then no friend? He cannot yet credit that one may have impressive experience, and yet may not know how to put his private fact into literature; and perhaps the discovery that wisdom has other tongues and ministers than we, that though we should hold our peace, the truth would not the less be spoken, might check injuriously the flames of our zeal. A man can only speak, so long as he does not feel his speech to be partial and inadequate. It is partial, but he does not see it to be so, whilst he utters it. As soon as he is released from the instinctive and particular, and sees its partiality, he shuts his mouth in disgust. For, no man can write anything, who does not think that what he writes is for the time the history of the world; or do anything well, who does not esteem his work to be of importance. My work may be of none, but I must not think it of none, or I shall not do it with impunity.
In like manner, there is throughout nature something mocking, something that leads us on and on, but arrives nowhere, keeps no faith with us. All promise outruns the performance. We live in a system of approximations. Every end is prospective of some other end, which is also temporary; a round and final success nowhere. We are encamped in nature, not domesticated. Hunger and thirst lead us on to eat and to drink; but bread and wine, mix and cook them how you will, leave us hungry and thirsty, after the stomach is full. It is the same with all our arts and performances. Our music, our poetry, our language itself are not satisfactions, but suggestions. The hunger for wealth, which reduces the planet to a garden, fools the eager pursuer. What is the end sought? Plainly to secure the ends of good sense and beauty, from the intrusion of deformity or vulgarity of any kind. But what an operose method! What a train of means to secure a little conversation! This palace of brick and stone, these servants, this kitchen, these stables, horses and equipage, this bank-stock, and file of mortgages; trade to all the world, country-house and cottage by the waterside, all for a little conversation, high, clear, and spiritual! Could it not be had as well by beggars on the highway? No, all these things came from successive efforts of these beggars to remove friction from the wheels of life, and give opportunity. Conversation, character, were the avowed ends; wealth was good as it appeased the animal cravings, cured the smoky chimney, silenced the creaking door, brought friends together in a warm and quiet room, and kept the children and the dinner-table in a different apartment. Thought, virtue, beauty, were the ends; but it was known that men of thought and virtue sometimes had the headache, or wet feet, or could lose good time whilst the room was getting warm in winter days. Unluckily, in the exertions necessary to remove these inconveniences, the main attention has been diverted to this object; the old aims have been lost sight of, and to remove friction has come to be the end. That is the ridicule of rich men, and Boston, London, Vienna, and now the governments generally of the world, are cities and governments of the rich, and the masses are not men, but poor men, that is, men who would be rich; this is the ridicule of the class, that they arrive with pains and sweat and fury nowhere; when all is done, it is for nothing. They are like one who has interrupted the conversation of a company to make his speech, and now has forgotten what he went to say. The appearance strikes the eye everywhere of an aimless society, of aimless nations. Were the ends of nature so great and cogent, as to exact this immense sacrifice of men?
Quite analogous to the deceits in life, there is, as might be expected, a similar effect on the eye from the face of external nature. There is in woods and waters a certain enticement and flattery, together with a failure to yield a present satisfaction. This disappointment is felt in every landscape. I have seen the softness and beauty of the summer-clouds floating feathery overhead, enjoying, as it seemed, their height and privilege of motion, whilst yet they appeared not so much the drapery of this place and hour, as forelooking to some pavilions and gardens of festivity beyond. It is an odd jealousy: but the poet finds himself not near enough to his object. The pine-tree, the river, the bank of flowers before him, does not seem to be nature. Nature is still elsewhere. This or this is but outskirt and far-off reflection and echo of the triumph that has passed by, and is now at its glancing splendor and heyday, perchance in the neighboring fields, or, if you stand in the field, then in the adjacent woods. The present object shall give you this sense of stillness that follows a pageant which has just gone by. What splendid distance, what recesses of ineffable pomp and loveliness in the sunset! But who can go where they are, or lay his hand or plant his foot thereon? Off they fall from the round world forever and ever. It is the same among the men and women, as among the silent trees; always a referred existence, an absence, never a presence and satisfaction. Is it, that beauty can never be grasped? in persons and in landscape is equally inaccessible? The accepted and betrothed lover has lost the wildest charm of his maiden in her acceptance of him. She was heaven whilst he pursued her as a star: she cannot be heaven, if she stoops to such a one as he.
What shall we say of this omnipresent appearance of that first projectile impulse, of this flattery and baulking of so many well-meaning creatures? Must we not suppose somewhere in the universe a slight treachery and derision? Are we not engaged to a serious resentment of this use that is made of us? Are we tickled trout, and fools of nature? One look at the face of heaven and earth lays all petulance at rest, and soothes us to wiser convictions. To the intelligent, nature converts itself into a vast promise, and will not be rashly explained. Her secret is untold. Many and many an Oedipus arrives: he has the whole mystery teeming in his brain. Alas! the same sorcery has spoiled his skill; no syllable can he shape on his lips. Her mighty orbit vaults like the fresh rainbow into the deep, but no archangel's wing was yet strong enough to follow it, and report of the return of the curve. But it also appears, that our actions are seconded and disposed to greater conclusions than we designed. We are escorted on every hand through life by spiritual agents, and a beneficent purpose lies in wait for us. We cannot bandy words with nature, or deal with her as we deal with persons. If we measure our individual forces against hers, we may easily feel as if we were the sport of an insuperable destiny. But if, instead of identifying ourselves with the work, we feel that the soul of the workman streams through us, we shall find the peace of the morning dwelling first in our hearts, and the fathomless powers of gravity and chemistry, and, over them, of life, preexisting within us in their highest form.
The uneasiness which the thought of our helplessness in the chain of causes occasions us, results from looking too much at one condition of nature, namely, Motion. But the drag is never taken from the wheel. Wherever the impulse exceeds, the Rest or Identity insinuates its compensation. All over the wide fields of earth grows the prunella or self-heal . After every foolish day we sleep off the fumes and furies of its hours; and though we are always engaged with particulars, and often enslaved to them, we bring with us to every experiment the innate universal laws. These, while they exist in the mind as ideas, stand around us in nature forever embodied, a present sanity to expose and cure the insanity of men. Our servitude to particulars betrays into a hundred foolish expectations. We anticipate a new era from the invention of a locomotive, or a balloon; the new engine brings with it the old checks. They say that by electro-magnetism, your sallad shall be grown from the seed, whilst your fowl is roasting for dinner: it is a symbol of our modern aims and endeavors,---of our condensation and acceleration of objects: but nothing is gained: nature cannot be cheated: man's life is but seventy sallads long, grow they swift or grow they slow. In these checks and impossibilities, however, we find our advantage, not less than in the impulses. Let the victory fall where it will, we are on that side. And the knowledge that we traverse the whole scale of being, from the centre to the poles of nature, and have some stake in every possibility, lends that sublime lustre to death, which philosophy and religion have too outwardly and literally striven to express in the popular doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The reality is more excellent than the report. Here is no ruin, no discontinuity, no spent ball. The divine circulations never rest nor linger. Nature is the incarnation of a thought, and turns to a thought again, as ice becomes water and gas. The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is forever escaping again into the state of free thought. Hence the virtue and pungency of the influence on the mind, of natural objects, whether inorganic or organized. Man imprisoned, man crystallized, man vegetative, speaks to man impersonated. That power which does not respect quantity, which makes the whole and the particle its equal channel, delegates its smile to the morning, and distils its essence into every drop of rain. Every moment instructs, and every object: for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence, until after a long time.
Selected Criticism on "Nature":
- Francis, Richard Lee. "The Evolution of Emerson's Second 'Nature.' American Transcendental Quarterly, no 21 (Winter 1974): 33-35.
- Harris, Kenneth Marc. "Emerson's Second Nature," in Emerson: Prospect and Retrospect, 1982, pp. 33-48.
See also Emerson's Nature (1836) and "The Method of Nature" (1841).
IDEAS ON HARMONY WITH NATURE
BY ARTHUR DAHL
It might help to consider our topic, the role of nature in the politics of the environment, in the context of the following steps that define how our relationship with nature (the phenomena of the material world) has evolved down the centuries, from primitive man to the present.
1. Nature is dominant, omnipresent and man is subject to the forces of nature, which are not understood, are feared, are given mystical/divine explanations. Nature is not questioned. There is no separation between man and nature. People live in immediate contact with nature on their farms, in their forests, savannas or deserts, when fishing, etc. There may be attempts to appease natural forces, but not to control them.
2. With the rise of economies and trade, nature is seen as natural resources to be exploited. The vast planet is there for our benefit, constantly renewing itself without limit. The human impacts of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, mining seem tiny relative to the size of the Earth, and changes are so slow that they are hardly noticed. The idea of limits does not seem relevant. For the urban population, nature becomes separate, outside, rarely experienced directly. Civilization, the human system, is what is seen as important, and nature is to be conquered.
3. As human impacts grow and population rises, people see that natural areas are becoming scarce, and nature conservation becomes urgent. Nature is seen to be fragmented and diminishing, and we must preserve the best examples for future generations, locked up in reserves. Species extinctions become a concern, and invasive species spread around the world. We no longer live in nature but in the environment: everything outside of us, which human activity has modified or entirely constructed, whether in agricultural landscapes or urban areas, and this is often damaged or polluted as well. The rapid expansion of the human population and the consumer society makes us the dominant invasive species. Protection of the environment to ensure human welfare becomes the political priority, but nature is marginalized. There is still no view at the political level of the natural world as a dynamic system of which we are a part.
4. The loss of nature is imminent. Scientists declare the beginning of the Anthropocene, when planetary human impacts dominate natural transformations on a geological time scale. Humans are causing the sixth great mass extinction of species, with 4°C of global warming estimated to exterminate half of all species. Natural systems in their undisturbed form no longer exist, and humans unwittingly take on the 2
responsibility for the maintenance or restoration of the planetary life support systems and renewable natural resources that nature originally created and maintained. A systems view becomes essential for our own survival. Denial is rife, and the political system has yet to catch up.
Religion and Traditional Cultures as Sources of Knowledge about the Role of Nature
Sources of knowledge
There can be said to be three levels of our relationship with nature corresponding to three human realities:
– our physical or biological reality, with needs like other animals for food, water, shelter, security, a healthy environment, basic social relationships and emotional drives;
– our intellectual reality, the realm of reason and science; and
– our spiritual reality, rising above the material reality and escaping from it.
Our physical, biological or material reality is quite evident, and is all some people pay attention to. We have a body like all animals with physical, social and emotional needs, with a cycle of birth, reproduction and death to ensure the sustainability of the species. As a social species, we form human communities which in turn are part of the larger ecological systems of the biosphere. Our physical health depends on good nutrition, clean water, exercise, freedom from pollutants and protection from physical risks, which in turn depend in large part on functioning natural systems. At this level, knowledge is available to everyone through direct experience and observation.
What first distinguishes us from all other animals is our intellectual reality, which is intangible but easily demonstrated. We accumulate knowledge and science beyond single lifetimes, record and codify it, and pass it on through education. Science allows us to do research and perform experiments, leading to the discovery of the realities of nature at higher levels of generalization and abstraction, and finally to an understanding of complex systems and processes, and the story of the universe, our planet and our own history. As knowledge accumulates, information technology becomes dominant to provide tools to store, organize and share knowledge. Science has identified multiple realities as we experience it directly, and at the chemical, quantum, mathematical and pure information levels. It is easier to break down knowledge into ever smaller pieces than to synthesize it into complex evolving systems.
At this intellectual level, humanity masters and overcomes nature, using it for human purposes and building civilizations. We escape from the limitations that nature placed on the human body. Nature also serves as a model for the design of human systems, just as natural chemistry is a model for synthetic chemistry. Nature also serves as an inspiration in art, architecture (think of Gaudi in Barcelona), and engineering. Many fields of design are increasingly turning to organic forms where evolution and natural selection have already solved many design challenges. 3
Nature is also the object or an important component of many hobbies and forms of recreation, such as gardening, birding, hiking, skiing, golfing, sailing, rafting, kayaking, diving, etc. Many tourism destinations include nature as an important attraction. We even capture and recreate nature in zoos, aquariums and gardens. The traditional Japanese garden captures the essence of nature raised to a high art.
The spiritual reality is perhaps the most controversial, since it is marginalized in secular societies and actively denied in some atheist circles. Yet the vast majority of humanity takes it as given that humankind has a spiritual nature and purpose. It is at this level that we find the best expression of the ethical and moral principles associated with our relationship to nature, and some of the most relevant knowledge on how to reestablish a better balance with nature. It is therefore worth devoting more time to this dimension of reality and source of knowledge. The tools of rationality can shed light on the roles and functions of spirituality even if they cannot “prove” its origin and ultimate purpose. Spiritual knowledge complements but in reality no way contradicts scientific knowledge.
One significant source of knowledge at the spiritual level is in religious scriptures and texts. These include exhortations about respect for nature, moderation in its use, and a prohibition on waste. Nature is given a spiritual significance, with the qualities of God (or absolute perfection) being reflected in nature. Contemplating nature is therefore a path to spiritual understanding. The wisdom in the revealed religions about nature has a special advantage, since it is reinforced for believers by the power of Divine authority. Christianity is perhaps the tradition with the least reference to nature, leaning more on Old Testament sources, while the Baha’i Faith has the most detailed references. A compilation of relevant texts from some of the religions is provided in annex.
Beyond any particular religious or philosophical context, there are more general spiritual dimensions to our reaction to nature. The greatness, grander, beauty, power, and wonders of nature can invoke in us a sense of humility. This is very healthy in our struggle with our ego, and can help to draw us out of ourselves. For those who are open to it, nature can produce a deep resonance with our spirit or soul. As Baha’u’llah said, “the country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies”. The great spiritual teachers (Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Baha’u’llah) retreated into the wilderness to prepare for their mission. People in search, and in many traditional cultures, seek mystical experiences in nature, or find their deeper self or direction in life through being in nature, sometimes as part of coming of age rites on reaching maturity.
If humans have a spiritual reality, then they also have a spiritual purpose, to acquire virtues and attributes of what it is to be really human: love, compassion, forgiveness, trustworthiness, justice, humility, etc. While these are best expressed in human interactions, many can also be fostered by contact with animals and more generally with nature. Respect for all living beings is deeply rooted in most spiritual traditions.
There is good evidence that healing is improved through contact with nature. In one experiment, hospital patients with a view of a tree through the window healed faster than those with other kinds of views, or even those with a video representation of the same tree the same size as the window.
This knowledge of nature from spiritual sources is an important complement to scientific sources of knowledge. It is in no way contradictory, but while science tells us what to do with nature, and how to do 4
it to preserve it, the spiritual knowledge tells us why. It provides moral underpinning to the effort to bring nature back into the politics of the environment.
Indigenous knowledge and spirituality
Most indigenous peoples have a deep spirituality linked to nature, and see themselves as part of nature, often tracing their ancestry back to some totem or part of nature. Nature sends them signs to guide them. They may perform sacrifices or rites to please or appease nature. This traditional knowledge from the ancestors contains much that is scientifically valid, based on generations of observations and confirmations (Dahl 1985,1989). It includes both a detailed understanding of natural systems and processes, and practices that ensure the sustainability of natural resources.
For example, in New Caledonia, the scope of traditional Kanak knowledge of nature and the environment was very large (Dahl 1989). There were names for and a classification of every significant species of plant and animal. Periodic events like the movements of celestial bodies, the flowering and fruiting of trees, and the migrations of birds and fish were observed and incorporated into their system of knowledge and sense of time.
While the process of the observation of natural phenomena in Kanak society was similar to that of modern science, the intellectual context within which the observations were interpreted was very different. The Kanak did not identify himself as separate from the world around him; on the contrary, he was part of the world and perceived himself by analogy with objects in nature such as the yam, whose cycle symbolized the cycle of life. The ancestors were born from trees, and the body was identified with the vegetable kingdom. The different plants had symbolic meanings that were used as a kind of language. The land was the spiritual as well as material source of life. The habitat was worshipped, and there was no distinction between magic or myth and the natural world. The doctors and healers had their special knowledge of sicknesses, medicines and other treatments. A knowledge or skill was intimately related to the myth or magic with which it was inherited. One missionary describes a skilled sculptor and surgeon whose confidence rested in the gift from his deified ancestors; when he became a Christian, this confidence was destroyed and his skill was lost.
The family of the first occupants of a village provided the master of the land who distributed the land and maintained the cadastral system. There was often a master of yams or dry crops, and a master of wet or female crops (taro, bananas, sugar cane) who were the agricultural technicians and decided the timing of gardening operations. The master of a crop frequently had a small sacred garden in which he first practiced the different acts in the cultivation of the crops.
These ritual gardens served as micro experimental gardens and meteorological stations permitting the master to adapt his decisions to the variable climate. A resource might be managed through a taboo or prohibition. A taboo might be placed on a garden to protect the crop before the harvest, or an area of tall grass might be protected presumably because it was needed to repair the thatch on the huts in the village.
Fishing knowledge and magic was held by the families responsible for supplying fish to the chief. The head of a family on Lifou had a magic allowing him to climb up on a promontory and to ask the relations of his god in another locality to send fish to his brothers-in-law; although the rite is no longer followed, when the wind blows from the other locality it still washes fish up on the sand, just as it did the day after 5
the rite. The magic was thus related to a natural phenomenon, and the skill of the magician may have come from knowing when to perform the rite.
A clan might be foresters or carpenters, with a knowledge of the forest trees, the qualities of each wood, the techniques for cutting and hauling a tree to the building site, and the construction of huts or the making of canoes. Families might own magic to control the sun, the rain, cyclones, or the land breeze to chase away bad weather (for detailed references, see Dahl 1989).
Another personal example comes from the Solomon Islands. In 1975, the Government of the Solomon Islands asked me to investigate a fisheries management problem in the Lau Lagoon on the island of Malaita. The fishermen lived in villages on artificial islands in the lagoon, where the local traditional money consisted of strings of white, black and orange disks cut and ground from different shells. Only one kind of shell had a band of orange, and these were most highly prized, and subject to overfishing. They were becoming hard to find. Strings of the money were used for traditional exchanges such as to buy pigs or wives. The same custom group included Bougainville island in Papua New Guinea, which had at the time the world’s largest copper and gold mine. The mine workers with good salaries could buy more strings of money for traditional exchanges, producing a shortage. The Lau Lagoon could not keep up with the demand.
The shell fishery was traditionally managed by the old pagan priests, and a few were still alive, living in the taboo sacred area on the artificial island. The priest explained to me that he controlled the shell fishery by placing taboos on different parts of the lagoon. When he received enough pigs to sacrifice, he would perform the traditional ceremonies and then lift the taboo on one section of the lagoon so that the shells could be collected to make the shell money. Then he would put the taboo on again until enough pigs were given for the ceremony, when he would lift the taboo on another section of the lagoon. Normally, he would keep the taboo on any area for 4-5 years, just the time for the shells to reach a harvestable size, an excellent fisheries management technique. However, since World War II, most of the villagers had become Christian or Baha’i and were no longer giving pigs to sacrifice, so he had kept the taboo on for 30 years. The system had broken down and the taboo was no longer respected. I met with the fishermen and explained the wisdom behind the traditional taboo system. If they no longer followed the old pagan religion, they could at least designated some wise old fishermen that they all respected, and ask them to close and open parts of the lagoon to shell collecting in the same way, to maintain the productivity of the resource. There was also an economic wisdom to the old system, as it maintained the value of the shell money in terms of the number of pigs sacrificed, as pigs were very valuable (the pig standard).
The taboo houses were in a separate walled area of the island, and mostly in disrepair. There were also some piles of skulls. In the house I visited, there were shelves along the back wall with baskets, each containing a skull. The priest explained that these were his ancestors in the priestly line, and he needed to recite their names during the ceremony. They were there to remind him. There were holes in the thatched roof, and I asked why he did not repair it. He said that was difficult. In order to rebuild a taboo house, you had to dig a large hole, place a man in the bottom of the hole, and place the center post (a tree trunk) on top of the man. SInce WWII, it was no longer possible to find a man to put in the hole. Obviously it is not desirable to retain all parts of the traditional religion, so the local people must decide what to reject and what to retain.
The way ahead 6
Today we need to reverse the steps in our evolving role in nature, in a sense completing the circle to bring wholeness to our approach. Today’s materialists still see their priority as making money by exploiting nature, or what might crudely be called rape and profit. The more highly evolved people of today have become respecters of nature, acknowledging the importance of natural resources and our dependence on them, and admiring the beauties and wonders of nature, but they still have an environmental perspective with nature as something outside of themselves. Only if we can combine a scientific understanding of the complex systems of which we are a part, with an awareness of the significance of our relationship to nature as something integral to our being and essential to our spiritual development, will we finally overcome the damaging misunderstanding of our separation from nature and accept our wholeness which can also become holiness.
Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 1985. Traditional environmental management in New Caledonia: a review of existing knowledge. South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Topic Review 18. South Pacific Commission, Noumea. 17 p.
Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 1989. Traditional environmental knowledge and resource management in New Caledonia. In R.E. Johannes (ed.), Traditional Ecological Knowledge: a Collection of Essays. IUCN, Gland and Cambridge. 64 p. http://islands.unep.ch/dtradknc.htm
Useful web sites:
Forum on Religion and Ecology http://fore.research.yale.edu/religion/index.html
International Environment Forum: http://iefworld.org/
ANNEX – SELECTED RELIGIOUS TEXTS ON NATURE
HINDUISM – BHAGAVAD GITA
All actions take place in time by the interweaving of the forces of Nature; but the man lost in selfish delusion thinks that he himself is the actor.
But the man who knows the relation between the forces of Nature and actions, sees how some forces of Nature work on other forces of Nature, and becomes not their slave.
Those who are under the delusion of the forces of Nature bind themselves to the work of these forces. Let not the wise man who sees the All disturb the unwise who sees not the All. (3:27-29)
Job 12:7-10 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? 7
In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.
Psalms 8:3-9 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalms 104:10-30: You [God] make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart. The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys. You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out. The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and the Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
Isaiah 24:5-8 The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left. The wine dries up, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the timbrels is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased…
John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it
Luke 12:24 “Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds!” 8
Luke 12:27-28 “Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.” And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty fold. (Matthew 13:3-8)
Matthew 14:23 He went up on the mountain by himself to pray. And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Mark 1:12-13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.
Rom 8:19-23 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
1 Corinthians 11:26 …for “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.”
Rev 11:18 The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for the dead to be judged, and to recompense your servants, the prophets, and the holy ones and those who fear your name, the small
Metta Sutta, “Loving-kindness”
This is what should be done
By those who are skilled in goodness,
And who know the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways, 9
Peaceful and calm, wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be,
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born to-be-born–
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upward to the skies,
And downward to the depths,
Outward and unbounded.
Freed from hatred and ill-will, 10
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.
and the great alike, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.
6:141 Al-An‘am – Cattle
It is He who produceth
Gardens, with trellises
And without, and dates,
And tilth with produce
Of all kinds, and olives
Similar (in kind)
And different (in variety):
Eat of their fruit
In their season, but render
The dues that are proper
On the day that the harvest
Is gathered. But waste not
By excess: for God 11
Loveth not the wasters.
6:38 Al-An‘am – Cattle
There is not an animal
(That lives) on the earth,
Nor a being that flies
On its wings, but (forms
Part of) communities like you.
Nothing have we omitted
From the Book, and they (all)
Shall be gathered to their Lord
In the end.
62:1 Al-Jumu‘ah – The Assembly (Friday) Prayer
In the heavens and
On earth, doth declare
The Praises and Glory
Of God, – the Sovereign,
The Holy One, the Exalted
In Mighty, the Wise.
2:164 Al-Baqarah – The Cow
Behold! In the creation
Of the heavens and the earth;
In the alternation 12
Of the Night and the Day;
In the sailing of the ships
Through the ocean
For the profit of mankind;
In the rain which God
Sends down from the skies,
And the life which He gives therewith
To an earth that is dead;
In the beasts of all kinds
That He scatters
Through the earth;
In the change of the winds
And the clouds which they
Trail like their slaves
Between the sky and the earth; –
(Here) indeed are Signs
For a people that are wise.
55:1-13 Rahman – (God) Most Gracious
God, Most Gracious!
It is He Who has
Taught the Qur’an.
He has created man:
He has taught him speech (and intelligence).
The sun and the moon
Follow courses (exactly) computed; 13
And the herbs and the trees –
Both (alike) bow in adoration.
And the Firmament has He
Raised high, and He has set up
The Balance (of Justice),
In order that ye may
Not transgress (due) balance.
So establish weight with justice
And fall not short
In the balance.
It is He Who has
Spread out the earth
For (His) creatures:
Therein is fruit
And date palms, producing
Spathes (enclosing dates);
Also corn, with (its)
Leaves and stalk for fodder,
And sweet-smelling plants.
Then which of the favours
Of your Lord will ye deny?
15:19 Al-Hijr – The Rocky Tract
And the earth We have spread out
(Like a carpet); set thereon
Mountains firm and immovable; 14
And produced therein all kinds
Of things in due balance.
2:204-207 Al-Baqarah – The Cow
There is the type of man
About this world’s life
May dazzle thee,
And he calls God to witness
About what is in his heart;
Yet is he the most contentious
When he turns his back,
His aim everywhere
Is to spread mischief
Through the earth and destroy
Crops and cattle
But God loveth not mischief.
When it is said to him,
He is led by arrogance
To (more) crime.
Enough for him is Hell; –
An evil bed indeed
(To lie on)!
And there is the type of man 15
Who gives his life
To earn the pleasure of God;
And God is full of kindness
To (His) devotees.
Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.
Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 142 Bahá’u’lláh loved the beauty and verdure of the country. One day He passed the remark: ‘I have not gazed on verdure for nine years. The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies.’
‘Abdu’l-Bahá quoting Bahá’u’lláh, in J. E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era. Chpt. 3, p. 35…whatever I behold I readily discover that it maketh Thee known unto me, and it remindeth me of Thy signs, and of Thy tokens, and of Thy testimonies. By Thy glory! Every time I lift up mine eyes unto Thy heaven, I call to mind Thy highness and Thy loftiness, and Thine incomparable glory and greatness; and every time I turn my gaze to Thine earth, I am made to recognize the evidences of Thy power and the tokens of Thy bounty. And when I behold the sea, I find that it speaketh to me of Thy majesty, and of the potency of Thy might, and of Thy sovereignty and Thy grandeur. And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence.
…I can hear from the whisper of the winds the sound of Thy glorification and praise, and can recognize in the murmur of the waters the voice that proclaimeth Thy virtues and Thine attributes, and can apprehend from the rustling of the leaves the mysteries that have been irrevocably ordained by Thee in Thy realm.
Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, CLXXVI, p 272 Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory….
Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf,, p. 44 This nature is subjected to an absolute organization, to determined laws, to a complete order and to a finished design, from which it will never depart – to such a degree, indeed, that if you look carefully and with keen sight, from the smallest invisible atom up to such large bodies of the world of existence as the globe of the sun or the other great stars and luminous spheres, whether you regard their arrangement, their composition, their form or their movement, you will find that all are in the highest degree of organization and are under one law from which they will never depart.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, Chpt. I, p. 3 By nature is meant those inherent properties and necessary relations derived from the realities of things. And these realities of things, though in the utmost diversity, are yet intimately connected one with the other. 16
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablet to Dr. Forel, in The Bahá’í Revelation, p. 223 All these endless beings which inhabit the world, whether man, animal, vegetable, mineral – whatever they may be – are surely, each one of them, composed of elements. There is no doubt that this perfection which is in all beings, is caused by the creation of God from the composing elements, by their appropriate mingling and proportionate quantities, the mode of their composition, and the influence of other beings. For all beings are connected together like a chain, and reciprocal help, assistance, and influence belonging to the properties of things, are the causes of the existence, development and growth of created beings.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, Chpt. XLVI, p. 207 As preordained by the Fountain-head of Creation, the temple of the world hath been fashioned after the image and likeness of the human body. In fact each mirroreth forth the image of the other, wert thou but to observe with discerning eyes. By this is meant that even as the human body in this world, which is outwardly composed of different limbs and organs, is in reality a closely integrated, coherent entity, similarly the structure of the physical world is like unto a single being whose limbs and members are inseparably linked together.
Were one to observe with an eye that discovereth the realities of all things, it would become clear that the greatest relationship that bindeth the world of being together lieth in the range of created things themselves, and that co-operation, mutual aid and reciprocity are essential characteristics in the unified body of the world of being, inasmuch as all created things are closely related together and each is influenced by the other or deriveth benefit therefrom, either directly or indirectly.
Consider for instance how one group of created things constituteth the vegetable kingdom, and another the animal kingdom. Each of these two maketh use of certain elements in the air on which its own life dependeth, while each increaseth the quantity of such elements as are essential for the life of the other. In other words, the growth and development of the vegetable world is impossible without the existence of the animal kingdom, and the maintenance of animal life is inconceivable without the co-operation of the vegetable kingdom. Of like kind are the relationships that exist among all created things. Hence it was stated that co-operation and reciprocity are essential properties which are inherent in the unified system of the world of existence, and without which the entire creation would be reduced to nothingness.
In surveying the vast range of creation thou shalt perceive that the higher a kingdom of created things is on the arc of ascent, the more conspicuous are the signs and evidences of the truth that co-operation and reciprocity at the level of a higher order are greater than those that exist at the level of a lower order. For example, the evident signs of this fundamental reality are more discernible in the vegetable kingdom than in the mineral, and still more manifest in the animal world than in the vegetable.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in Compilation on Social and Economic Development, p. 12 When… thou dost contemplate the innermost essence of all things, and the individuality of each, thou wilt behold the signs of thy Lord’s mercy in every created thing, and see the spreading rays of His Names and Attributes throughout all the realm of being…. Then wilt thou observe that the universe is a scroll that discloseth His hidden secrets, which are preserved in the well-guarded Tablet. And not an atom of all the atoms in existence, not a creature from amongst the creatures but speaketh His praise and telleth of His attributes and names, revealeth the glory of His might and guideth to His oneness and His mercy….
And whensoever thou dost gaze upon creation all entire, and dost observe the very atoms thereof, thou wilt note that the rays of the Sun of Truth are shed upon all things and shining within them, and telling of 17
that Day-Star’s splendours, Its mysteries, and the spreading of Its lights. Look thou upon the trees, upon the blossoms and fruits, even upon the stones. Here too wilt thou behold the Sun’s rays shed upon them, clearly visible within them, and manifested by them.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 41-42 The elements and lower organisms are synchronized in the great plan of life. Shall man, infinitely above them in degree, be antagonistic and a destroyer of that perfection?
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, talk at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, 8 October 1912. Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 350 Briefly, it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature…. The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast.
Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let the children try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 158-159 We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.
Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 17 February 1933, Compilation on Social and Economic Development, p. 4 Bahá’í Scriptures describe nature as a reflection of the sacred. They teach that nature should be valued and respected, but not worshipped; rather, it should serve humanity’s efforts to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. However, in light of the interdependence of all parts of nature, and the importance of evolution and diversity “to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole,” every effort should be made to preserve as much as possible the earth’s bio-diversity and natural order.
As trustees, or stewards, of the planet’s vast resources and biological diversity, humanity must learn to make use of the earth’s natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, in a manner that ensures sustainability and equity into the distant reaches of time. This attitude of stewardship will require full consideration of the potential environmental consequences of all development activities. It will compel humanity to temper its actions with moderation and humility, realizing that the true value of nature cannot be expressed in economic terms. It will also require a deep understanding of the natural world and its role in humanity’s collective development – both material and spiritual. Therefore, sustainable environmental management must come to be seen not as a discretionary commitment mankind can weigh against other competing interests, but rather as a fundamental responsibility that must be shouldered – a pre-requisite for spiritual development as well as the individual’s physical survival.
Bahá’í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19 February 1998
Arthur Dahl – Ideas on Harmony with Nature