Turning the Self

Featured in Mountain Record 30.1, Summer 2011


How do you turn the self and return to the mountains,
rivers and the great earth?

                                               —Changsha Jingsen

As we were putting together this issue of the Mountain Record, Daido Roshi’s voice was often in my ear. He spoke many times on the koan from which the above quote is taken, and even now, as I write this, I can hear him repeating the question a monk asked Changsha: “How do you turn the mountains, rivers and the great earth and return to the self?” Roshi would stop here briefly for effect. Then he would lean forward to deliver, with obvious relish, Changsha’s answer: How do you turn the self and return to the mountains, rivers and the great earth? How do we understand the self and its relationship to the environment? This is the question that our contributors are trying to address.

In a fiery dharma discourse, Daido Roshi pushes us to go beyond our self-centered preoccupations and to see clearly the nature of our true self—which, he reminds us, is no different from the nature of our ailing earth. Shugen Sensei and Ryushin Sensei both underline the insidiousness of our ignorance and disregard, and point to the truth of our infinite capacity to care about and take care of our planet when we clearly understand our identity with it.

The articles by Richard Louv and Van Jones offer different perspectives on the environmental movement by giving examples of the ways in which various religious and minority groups are attempting to address the ecological crisis. Van Jones makes a strong argument for the participation of people of color in environmental issues, warning, “If we do not get involved, we will end up with eco- apartheid—a society with ecological haves and have-nots.” He also advocates for the marriage of racial and environmental justice, just as Louv applauds the union of religion, or spirituality, and environmental action. But the first priority, they both stress, is to realize that inaction is no longer an option.

It is probably fair to say that anyone who has ever been exposed to the issue of climate change has at one point wished that it would just go away. But as Michael Pollan pointedly writes, “Climate change is upon us, and it has arrived well ahead of schedule.” This means that the stories we tell ourselves and that serve as our excuses for doing nothing, are no longer tenable.

Yet there is much to be hopeful about. There is still great beauty in nature, as the poems and images in this issue show. And there is great determination and spirit in the thousands upon thousands of people who are involved in various movements— including the MRO’s own Green Dragon Earth Initiative, about which Shugen Sensei speaks in this issue—whose purpose is to do their part, however small, to save this great earth of ours. We hope that this issue of the Mountain Record will inspire you to join in this effort. 

Mn. Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, MRO
Mountain Record, Managing Editor