Nature Mysticism



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Nature Mysticism and jnani
We have seen that Nature Mysticism and the via positiva are inextricably linked. None of the great renunciates on the via negativa have spoken about Nature, the Buddha being a good example. We do find of course an interaction with the living world, and there are many accounts of animals being drawn to Ramana Maharshi for example. But we find that there is no place for Nature in his teachings, as his 'who am I?' has the tendency to strip away all the manifest world, starting with one's own body-mind. What Nature Mysticism does is to illustrate a non-renunciative form of jnani transcendence.
Firstly, can we be so sure that Nature Mysticism is a jnani path? Bearing in mind that at some level all these distinctions have to disappear, the answer must still be yes. If we survey the great bhakti Masters then we find that their devotions and ecstasies are very much an inward affair, and turn outwards only in respect of their beloved disciples. This is not to say that they may not have a sensitive eye for Nature, or that they may not have a deep understanding of the dynamics and drama of the conditioned realm (manifest world). Rumi for example has a rich store of natural observation to draw on in his poetry, but it is usually always there as a metaphor, and not for itself. Indeed, and we have not commented on it yet, but the very idea that the natural world contains within its fabric the transcendent, which in some ways means a leaving behind of the manifest world including Nature, is paradoxical. Perhaps for the bhakti the developed aesthetic eye is simply not present because they use the eye of the heart, and that is more likely to respond to human love and its transcendent counterpart, the love of God.
So let us return to the question of what Nature Mysticism tell us about jnani. If, as we just suggested, the eye for the natural world is so developed (and also the senses of hearing, taste, smell, and touch), then somehow the senses bring about an exalted state of mind, in the first instance, rather than heart. The fact that the Nature mystic may also have a scientific inclination tells us again that the jnani individual in this context delights in knowledge of the manifest world, and its sensory counterpart, Nature. But this is not knowledge that textbooks contain, but its highest development; wisdom.
Another common feature with the more renunciative type of jnani is the presence of a refined will; we see it in Jefferies and Thoreau, that they create a spiritual practice, usually of walking, that is a direct counterpart to the many meditation practices found in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is not the bhakti form of surrender, but a making oneself available through the effort of placing oneself in a particular context. In Zen it is sitting with eyes closed; with Nature Mysticism it is walking with eyes open.
It might be possible to doubt that Nature Mysticism had something in common with the fully-developed jnani, were it not for the wonderful example of Krishnamurti. Although his dialogues and lectures did not often use the device of Nature, his attitude towards it is remarkably close to that of a Jefferies or a Whitman. We have said that Krishnamurti was not that representative of 20th-century Western thinking as a whole, but as a modern Buddha perhaps his response to Nature was a truly modern innovation over the Buddhas of the East, and represents an archetype for the future.



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