Meditation and natural beauty

The Buddha and his ordained disciples spent a significant amount of their time in natural surroundings. This was mainly because forests offered them the silence and peace that can make meditation easier. But apart from this advantage, it seems the beauties of the natural world, of the groves and hills, the flowers and the jungle pools, the rustle of the leaves and the songs of the birds, have in some way the ability to enhanced meditation. The Buddha specifically mentioned that he decided to settle down to do the final meditation just before his enlightenment at Uruvelā, in part because of the sylvan surroundings. He said: ‘Then, being a seeker for the good, searching for the incomparable, matchless path of peace, while walking on tour through Magadha, I arrived at Uruvela, the army township. There I saw a beautiful stretch of ground, a lovely woodland grove, a clear flowing river with a delightful bank and a village nearby for support. And I thought, “Indeed, this is a good place for a young man set on striving.” So I sat down there, thinking, “Indeed, this is a good place for striving.”’ (M.I,166-7). The Visuddhimagga says that different psychological types can meditate better in location better than in another. A person prone to negative passions, it suggests, does better in an ‘abode provided with shade and water, with well-proportioned walls, pillars and steps, with attractive frieze and lattice-work and brightened with various types of paintings.’ A slow-minded person should, it continues, do his or her meditation an unenclosed location, for example ‘where gardens, groves and ponds, pleasant prospects, panoramas of villages, towns and landscapes and the blue haze of the hills are visible.’ (Vis.110).

If the beauties of the natural world can assist meditation it is also true that the meditator’s mind can develop a heightened awareness of and appreciation for beauty, including natural beauty. When someone told him that he found the forests frightening, the Buddha replied: ‘At the midday hour when the birds are quiet, I find the rustle of the great forest delightful.’ (S.I,7). Much of the poetry in the Theragāthā and the Therigātha bears eloquent testimony to the link between successful meditation and the sensitivity to nature. The monk Bhūta said that meditation together with sylvan surroundings filled him with the highest joy. ‘When the storm clouds rumble and pour down their torrents and the birds take to the sky, the monk who has gone to his grotto to meditate finds no greater delight than this. When happily meditating on the flowery river bank, surrounded by the many and varied plants, he finds no greater delight than this. When night comes to the lonely grove with a shower of rain and the roar of the fanged beasts, the monk who has gone to his grotto to meditate finds no greater delight than this.’ (Th.522-4). Another monk, Taḷapuṭa, composed these verses. ‘In a rocky grotto on a mountain peak, a delightful place, where wild boar and deer roam, sprinkled with rain drops, I go to my cave and rejoice. Peacocks with their azure necks, beautiful crests, colourful tails and variegated wings, greet the rolling thunder with their calls. What delight as you meditate in the woods! And when the rain has fallen, when the grass is four fingers high, when the forest is in full bloom, I shall drift like a cloud on the mountain, lie like a tree in the forest, light as a wisp of cotton.’ (Th.1135-7).

A few passages in the Tipiṭaka even suggested that the beauty of the landscape could be enhanced by the enlightened ascetics who chose to make it their abode. ‘Whether in village or forest, on hills or plain, wherever saints live, that is a delightful place.’ (Dhp.98).

See Gardens.

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