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    Dharma Glimpse by Kokuu

    My Zen friend Sarah told me about the Merlin app for identifying birdsong.  I live in a small village in east Kent and one day when I was sitting outside with the dogs, I opened the app to see what birds it would recognise.

    The most interesting thing for me is that app identifies birds that I may not be able to see, and that afternoon it heard song from goldfinches, kestrels and long-tailed tits, none of which I can recall seeing in the area before.  A week earlier it identified the call of a little owl. 

    Buddhism largely deals with the human condition of suffering as it was taught by the Buddha in his dharma, and this is practiced in a sangha of human beings.  However, One Earth Sangha is a Buddhist community I often practice with that focusses on the intersection of environmental issues and Buddhist practice and there, it is emphasised that the sangha is larger than we often think, and include other species, which they term ‘more than human’ beings. 

    The more than human may be considered to include animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms, but also rivers, mountains, rocks and the air.  Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan reminds us that

    the land, grasses and trees, fences and walls, tiles and pebbles, all things in
    the dharma realm of the ten directions, perform the work of the buddhas

    The birds I find using my app are definitely part of my more than human sangha, as are the oak trees that surround my flat, the squirrels that live in them, the grasses, sorrel, buttercups and other flowers than adorn the lawn, and the chalk rocks that this part of the country rests upon. 

    Why is it important to consider our more than human sangha?  Firstly, I find that thinking about them makes me feel grateful for the trees, flowers, birds and soil of where I am, providing us with not just beauty but shelter, oxygen and food. 

    Secondly, my actions impact on the more than human world, for good or ill, whether that is leaving seeds out for the birds and squirrels in the winter, using chemicals in the house which may find their way into the local water sources, or the mode of travel I choose to take. 

    We are all interwoven in this world, in a cycle of giving and receiving, and however much we might like to think that human beings are special and separate from nature, we are not.  Going further, Buddhism would even say that as we drop our attachment to ideas of self and other, this lack of separation is laid bare.  Listening to bird calls may be a tiny step to seeing that, but it feels like a good one to take. 

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