AS EARLY AS the eighth century, Tiantai (Tendai in Japan) Buddhism in China expanded Buddhist belief that all sentient beings have Buddha-nature to include non-sentient beings as well, such as plants, trees, the soil, and even "a tiny particle of dust (*)." This way of thinking about the universal existence of Buddha-nature had a significant impact upon the way in which gardens and their materials were understood. Parkes chronicles the history of this belief from Saicho (766-822 founder of the Tendai school of Buddhism in Japan), who was the first in Japan to affirm the "Buddha-nature of trees and rocks," to Kukai (774-835), who proclaimed that sentient and non-sentient beings alike were the body of the Buddha, of the Divine, to the great master Dogen, who translated the statement made in the Nirvana Sutra that "all sentient beings without exception have Buddha-nature" as "all is sentient being, all beings are Buddha-nature." (**)
It is in and through the natural landscape that the self-realized soul can read, as Dogen writes, "Buddha's shape, form and voice" (**). Nature can be read as scripture if one has the heart and mind to see what is there before one. We need to be open to the natural environment and learn to listen to its teachings as a "non-sentient's dharma-discourse," that is, as the true teachings of Buddha himself (***). Indeed, Dogen takes us yet one step further, by actually going beyond "the distinction between sentient and non-sentient beings," for he claims that even "walls and tiles, mountains, rivers, and the great earth are also to be included (**). Thus not only natural, but even human-made objects are to be considered as participating in the divinity of existence, and presumably are to be treated with respect precisely because they are sacred objects.
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(*) Zhanran, Jigang Bi, as cited in Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy 1953, 285-86
(**) "Voices of Mountains, Trees, and Rivers: Kukai, Dogen, and a Deeper Ecology, by Graham Parkes in "Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds, ed. by Mary Evelyn Tucker, Duncan Ryūken Williams, 1997, 113-17.
(***) Flowering of Emptiness: Selections from Dogen's Shobogenzo, Keisei Sanshoku, translated by Hee-Jin Kim, 262.
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