Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Letter to the Earth

The earth is you. You are the earth. When you realize there is no separation, says the late Thich Nhat Hanh, you fall completely in love with this beautiful planet.

Thich Nhat Hanh
21 April 2023
Photo via Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation

At this very moment, the earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you. The earth is everywhere.

You may be used to thinking of the earth as only the ground beneath your feet. But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the earth. Everything outside us and everything inside us come from the earth.

We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the earth and are part of the earth. The earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the earth and we are always carrying her within us.

The earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the earth and we are always carrying her within us.

Realizing this, we can see that the earth is truly alive. We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet. Knowing this, we can begin to transform our relationship to the earth. We can begin to walk differently and to care for her differently.

We will fall completely in love with the earth. When we are in love with someone or something, there is no separation between ourselves and the person or thing we love. We do whatever we can for them and this brings us great joy and nourishment. That is the relationship each of us can have with the earth. That is the relationship each of us must have with the earth if the earth is to survive, and if we are to survive as well.

If we think about the earth as just the environment around us, we experience ourselves and the earth as separate entities. We may see the planet only in terms of what it can do for us.

We need to recognize that the planet and the people on it are ultimately one and the same. When we look deeply at the earth, we see that she is a formation made up of non-earth elements: the sun, the stars, and the whole universe. Certain elements, such as carbon, silicon, and iron, formed long ago in the heat of far-off supernovas. Distant stars contributed to their light.

When we look into a flower, we can see that it’s made of many different elements, so we also call it a formation. A flower is made of many non-flower elements. The entire universe can be seen in a flower. If we look deeply into the flower, we can see the sun, the soil, the rain, and the gardener. Similarly, when we look deeply into the earth, we can see the presence of the whole cosmos.

A lot of our fear, hatred, anger, and feelings of separation and alienation come from the idea that we are separate from the planet. We see ourselves as the center of the universe and are concerned primarily with our own personal survival. If we care about the health and well-being of the planet, we do so for our own sake. We want the air to be clean enough for us to breathe. We want the water to be clear enough so that we have something to drink. But we need to do more than use recycled products or donate money to environmental groups.

We have to change our whole relationship with the earth.

Reprinted from Love Letter to the Earth (2013), by Thich Nhat Hanh, with permission of Parallax Press.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) was a renowned Zen teacher and poet, the founder of the Engaged Buddhist movement, and the founder of nine monastic communities, including Plum Village Monastery in France. He was also the author of At Home in the World, The Other Shore, and more than a hundred other books that have sold millions of copies worldwide.