Retreating into the forest

Posted by Karunajoti on 21 April 2022


I see you Piwakawaka,
tiny warrior of the sacred forest,
child of Tane, nimble and swift.
Guardian of the hidden realms,
appearing from nowhere,
bathed in emerald green light.
I hear you Piwakawaka
as I stand enchanted
by the ancient ones,
and I bow to you in peace.


As we move into the quieter autumn and winter months at Sudarshanaloka I’ve been reflecting on how much our retreat centre includes the forest. How we are not separate from the myriad of life forms arising, abiding and falling away throughout this land of beautiful vision. How the forest is our retreat centre and how we are all interconnected with the life it supports.

The beautiful vision we speak of arises from the sangha, the community of people, who gather together here to meditate and explore the dharma, and the forest is an integral part of the whole experience. We are intricately entangled with life unfolding all around us. Simply being in the forest, wandering the trails, sitting beneath the mighty ratas and bathing in the dancing, filtered sunlight can be very conducive to our spiritual practice.

The quieter months can be magic in the forest and it’s a perfect time to come on solitary at Sudarshanaloka. Chetul now has a cosy ‘Roaring Meg’ fire and Tara’s existing fireplace is soon to be upgraded.

If you visit in the cooler months you’ll not only be in the fine company of Piwakawaka, you will also witness life unfolding in the strange and wonderful fungi and lichens that emerge in the mild and moist conditions. Some are brilliantly coloured, intricately patterned and exquisitely beautiful. They grow on the ground, on decaying logs, tree trunks, branches and rocks. They come in various shapes and sizes from delicately tiny to large and robust. Some of them form tiny landscapes in their own right, appearing as forests within forests.

Sangharakshita, the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order, once said:
‘Ethics is really to do with feeling solidarity with all life, a direct recognition of the same life in the beings around us that we know in ourselves. If we are to act ethically, we must rediscover this natural empathy for life that we had, at least in germinal form, in childhood. The metaphor of rediscovery implies that our effort is not one of willing something new into being, but of attending to our experience more closely to see what is already there. If we pay close attention we will find that we are already sensitive to the life around us. It is as if all the time life communicates directly with life at a level below our normal attention - like a background hum to which we’ve become accustomed and fail to notice any more. We’re most likely to recognise this sensitivity, for instance, when immersed deep in a forest. If we are receptive to what is going on we may pick up what can be described as a vibration, a kind of emanation from the life in the midst of which we are plunged. To feel ourselves thus enfolded by the life around us can be a deeply soothing and refreshing experience.’ from ‘Re-imagining the Buddha’ by Subhuti

Maybe if you visit Sudarshanaloka in the cooler months you'll experience this for yourself!