One of the more insidious things about religions is their claim to exclusivity. The belief than any religion is the “only true religion” is bound to run up against the fact that there are many religions in the world, most of them sincerely believed. We have much to learn from religions outside the one (if any) we were raised in. I’ve known about Thich Nhat Hanh for quite a few years now. One of his books was published (perhaps republished) by Routledge. As their religion editor I was familiar with it, but as he was not “my author” (that’s the way publishing works), I didn’t contact him. One of the most famous Buddhist religious teachers, Thich Nhat Hahn strives to transcend religion, which seems like a noble goal. His Zen approach is simple and important.
This book’s title, Love Letter to the Earth, indicates what it is. A reflection on environmental sensibility, it includes literal love letters to the planet. Arguably it is probably a book best read in small batches with time to contemplate between each reading. Although some aspects are clearly Buddhist, there are also noticeably Christian elements as well. Christian spiritual leaders, such as Thomas Merton, knew there was no inherent conflict between Christianity and Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh is also remarkably prolific, having written over 150 books. World religious leaders need to take a lesson here concerning speaking out about environmental justice. Certainly there are those who will disagree with aspects of his theology, as reasonable and important as it is. The message is larger than that.
This book is based on the truth that we are all made of this universe and we contain within ourselves that universe. The earth is our mother, understood by Nhat Hahn in an almost, if not literally, literal way. While this isn’t news it is nevertheless profound. When religions are used as excuses to attack the earth they cease to be true in any sense. Those who don’t buy that perverted outlook are being condemned by those who do. The earth is our home and it is our responsibility to preserve it not only for our own sake, but that of all creatures. Thich Nhat Hanh does without being judgmental. He instead calls for a religion that takes other religions as part of a non-conflictual belief system. Religion starts wars. Wars, of course, come at great cost to the planet, quite apart from the human suffering. There is much wisdom in this slim book which would benefit many to read.