Sacred Plants, Sacred World — Sacred You?

“Our personal attempts to live humanely in this world are never wasted. Choosing to cultivate love rather than anger just might be what it takes to save the planet from extinction.”

– Pema Chodron

In India, the Tulsi plant, called the “Queen of Herbs,” is regarded as sacred due to its health-promoting characteristics — in Hindu homes, it is given a place of honor. Other cultures recognize sacred plants of their own — for the ancient Celts, it was mistletoe; for the Aztecs and Mayans, it was corn. Native Americans revere tobacco, and European Christians of the middle ages viewed St. John’s Wort as holy.

It is almost universal that we hold certain places, people, and things as “sacred,” or, according to the dictionary, “entitled to reverence and respect.” We could say that “sacred” is a point of view — a way of granting special significance. Granting significance is a type of human “super power” for better or worse. Where and to what we assign meaning is one way we create our reality and beliefs.

Sacred World

What if we choose to view everything in our perception as “sacred,” or entitled to reverence and respect? This does not mean all things are the same, because everything in existence — every plant, rock, animal, human, mountain, river, and ocean; every planet, star, and galaxy — is utterly unique, with its own distinct nature. 

According to the Vedic creation story, Shiva, the principle of absolute consciousness, needed Shakti, the primal creative energy, to manifest his visions. At first Shakti refused — she was unwilling to surrender her wild freedom. But when Shiva promised her that every single thing they created, from tiny specks of dust to vast galaxies, would be completely unique and distinct, Shakti agreed to join him in a great cosmic dance of existence. 

What if we choose to regard everything is existence as unique and worthy of reverence and respect?

Shiva and Shakti joined as one in a cosmic dance of creation.

Sacred You?

The challenge is to accept that each of us, with our distinct natures and qualities, is worthy of the same respect and reverence. We imagine that us + everything else = totality — that we exist apart from all creation. This persistent illusion of separateness leaves us feeling alone and at the mercy of the tyranny of like and dislike, acceptance and rejection — the duality of “self” and “other.” 

A different point of view, possibly closer to the truth of things, is that totality + totality = totality. When we surrender our hallucination of being separate from totality, we abandon unworthiness, comparisons of “self” and “other,” and mistaken beliefs about ourselves. 

We can begin to perceive everything in creation, including ourselves, as worthy of respect and reverence. We can also accept our own distinct characteristics and perceived imperfections — and when we do, we can also accept the uniqueness and idiosyncrasies of others. There is no individual “perfection” if everything is perfect, just as it is.

An Experiment

Each of us must discover these principles on their own, but it’s helpful to approach them from a sense of “play” — we can experiment with this different way of seeing ourselves and the world. 

Try dedicating some time each day to exploring this idea — that everything, including you, is “sacred,” or worthy of reverence and respect. Observing nature is a good way to start. 

Play with watching tiny ants at work, and try regarding them as expressions of life rather than unwanted picnic guests. See the way plants grow, imbued with their own natural intelligence. Listen to the music of the wind, or the sound of flowing water in a stream. Watch children playing. And ask yourself, “Is this sacred? Is this worthy of reverence and respect?”

What happens when you observe and ask these questions? Can you be gentler with yourself and others? Does the world seem more benevolent? Does ‘struggle’ seem less important? And finally, you may arrive at an insight — the choice of two absolute views. Either everything is sacred, or nothing is. 

Which view makes you happier?