As a teenager I had a brush with Zen philosophy through the poems of Basho, and a fascination with the work of Masanobu Fukuoka, but in many ways the forest was my first meditation teacher. At the time I was engaged in field work for my doctoral research into climate change impacts on biodiversity, but sometimes when walking in the beautiful rainforests of Far North Queensland, I would simply stop and sit. Gradually, as my human presence was forgotten, I could listen to forest creatures going about their lives, and see things that might otherwise have remained hidden: a rare tree kangaroo with her joey, Golden Bowerbirds displaying, and once an endangered Tiger Quoll passed within metres.
Through ecology I gained an intellectual appreciation of the interdependence of all life, but I also learned how devastating the impacts of unbridled human consumption can be. This reinforced a wish inherited from my father, a marine biologist who dedicated much of his working life to the protection of endangered whales and the creation of marine sanctuaries: to contribute in some way to conserving the beautiful and precious natural systems that nourish and support life on earth. It therefore seemed natural to me to become involved in campaigns for social justice and sustainability, especially climate change. In both academia and activism though I found unsatisfying themes of anger and attachment to view, and unhealthy levels of stress. Most of an ecologist’s time seemed spent in front of a computer, programming or writing competitive grant applications, rather than enjoying the wild places we love. I sought distraction in travel, in martial arts and in dance, but found no lasting solution.
As for many, it was a simple Buddhist meditation class recommended by a friend that gave me a glimpse of a different approach to life. This encounter with the Dharma was very timely, coinciding with the illness and death of my father from cancer, and precipitating a period of intense examination of my priorities in life. In the Buddha’s teachings I found interdependence revealed in an entirely new light; one with the power to transform an intellectual concept of interconnection into a way of being in the world.
I began to practice daily, but also persevered with a career in academic research and environmental consulting. Over the next few years I also travelled widely on pilgrimage in India and Nepal, discovering the beauty of trekking as meditation on the Himalaya, the power of Hatha yoga practice, and the richness of the Dharma, especially in the Tibetan tradition. During this time I also read a book called “Old Path White Clouds” by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, founder of the Plum Village tradition. By a circuitous route involving more research work in the Colombian Andes and in southern Norway, this seed came to fruition in 2014 when I had an opportunity to visit his monastery in south-western France.
At Plum Village I was enchanted by the pervading atmosphere of peace; through the energy of mindfulness, simple acts like sharing tea, walking a forest path, or preparing a meal are transformed into a doorway to meditative insight and true freedom. Over the next two years I spent a total of eighteen months in Plum Village, including joining their ordination training program for one year, further clarifying my aspiration to the monastic path, and to building sustainable dharma practice community. On May 28th, 2017 I was ordained as a bikkhu in the Tibetan Tradition by Ven. Shabdrung Rinchen Paljor Rinpoche in Kathmandu, and given the unassuming name of “Ngawang Tenzin”, which translates as “powerful-voiced, holder of the teachings”, but which I prefer to think of as meaning “study hard, and be careful what you say”! Shortly afterward I also undertook a Hatha Yoga teacher training, the culmination of five years of intense personal practice.
In my personal study and practice I am fascinated by the complementarity of the Theravadin, Mahayana, Hatha Yoga and Deep Ecology approaches to cultivation of the spiritual path. I am also interested in the application of mindfulness to living in harmony within oneself, within community, and with the natural world. In addition to the Gaia Forest project, I am also enthusiastic about wilderness yatra, (group walking meditation in wild places) as a modality for exploring healthy individuation and connection with the planet in this time of ecological crisis. It is my hope that the Gaia Forest project will grow into a beautiful container for holding these and other practices for our community to explore.
Port Macquarie, Australia, April 2nd, 2019