Touching the Earth is a course on Buddhism and our Environment at U of T, taught by Amber Moore for the first time in fall 2021. Her hope in this course is that students have an opportunity not only to only learn, but flourish on a mental and physical level and enjoy themselves as participants in this class that explores both traditional and contemporary modes of understanding and relating to the world around us. This course implements a variety of approaches to teaching Buddhism; here you will find micro-phenomenological, self-reflective, self expressive, experiential, de-colonial and ungraded approaches.  

In RLG 376 students have been learning about religious and cultural Buddhist relationships with the Earth: the living environment, biosphere and world we are part of as embodied beings. Students are studying a range of traditional and contemporary forms and issues including: ritual, contemplative and activist practices, maṇḍalas, Earth goddesses, ceremonies for land and land spirits, pilgrimage, geomantic and cosmographic traditions, and, the use of landscape imagery and dance to depict enlightenment. We are also following ecological movements in Buddhist communities as they have been responding to environmental crises. 

Our journal entries for this course have had two aspects: data collection and creative expression. This is where the poetic compositions factor in.Our reflective journal entries for each week are a documentation and reporting of student’s own ongoing experiences with three forms of Buddhist meditation in movement that are connected with Buddhist understandings of our world:  Newar Buddhist Dance, Tibetan Buddhist Maṇḍala Offering, or Thai Theravada and  Vietnamese Zen Walking Meditations. 

In this respect,  students in RLG 376 have been engaging a chosen form of written self-expression (not limited to but which includes poetry), documenting their reflexive learning, reactions, feelings and experiences that have occurred during the time spent doing these three chosen activities. In this class, students are invited to relate their reflections to readings or question prompts, or they can choose to focus solely on their own personal insights, reactions and responses.  They are experimenting with alternative forms of articulation in composition, such as:

  • Reflective Writing anchored in an expression of student’s own voice, thoughts and opinions;  
  • Micro-phenomenological Writing, used to express detailed, up close inner and outer observations;  and/or
  • Poetic and Lyrical forms are taught and encouraged.

Students to whom the poetry writing option has appealed have taken up this task with gusto and composed some incredible poetry on a range of Buddhist topics and contemplative exercises! Poetry submissions will be accepted for this page for the duration of the semester for those who are eager to post and share their poetry, either anonymously or signed.   

The aim of this approach is to highlight the subjective embodied experiences of what it means to learn and habituate the rituals of Buddhism that relate to the nature of the human as connected to the earth and the environs. Further, the process of auto-ethnography in this class attempts to avoid the use of objectivity as a tool to focus on disparate or so called ‘exotic’ others, but rather to attain a greater degree of empathy and understanding through exchanging respectful exchange while imagining what it means to engage in and honour traditional and cultural Buddhist traditions.  

Dr. Frances Garrett has been instrumental in the inspiration for and development of this course and Amber’s heartfelt gratitude goes out to all those individuals who have offered to share their poetic voices for the purpose of mindful listening, inspiration and further reflection. 

Read the Touching the Earth Poetry