Dharmagaians - what, who and why


Water and Moon Kuan-Yin Bodhisattva statue
 At The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri


Nature is stabilized by order, and humans along with all other natural phenomena exist within nature. Attempting to force one's own path is arrogant, futile and self-destructive.  — Lao Tzu

Everything depends on others for survival and nothing really exists apart from everything else.  Therefore, there is no permanent self or entity independent of others.  Not only are we interdependent, but we are an interrelated whole.  As trees, rocks, clouds, insects, humans and animals, we are all equals and part of our universe.  – Korean Zen Master Samu Sunim


Dharmagaians* are people who seek and speak the truth, cherish and protect the Earth, and act responsibly for the benefit of future generations of all sentient beings.  They are not afraid to engage with the truth, the facts of our time, no matter how difficult and painful.  In fact, many Dharmagaians who are still living have been doing so in writing and teaching for decades.  Dharmagaians are also not afraid to allow themselves to feel the suffering of beings living now and those yet to be born, who will inherit a depleted planet. 

One Dharmagaian Ally, the cosmologist Brian Swimme, tells us that we are living in the most destructive moment in 65 million years.  The Earth is withering under the onslaught of humans: our consumption of the biological and mineral endowment of the planet, and our pollution and waste.  Species are going extinct at an unprecedented and increasing rate.  Resources are declining and shortages are beginning to manifest in the parts of the world that are not already suffering them.

Our time calls for humans to expand our circles of compassion beyond our families and pets, our local bioregions, our ethnic groups, our nations, our species, and our own time.  Only when we allow ourselves to feel the magnitude of our moment in history and our kinship with all that lives can we find the strength, the power, to respond appropriately, which is to sanely adapt to the realities of this time.  Without our love and caring, our compassion for the whole of life, the entire Earth community, there can be no solutions, no evolution of consciousness, no forward movement for our species or for the Earth.

For decades this has been the message of Dharmagaians from all fields and walks of life—scientists, philosophers, psychologists, theologians, activists, tribal elders, teachers and writers of all kinds.  But Dharmagaians are in the minority and we have been sidelined.  Now the truth is emerging in the form of crises that threaten both the ability of the Earth to regenerate and human civilization.   

This website and blog presents Dharmagaian views of why and how this is happening, as well as Dharmagaian responses to the converging crises.  Some Dharmagaians say that this is the most exciting time to be alive and call it an adventure, but they also acknowledge that it is a frightening time to be alive and have compassion for those who are afraid to wake up from the dream, the cultural trance that keeps people from responding appropriately to the realities of our time.

As for the name, Dharmagaians, a little explanation:

Dharma is a term from ancient India that is often referred to as ‘truth’ or ‘law.’  Dharma in Sanskrit signifies the underlying, interdependent order, or wholeness, in nature and the universe, as well as a way of life that accords with that order and wholeness.  When one aligns oneself with the dharma, one aspires to liberate oneself from delusion (false belief, separation), conduct oneself appropriately and ethically, and refrain from causing harm.  Thus the path of dharma leads to integrity, right conduct, morality, and virtue.

Wheel of Dharma

Although in the West ‘The Dharma’ is frequently associated with Buddhism, one needn’t be a Buddhist to be dharmic:  honest, truthful, self-reflective, empathetic, compassionate, ethical, benevolent, and courageous.  Some of the most courageous dharmic people in the world — such as Socrates, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (and many others) — risked their lives and lost them by adhering to the truth, the dharma, as they saw it.    

Gaia is the Greek name for Mother Earth that acknowledges her as a living being.  A ‘Gaian’ is anyone of any tradition who cherishes and respects this miraculous living planet, which has evolved for 3.7 billion years and is our only home.  Gaians accept the conditions of the Earth community, which limit us, nurture us, and sustain us, and they recognize that we are totally dependent upon the life of Gaia.  Gaians know that for embodied beings Gaia is the ultimate reality, the context in which the law of karma – cause and effect - is played out. 

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As Iroquois Chief Oren Lyons has said, “Humans live within the jurisdiction of the Earth, which transcends human laws.  The law of Nature is a spiritual law.  It respects all life, for all life is equal.  If we transgress it, the consequences will be dark and terrible.”  Dharmagaians are in accord with this view, which sets them at odds with the dominant culture of materialism.  All Dharmagaians express the need to change the paradigm of Western materialism by evolving beyond it.  On this site, we use the term the Great Turning (popularized by Joanna Macy) to elaborate on the essential changes that are needed in order for humanity to survive and thrive in harmony with Gaia.

People of all faiths and traditions have demonstrated the capacity to honor the Earth and care for all sentient beings, for the intuition of sacredness is a potential in all human beings.  While Buddhist teachings and practices are based upon and open our perceptions to interdependence (the truth of ecology), not all Buddhist practitioners are Gaians.  And although many Dharmagaians are not Buddhists, all are dharmic and faithful to the ecological truth of Gaia.

The human soul is nourished and strengthened by facing the truth and connecting with the Earth.  We are going to need soul strength and truth force – ‘Satyagraha’ in Gandhi’s vision and practice of nonviolent resistance -- to survive this century. By holding the Earth and the truth as sacred values that are inseparable, we have a beacon to guide us through the storms of human confusion that are already around and within us.  By keeping Dharma and Gaia as reference points, humans are in a better position to maintain sanity and learn to live within the jurisdiction of the Earth as she goes through her climate changes and all the other crises she and we are facing.  Dharmagaian tribes of this century may be the evolutionary seeds of the enlightened, ecologically sustainable societies of the 22nd century and beyond.  Dharmagaians have the potential to midwife the new human species of the future, if not to give birth to it.

Again, you are invited: If you honor and seek the truth, cherish the Earth, and care about future generations, you are welcome here.  You are welcome to participate as learners and/or contributors to the discussions on the Blog.  The purpose of this site is to provide resources and inspiration for navigating through the realities of this critical era.  Hopefully you will also find a sense of community and strength here.  May you take heart in the existence of others whose hearts and minds are as big as the Earth. 

See the roll-down menus for more on Dharma, Gaia, and the Great Turning. See the About menu for more about this site and its authorship. For the Dharmagaians who have inspired this site, go to Dharmagaian Allies and Lineages and Journey.


This Water and Moon Kuan-Yin Bodhisattva is a 6.5-inch replica of the 95-inch high original.  The original Guanyin was created in the 11th or 12th century in the Shanxi Province of China, and carved from a single piece of wood.  The entire sculpture is covered in gesso and painted with colors and gold. 

This replica is produced by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

More on Kuan-Yin. . .



* The name Dharmagaians (pronounced dar-ma-geye-ans) is inspired by and borrowed from Allan Hunt-Badiner and the wonderful book he edited, Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology, published by Parallax Press in 1990.  The book consists of essays, stories, poems and illustrations about Buddhism, nature and ecology.  There are many Dharmagaians represented in this volume, including H.H. the Dalai Lama (in the forward), Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, David Abram, Ralph Abraham, Bill Devall, Elizabeth Roberts, Sulak Sivaraksa, Gary Snyder, Thich Nhat Hanh, Patricia Donegan, Deena Metzger, John Seed, Robert Aitken Roshi, Mayumi Oda, Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Padmasiri de Silva, Peter Levitt, Nina Wise, Martin Pitt, Doug Codiga, Mobi Ho, William Lafleur, Carla Deicke, Stephen Batchelor, Ken Jones, Christopher Reed, Bobby Neel Adams, Vijali, and Michele Benzamin Masuda. Students of my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, who contributed to Dharma Gaia are Allen Ginsberg, Rick Fields, Jeremy Hayward, Michele Laporte, and myself (under Suzanne Head).  There now seem to be many more Dharmagaians in the world than there were in 1990, and all are welcome.


© 2009 Suzanne Duarte