A monk asked a Zen teacher, “When the physical body rots away; what is the hard and fast body of reality?”

The teacher said, “The mountain flowers bloom like brocade; the valley streams are brimming blue as indigo.”

~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 82

Often, the above phrase is interpreted to mean our human body, but recently, walking through the rain and cloud forest of Costa Rica on an eco-tour with my family, I thought of that body as the body of the earth. When the earth falls away, what then remains? Both exquisite beauty and incredible strength.

Hiking through the wet forest, every so often we would come upon a long line of small ants carrying large pieces of leaves. These ants are called Leafcutters, and they can carry three times their weight in leaf. Outside of humans, the Leafcutters have developed the most complex animal societies on earth, with millions of individuals in a colony divided into four working classes. They carry the leaves back to the colony not to eat, but to chew and give the cud to a special fungus, which they cultivate to feed to their young larvae. Scientists call this behavior “mutualism”. These ants also harbor a natural antibiotic to fight unwanted fungus, which has become the basis for most antibiotics used by humans today.

Watching a group of Costa Rican children at play, I thought about how their grandchildren may live in a time when polar ice caps and mountain glaciers are mentioned only in history books. Their maps of the continental coastlines may be meaningfully different from those of today. As difficult as that is for us to consider today, tomorrow it will be a new flowering brocade, and the valley streams will flow with a deep blue. I am certain the Leafcutters will find a way.