Naturalism and Buddhism

I was listening to a brief talk by Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu where he says:

“Always, we’re tyring to come back to nature, this is why I talk against practicing yoga for meditators… b/c you don’t see monkeys practicing yoga, it’s not intrinsic to reality… there’s nothing wrong with it, if you want to practice yoga, it’s a whole tradition/philosophy in itself, but it’s not what we do, what we do is coming back to ordinary reality, totally ordinary, totally natural.”

FYI - this discussion is not to debate the skillfulness of yoga in buddhist practice, but rather the notion that “we’re (always) trying to come back to nature / ordinary reality”.

I struggled to come up with a definition for naturalism in the context of this discussion. One way to see it is that what is ordinary/natural is equated with what is good/skillful. Certainly, this does not always pan out, such in the case that cancer is natural but we do not accept it or deem it as wholesome; rather we try to eradicate it. Or, though it may be natural for humans to fight, rape, kill, etc., it is not acceptable/skillful.

I’d be interested in any suttas y’all can think of related to this idea of naturalism. In the sense of living how our ancestors did in the forest in frugality, naturalism appears to be sensible. Though in terms of the human condition, greed, hatred, and delusion seem to be the natural inclination of humanity. Oppositely, the noble eightfold path requires unnatural interventions in thought, speech, and action in order to connect with the ultimate truth of nature (paradox here, eh?).


As somebody who is, in a way, a professional naturalist, it is an interesting discussion you proposed. The term “naturalism” ends up being a very broad area of exploration due to it being used in many ways over the course of history.

Obviously if we take a look at the somewhat “religious” form of naturalism, Buddhism would most likely be rejected by those who follow this system of thought, since they believe the only truths are those that can be confirmed or empirically observed in natural systems. So anything supernatural is mostly rejected. I know some of these kinds of naturalists.

I consider myself a naturalist in the sense that observing the way Nature works, and how natural processes make life on Earth possible, is a very important task for all humans to participate in. And these reflections should guide us on how we do business, establish human settlements, interact with one another, etc. I believe that we have a deep need to associate with the natural world, and only positive benefit comes from spending more time in Nature, and associating with biological life (for example gardening, etc).

This is where the idea of human ecology comes into play, and being a naturalist is perfectly in line with admitting that the amount of natural processes and the ways in which the universe works are essentially infinite, and all truth cannot be known by humans. So we can conjecture and make hypotheses, but at the end we cannot be entirely certain of many things.

"Ecodharma’ as it has been coined explores this relationship I think you are wondering about. There are plenty of teachings within Buddhism that lend themselves easily to us examining our relationship to the natural world and all that kinda jazz.

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It might be helpful if it was explained why yoga is “not intrinsic to reality”.
Or what is “ordinary reality”.


In his philological masterpiece Studies in Words, C.S. Lewis devotes an entire chapter to an historical study of the complex semantic evolution of ‘nature’ and ‘natural’, along with their Hellenic and Germanic functional equivalents, ‘phusis’ and ‘kind’.

As far as I can see, those senses of ‘unnatural’ that might justly be applied to hatha yoga could equally be applied to what Yuttadhammo (or any other meditation teacher) is teaching. Walking in extreme slow motion while making mental notes of each movement of the feet, and then sitting cross-legged observing your abdomen go up and down, is just as much a departure from normal simian behaviour as forcing yourself into a pārśvakoṇāsana or whatever.


Not to mention you don’t see monkeys practicing celibacy, not eating after 12 noon… :rofl:

More problematically, what is considered "“natural” changes, usually in support of an existing power structure. Interracial marriage was at one time considered unnatural. Being gay or trans is still not consdiered natural by many.

Gotta say I’m not a big fan of this quote. It just seems a bit clueless and not really thought out. To be fair, I believe he said it off the top of his head. But I don’t think it highlights a helpful direction to explore. More of a wrong turn to be avoided.


Ha, I get that.

That is certainly the truth. I assume he uses the critique of yoga as a rhetorical device since it is very popular in wellness and spiritual circles.

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The ultimate truth of nature is samsara. Nevertheless nature is an essential grounding for meditation. This is what is meant by using conditioned phenomena to attain the unconditioned, there is no alternative.

It’s possible to be grounded in nature while at the same time following the NEP, this is called dynamic tension, and is what the middle way calls for. Wilderness has an energy which is the only legitimate support to beginner meditation, but it has to be guided by discipline.

Both these extracts deal with the early stage as appropriate to western practice:

"Before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me as well: ‘It’s not easy to endure isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. It’s not easy to maintain seclusion, not easy to enjoy being alone. The forests, as it were, plunder the mind of a monk who has not attained concentration.’—MN 4

" Ananda, a monk — not attending to the perception[1] of village, not attending to the perception of human being — attends to the singleness based on the perception of wilderness. His mind takes pleasure, finds satisfaction, settles, & indulges in its perception of wilderness."—MN 121

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Sadhu Venerable, your posts are always like a clear glass of cold water.


Nature doesn’t mean always good. There’s poison in nature, there’s also good fruits in nature. Some people might say humans have canine teeth, so by nature humans should hunt, which is not good kamma. Some people might say organic vegetables is the way to go, ignoring the larger economic reality that GMO vegetable is the way to prevent mass hunger across the globe, and the GMO vegetables has not been shown to be harmful.

Nature gives us diseases, it’s human medical sciences which prolong our lives, saves us. Human tech can also provide new diseases, like bioweapon, and some natural herbs can help cure diseases which western medicine cannot cure.

So I think it’s not helpful to use nature/natural as a guide. Just use what works, what’s skillful, what’s wholesome.


I think this says it all.


Hi. For me, the above is incorrect. Yoga is either wrong or its right from the Buddhist point of view. In other words, does yoga help or hinder the practise of Anapanasati, for example? Does yoga help or hinder directly experience dukkha & its cessation, particularly experiencing the nature of the defilements?

I personally doubt the matter of “skillfulness” can be avoided.

OK. My impression from the little you posted is Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo has inclined towards a Buddhadasa-ism. Often the Thai monk Bhikkhu Buddhadasa seemed to speak of “nature” as though it was ‘God’ or ‘sacred’ rather than as something inherently defiled & repulsive.

Yuttadhammo was/is based in Thailand. The Thais often used various Pali derived words for “nature” or “natural”, such as “dhammata” (ธรรมดา ), “dhammajati” (ธรรมชาติ; เป็นธรรมชาติ), etc. For example an “ordinary bus” (rather than an air-con bus) in Thailand is called “rot-dhammata” (รถเมล์ธรรมดา). :slightly_smiling_face:

Possibly Bhikkhu Sujato could kindly offer an opinion here because in his translation of AN 3.136 it seems Bhikkhu Sujato jumped on the ‘nature-bus’ (รถเมล์ธรรมดา) :trolleybus: :trolleybus::

Mendicants, whether Realized Ones arise or not, this law of nature persists, this regularity of natural principles, this invariance of natural principles:

Uppādā vā, bhikkhave, tathāgatānaṁ anuppādā vā tathāgatānaṁ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā.

AN 3.136

Again, Bhikkhu Bodhi has translated “dhamma” as “nature” below:

And what, bhikkhus, is the development of the establishment of mindfulness? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the nature of origination in the body; he dwells contemplating the nature of vanishing in the body; he dwells contemplating the nature of origination and vanishing in the body—ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating the nature of origination in feelings … He dwells contemplating the nature of origination in mind … He dwells contemplating the nature of origination in phenomena; he dwells contemplating the nature of vanishing in phenomena; he dwells contemplating the nature of origination and vanishing in phenomena—ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. This is called the development of the establishment of mindfulness.

SN 47.40


At least Bhikkhus Buddhadasa & Sujato seem to have translated the word ‘dhamma’ in some contexts to mean ‘nature’. It follows you possibly may not know the notion of ‘dhamma’ can be of two types: kusala (skilful) and akusala (unskillful). Possibly Venerable Yutadhammo was referring to skillful dhamma, as follows :elephant::

The footprints of all creatures that walk can fit inside an elephant’s footprint, so an elephant’s footprint is said to be the biggest of them all.

Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, yāni kānici jaṅgalānaṁ pāṇānaṁ padajātāni, sabbāni tāni hatthipade samodhānaṁ gacchanti, hatthipadaṁ tesaṁ aggamakkhāyati, yadidaṁ mahantattena;

In the same way, all skillful qualities (natures) are rooted in diligence and meet at diligence, and diligence is said to be the best of them.

evamevaṁ kho, bhikkhave, ye keci kusalā dhammā, sabbe te appamādamūlakā appamādasamosaraṇā. Appamādo tesaṁ aggamakkhāyati.

AN 10.15

:potted_plant: :potted_plant: :potted_plant:

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"It is generally considered to be a bad argument because the implicit (unstated) primary premise “What is natural is good " is typically irrelevant, having no cogent meaning in practice, or is an opinion instead of a fact.”


I am fascinated by the natural world, and how it works. However I think Buddhist practice is more to do with my reactions to it. For example, if I’m on a walk and it starts raining heavily, I’m more likely to feel aversion to the prospect of getting soaked than I am to feel curious about how weather systems work.

Monkeys and other animals walk around naked, should we also walk around naked?

Monkeys and other animals kill eachother, should we also kill eachother?

This is called an appeal to nature fallacy.

Both extremes of nature and modern development are bad, imho. I don’t want to be eaten by a bear and I also don’t want to be imprisoned in a cubicle, I’ll take somewhere in the middle.

Hello again. I previously mentioned the Thai monk Bhikkhu Buddhadasa because I have noticed Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo mention Buddhadasa’s teachings before. The link below (which I have actually never read) may provide some insight into what Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo is saying:


This article was interesting - discusses a ‘natural concentration’ compared to a more organized / methodical development of concentration. Bikkhu Buddhadasa writes:

Likewise in firing a gun, when we take aim, the mind automatically becomes concentrated and steady. This is how naturally occurring concentration comes about. We normally overlook it completely because it does not appear the least bit magical, miraculous, or awe inspiring. But through the power of just this naturally occurring concentration, most of us could actually attain liberation. We could attain the Fruit of the Path, Nirvana, arahantship, just by means of natural concentration.

So don’t overlook this naturally occurring concentration. It is something most of us either already have, or can readily develop. We have to do everything we can to cultivate and develop it, to make it function perfectly and yield the appropriate results, just as did most of the people who succeeded in becoming arahants, none of whom knew anything of modern concentration techniques.

I imagine they didn’t have counting (the breath), but they had the anapanasati sutta which speaks of focusing on the breath or particular contemplations…

He adds:

Clearly no organized effort was involved when arahantship was attained by the first five disciples of the Buddha on hearing the Discourse on Non - selfhood, or by the one thousand hermits on hearing the Fire Sermon. In these cases, keen, penetrating insight came about quite naturally. These examples clearly show that natural concentration is liable to develop of its own accord while one is attempting to understand clearly some question

I don’t find his points to be helpful or insightful. Perhaps this fits into the debate of how much effort to use in meditation as well - is it a relaxed awareness/effort, or forceful/determined effort to stay with the object of meditation.

I can see where natural concentration and organized/methodical concentration both have their place on the path.

Cambodian monks support nature awareness:

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I am glad the article was interesting. About the above, apart from the questionable Bhikkhu Thanissaro translation, I doubt the Anapanasati Sutta ever refers to “focusing” on the breath. The Anapanasati Sutta seems to literally say (at the very end) the factor of mindfulness depends on letting go (rather than focusing). This seems supported by SN 48.10, which says jhana is reached by making ‘letting go’ the meditation object. Also, the word Thanissaro translates as “focusing” seems to literally mean “watches closely”, generally translated as “contemplates”. :slightly_smiling_face:


Excuse my ignorance but isn’t yoga part of Hinduism? I never heard it as a specific Buddhist practice. Maybe you can use it to calm the mind just as in walking meditation but not imposing or substituting sitting meditation, I’m sure.

In a Hindu context, yoga means path.