Since the publication of his seminal book Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man in 1967, Seyyed Hossein Nasr has made the same vital point over and over again. There is no possibility of a solution to our ecological crisis unless a new approach is taken: an approach that sees nature, not as an ‘it’, ‘not only as merely a source of raw materials to be exploited by man, not as a material reality devoid of innate spiritual significance, but as a sacred reality to be treated as such’. Remembering that nature is a sacred reality is fundamental to our reconnection with her. And this link between nature and the sacred is not particular to any specific religion or faith tradition but concerns us all, since by virtue of being human we are profoundly connected to nature, to the Divine unity that she both veils and reveals in the multiplicity of her beauty and glory.
Thus, when discussing the Islamic gardens of Paradise as an opportunity for this reconnection, it is important to make clear that these gardens are open to everyone, irrespective of background or creed: they are, as it were, a divinely-guided human interpretation of nature and as such may act as a universal symbol of the heavenly archetype. In a world facing drastic climate change, and where many people seem to have lost their way, it seems that nature provides the most wholesome (from ‘holy’) and uplifting solace, the potential to offer a path, not only of reconnection with the profound mystery of existence but also of recovering our sense of unity. Indeed, being in nature now even has a special name: eco-therapy! As the great Persian poet Saadi Shirazi (d. 1291) wrote, ‘every leaf of the tree becomes a page of the Book once the heart is opened and it has learned to read.’ He is referring to nature as a book of divine revelation that may be read and understood providing we have some knowledge of the language of symbols. Indeed, the word ‘symbol’ comes from the Greek meaning to ‘throw together’ – nature is in fact ‘throwing’ earth and Heaven together through her language of symbols – and if our eyes and hearts are open to this then we see every ‘leaf of the tree’ as a page of the divine book: the beauty of the outward appearance directs us both upwards and inwards, towards the essence.
The language of symbols has all but been lost to us today; and it is largely due to this loss that we have become so fixated on the one dimension, the material world we can perceive, forgetting our deep connection to both nature and the invisible world which she veils. As the late Martin Lings notes in his marvellous book, Symbol and Archetype, ‘symbolism is the most important thing in existence; and it is at the same time, the sole explanation of existence.’