Rainforest – a Reflection on the Nature of Life

The Tropical Rainforest is a magic place that is the Earth’s most ancient living ecosystem and the lungs of the planet. The oldest fossil records demonstrate that some Southeast Asian rainforests have existed in their present form for 50 to 100 million years.

Individual rainforest trees have been found to be thousands of years old. Such ancient trees are considered by native people to be the guardians and mother spirits of the forest, the sustaining life force of all living beings within.

Rainforests have a quality of richness and timelessness that puts us in touch with our genesis and for which we have limited vocabulary.

They remind us of our ancestry and the essential nature of life: the immense beauty arising from the diversity; the interdependent nature of plants, animals, humans and our environment; the impermanence and fluidity of life; the healing power inherently provided by mother nature; and the ongoing, ever changing lifecycle of death, preservation, decay, and renewal.

Rainforest Culture and Spirituality

The world’s rainforests are home to many tribal people, who harvest the wealth of their forests without causing harm. Their considerable specialised local knowledge of medicinal plants, weather patterns, native flora, fauna and creatures allow them to find food, medicine and to live in harmony in the rich rainforest environment for over thousands of years. Today, more than 1,000 rainforest cultures still exist.

The indigenous spirituality is inextricably associated with the land. “We are from the Forest, Earth, Water and Air” is the universal knowledge. They believe all existence can be described as a series of interconnected, complementary oppositions, producing a whole, such as life and death, male and female, light and darkness. This is akin to Chinese Daoism (also called Taoism or The Way).

Just as we have vital organs for the functioning of our bodies. A rainforest has its vital organs which are the sacred sites found in rocks, creeks and hills. In these places, there is knowledge, wisdom and understanding. These sites are integral to the cultural identity, spirituality and wellbeing of indigenous peoples. The continuity of the knowledge of the land is transmitted through sacred rituals, sacred sounds and musical instruments, and art.

Extraordinary Bio-diversity

Bursting with life, the world’s rainforests are home to more than 50% of the animal and plant species on earth.

Entering a tropical rainforest, you immediately sense its vitality, vigor and abundant variety of life. In half a hectare, there may be as many as hundreds of tree, bird and butterfly species. In every corner, the rainforest reveals details that are rich and wondrous.

Medicinal Plants and Their Healing Power

Wild Health by Cindy Engel

The healing quality of rainforest sounds and medicinal herbs are widely appreciated.However most of us are not aware that 25% of natural plant based medicines are from rainforests. Amongst them, over two thousand plants have properties that aid in the treatment of cancer. What we need for healing is within our reach as the laws of nature intended.

All living beings including humans on this planet are part of nature and have grown and evolved within this biosphere. We have been relying on it for food, medicine and survival for millions of years. In fact, the use of medicinal plants in healing is not exclusive to humans. There are documented cases of sick wild animals self-medicating by selecting and ingesting healing herbs (see book – Wild Health, How Animals Keep Themselves Well and What We Can Learn from Them).

Some believe that herbal medicine use among early humans originated from observations of this universal healing practice within the animal kingdom.


Another key characteristic of the rainforest ecosystem is interdependence—whereby all species rely on each other. Forming the basis of the ecosystem, these interdependent relationships have developed over millions of years. Each species that vanishes from the system may weaken the survival chances of another. The loss of a keystone species—a plant or animal that plays a crucial role in maintaining the structure of the eco-community, much like the keystone of an arch—would disrupt the functioning of the entire system.

Nothing has any inherent existence of its own when you really look at it, and this absence of independent existence is what we call “emptiness”. Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object. But when you look at it more closely, you will see that ultimately it has no independent existence.

When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretches across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight – all from part of this tree.

Life Cycle – Death, Decay and Renewal

What would life be worth if there were no death?

Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained?

Who would yearn for the day if there were no night?

~ Glenn Ringtved (Cry, Heart, But Never Break)

Just as the vigor, boldness and potency of life force is evident all around the tropical rainforest, death and destruction is also apparent.

Trees collapse. Animals die. Dead leaves, tree bark, fruit, twigs and branches constantly drift and fall to the ground. On average, about 10 tons of debris fall each year on a hectare of forest.

As life is more densely packed in rainforest and grows more rapidly, there is more dead material to decay. This accumulated litter would bury the forest if it were not for the constant decay: a speedy process of utmost efficiency.

In a remarkably short time, animal and plant tissues are reduced to humus, a substance rich in plant food, aided by moulds and fungi. It occurs in all habitats where there is plant growth but only in tropical rainforest does it work with such breathtaking speed. Not only can one see its rapid process, one can smell it – a refreshing sweet musty scent in the air, especially on damp days.

Where there is death and decay, there is renewal. New shoots break through the bark of a broken tree stump within days. Seeds germinate quickly in enormous numbers. Butterflies, moths and beetles emerge from their pupae to begin their new lives.

Reflecting on the silent and yet powerful machinery of the tropical rainforest, we come to realise we too are part of nature and are interconnected with all that is on earth. Life is fluid, transient, in flux and immensely beautiful. The peace, harmony and aliveness of the rainforest’s unaltered beauty is part of who we are deep within.


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