Dharmic Ecologies Down Under: An Ecocritical Perspective on Buddhist Symbolism in Australian Poetry

John Charles Ryan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperConference paper


How has Buddhist symbolism been used by Australian poets to represent the antipodean landscape? Indeed, a small but robust segment of contemporary Australian poetry alludes to Buddhist motifs, as will be shown through examples from the writings of Randolph Stow (1935–2010), Robert Gray (b. 1945) and John Mateer (b. 1971). Some of the symbols are ancient and canonical, some are the results of immersion in the Australian context, and others are hybrids borne of the poets’ imaginations. On the whole, their works reflect an obvious and somewhat sustained interest in Eastern symbolisms but in explicitly Australian settings: the bush, the ocean, the desert. More specifically, the portion of their poetry that has been inspired and shaped by Buddhist doctrines invites an encounter between Western and Eastern poetic forms, philosophical precepts and physical locations. Focusing on the latter (that is, the environmental and place-based dimensions of Australian Buddhist poetic symbolism), I will consider the convergence between antipodean landscapes and Buddhist symbolism in their poetry.

Furthermore, adopting an ecocritical framework, I will foreground the role of Buddhist symbols in environmental consciousness Down Under, as well as in expressing, in poetic form, the particular features, qualities and experiences of Australian landscapes. This constitutes a phenomenological approach to interpreting Buddhism symbolism in Australian poetry. In particular I will apply Peter Jaeger’s concept of a “Buddhist ecopoetics” through an analysis of references to eco-dharmic concepts in select Australian poems. In the works highlighted for this discussion, consciousness of and multisensory attentiveness to Down Under environments—including oceans, forests, deserts, waterfalls, animals and plants—underpin a nexus of ecologies, places, moments, ideas and symbols. In other words, for these poets, the local environment becomes the material terrain for poetry, place and spirit or, in the words of literary critic Kevin Hart, the “field of dharma.” As a result, Buddhist symbols are translated to new forms involving Australian nature as their reference points.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 4th International Conference on Buddhism and Australia
EditorsMarju Broder
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes
Event4th International Conference Buddhism & Australia - Perth, Australia
Duration: 26 Feb 201528 Feb 2015


Conference4th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Internet address


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