Opening up to Nature


Opening up to Nature

Within the confines of your own home you may feel you are the master, but if many others live there, the sense of being in your own space begins to diminish. When you go into the country, the expanse of sky and the earth form one big universal house and you can feel very small. At the same time, in that great open space you would feel that all nature is yours, and even with other people there, you still feel a sense of spaciousness. Therefore, after a period of staying indoors, people should go outside and experience, on the one hand, the smallness of themselves, and on the other, the largeness of themselves. In reality, our sense of largeness or smallness is entirely relative to how we see our surroundings.

The clouds were Hanshan's blanket

Hanshan, a famous poet of the Tang dynasty, wrote that the clouds were his blanket, a rock was his pillow, and the earth was his bed. Because of his spacious attitude, though he owned nothing, there was also nothing that was not his. Such a person can live very freely and easily, without vexations.

Truly Participate in the Llife Around Us.

Since people might feel a bit lonely coming out into nature by themselves, they tend to go out in groups. But often they just transplant their own little world out into the big world, and they still feel separation: “I’m with these people, not with those.” We should not be like a snail that carries its house on its back and shrinks back into it when another creature comes along. It is better not to put people into categories based on your social distance from them, whether or not you know them. It is also good to feel intimate with creatures around you—the birds, butterflies, and so on. Just as smoke from a chimney disperses into the air, we should disperse our sense of “group” or “family” and truly participate in the life around us.

Not Forster a Group Mentality

If we come out here and just talk about the same things we talk about all the time, we may as well have stayed at home. When we visit nature we should put down everyday small-talk, subjective mental activity, judging and discrimination, and just open up and observe nature. Starting from the time of the Buddha, it was almost always the custom for those who have left home life to spend some time practicing in the mountains. Generally the hut they lived in was made so that it could be put up and dismantled very quickly so that the person could move on to another place. The purpose was to live a life that would not foster a group mentality, but rather to cultivate a holistic attitude where one would feel at one with all lives and the universe. Originally Shakyamuni Buddha did not set out to form a defined group or stay in any one place, because that would promote exclusive thinking, distinguishing between inside and outside, big and small, yours and mine.

Nature Itself Makes No Distinction

So, on this outing we should experience the greatness of nature. If we can truly open up to nature and nature accepts us, then, like the poet Hanshan, we are as spacious as nature itself. When we first arrived at this spot, one little boy was afraid of all the gypsy moths crawling on the ground. They do have a rather strange and scary look about them, being all furry and everything, and they eat the leaves off the trees. But when you think about it, human beings are nothing but big bugs themselves. We are also hairy and eat vegetation; only it’s made into sandwiches. People tend to see themselves as exceptional compared to others and to nature, as if they were the crown of creation—an attitude that derives from our ability to reason and acquire knowledge. But actually, nature itself makes no distinction between intelligent and stupid.

With a Pure and Equal Mind

The Amitabha Sutra says that in the Pure Land, the grass and trees are all very pure and majestic, and the breeze and the birds all speak the Buddhadharma. If people can cast off self-centeredness and just see themselves as part of nature, then when the wind blows and the birds sing, they would hear the Buddhadharma. With a pure and equal mind, there is no place that is not the Pure Land.

From Chan Newsletter No. 16, September, 1981
Spoken during an outdoor picnic

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