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.
If we go out into the natural world 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 had 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 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.
On our outings we should experience the greatness of nature. If we can truly open up to nature and nature accepts us, then we will be as spacious as nature itself.
Adapted from “Opening Up to Nature,” in the Chan Newsletter, no. 16, September 1981.
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