The reasons are several. First, in nature we can find all the truths of Buddhism whereas in the urban setting we are overwhelmed by the antithesis of Buddhism ... our contemporary culture Second, in nature we therefore can find inspiration. Third, nature shows us that man has not only failed to use his advanced powers of reasoning to free himself from the violence that is ever-present in nature; man has perverted a facet of nature that is solely a function of self-preservation into everything from a hobby to a line of work to a random act. Let me explore these thoughts further.
In nature we can see clearly the impermanence and changeability of all things. The fact that all things that rise eventually fall. We see that from moment to moment, in aspects both large and small change. And the details of the future are unknowable. We can’t even reliably predict the next day’s weather. We see that all things are interconnected in their existence, whether it’s the flowers that attract the bees which then pollinate fruit trees or myriad other examples of the dependence of the whole ecosystem on the existence and proper functioning of all its elements. Everything in nature is one.
And it is in our view of nature that we can see most clearly the illusory nature of all perceptions, the dependent origination of the five clinging aggregates. We are forever labeling the weather, as we do all things. For some, hot humid weather is unbearable, for others it is comfort. For some the cold of winter and the snow are to be escaped, for others it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And these labels often have psychological consequences.
Yet the weather is the weather ... it is what it is ... it is as objective as something can be. But depending on our learned experience one person reacts very differently to the same weather condition as another person. This is the essence of the truth that our experience of all things is empty of intrinsic existence, that all perceptions are subject to dependent origination. (All things are also empty of intrinsic existence and subject to dependent origination, but that is a function of the science of the natural world.)
Because in nature we find the truths of Buddhism, we should use it as a source of inspiration in our practice as we walk the path. There are precious few living role models for us to follow. If we are lucky, we find a good teacher. But nature is there for us always. The problem is that with each decade, with each passing century, man has removed himself farther and farther from nature. Man’s life used to be inextricably bound to nature. Today for most people, nature is something more to be avoided than to experience, certainly if it’s a question of our creature comfort. Man must find ways to reconnect with nature in a meaningful way, and from that experience go deeper within ourselves and draw strength.
Lastly, it is an inescapable fact that nature is a very violent place. It’s a clear example of survival of the fittest. There are many who point to this violence in nature as justification for man’s violence. They say it’s in our blood, it’s part of our evolutionary biology. But they miss a crucial point. In nature, violence is always a function of self-preservation. Whether it’s a lion killing an antelope for food, or two alpha male wolves fighting to the death over the dominant position in a pack, violence in nature is an example of kill or be killed.
Now there certainly are examples of such violence among men. But for the most part man’s violence ... whether towards animals or each other ... is senseless. Whether it’s recreational hunting, drive-by shootings, or random acts of violence, they are all senseless. They are certainly not a matter of self-preservation. And even those acts of human violence that some might categorize as self-preservation ... gang violence, national wars, sectarian violence ... are usually not really self-preservation because humans choose to fight; few wars start as a matter of self-defense. With their advanced power of reasoning, man has an alternative ... coexisting in peace.
Even the slaughter of animals for food cannot really be said to be for self-preservation as opposed to pleasure because man does not need to eat animals to survive and even prosper. Indeed, the balance of research shows that vegetarians, at least those who include dairy products and eggs in their diet, do better on almost all health indicators than do meat eaters.
And so, I look to nature as a teacher, as an inspiration, as proof of the oneness of all things, and as proof of the insignificance of man in the larger scheme of the universe. Anne Frank said, "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God, Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be."