For both these people, the connection with their ancestral home remained very strong even after many years away. This went beyond feeling comfortable in a place or wanting to be around relatives or to hear his native tongue. It was a deep sense of home, of belonging.
What’s that about? I have never felt like that about anywhere I’ve lived, including the town where I grew up. I have some fond memories of it, and occasionally I stop by when I’m in the area, but I don’t feel like it’s home to me. I certainly have no reverence or strong emotional bond with it.
My first thought is that you only have a deep connection with the place you’ve lived if you are connected with the land. If you farm. It’s not enough to be surrounded by nature. Lots of people live in rural areas yet do not have a strong bond with their home. And even farmers, they may have a strong bond with the land they own, but that’s because it’s theirs, not because of the spiritual nature of the land.
I have a strong feeling for nature. I love it, including the nature that was close at hand while growing up. There is beauty in nature. But I don’t have a bond with it; I don’t have a reverence for it. My partner, on the other hand, connects with nature at a very deep level. He truly has a reverence for it. Why?
I don’t know, and neither does he. It certainly wasn’t because of the way he was raised or his life experiences. He is a true artist, and as such connects with things and people in a way that I cannot begin to imagine. It connects with his soul. And yet he also does not think of any of the nature spots we’ve lived in, and we’ve lived on the land, as home.
It was not always so. Millennia ago, certainly among aboriginal groups such as Native Americans, people had a reverence for the land and nature, the place where they and their ancestors lived. Every Native American (I’m sure there were exceptions to the contrary) had this reverence. Because it was the basis of their religion, their culture. It was the air they breathed, the substance of their life.
What happened that destroyed that reverence, that connection? I realized that at the same time as these ancient communal societies were giving way to societies where one fended for oneself, their ancient animist religions — which attributed a soul to animals, plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena, part of a supernatural power that organizes the material universe — gave way first to polytheism and then monotheism … the Abrahamic faiths, all of which saw gods as having human form.
I am far from being a religious scholar, but I believe that this shift is the reason why most of us do not have a strong sense of place, a reverence for the home of our childhood. When you stop believing in the spiritual power of the natural world around you and instead believe in the spiritual power of a god, your connection with the natural world becomes very different.
And when that god gives you power over all other forms of life, that connection becomes one of control, not reverence. Look at Genesis 1:28. “And God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish in the sea, and over the foul in the air, and over every living thing that moveth on the earth.” [emphasis added] There in a nutshell is the spiritual basis for what has become man’s relationship with Earth. Man is the controlling force on Earth. Everything else that God placed on Earth is there for man’s benefit and use. This is a far cry from animist religion in which man is subject to the power of the universe and so respects it and has reverence for it.
And so, modern man (with exceptions such as the two men I spoke of at the beginning of this post) has no sense of place, has no sense of home in the deep spiritual sense. He is adrift. A man without roots. Why is this important? If a man does not know who he is, if he does not know where he belongs, if he does not understand his place in the universe, he will suffer.
But as a Buddhist, what is my excuse for not having a sense of place. a reverence for nature? Buddhism has no God. Buddhism is not animist, but it teaches a great reverence and interconnectedness with all elements of nature, animate and inanimate.
But I came to Buddhism a man already formed by the culture and the religion I grew up in. I am a JuBu. Even after 25 years of disciplined practice and much spiritual growth, I cannot say that my connection with the natural world has changed. Perhaps this reverence, this connection, is something one has to grow up with, become part of one's DNA, so to speak.
I am aware of the absence of this spirit. And that my life is less rich because of its absence,