A lot of people look quite fine by themselves. But everyone starts to look rather shabby when standing under a large, healthy tree. In comparison, trees are absolutely magnificent.
As people, we have so very much to learn from trees. I think it’s rather embarrassing to us as humans when we compare our behaviour to the discipline, natural order, and adaptability of trees.
When a violent storm strikes, birds chirping on the ends of branches suddenly take off to find a place of shelter. People bring in their shoes, shut their doors and windows tightly, and pull the curtains. But trees just stand there to meet the storm. And they adjust to the fact that sometimes leaves and branches get torn off and broken in the winds. We should bow our heads in respect to the resoluteness of these trees that bow to the wind.
When rain falls, the urban alleyways fill with people under umbrellas, with each person walking rather glumly under his or her own. Occasionally there may be two people under an umbrella but the umbrellas of the secular world are so narrow they hardly cover a single person’s shoulders. That reflects how stingy space and urban life have become.
Cities have become so crowded that not only do we step on our own shadows; we are losing even the shade of our own hearts. And there is not a single thing for us to lean against, like a tree. We can’t help but feel shabby and embarrassed compared to a tree, a tree that lets birds nest on its branches, a tree that provides enough cool shade to embrace scores and sometimes even hundreds of people, a tree that serves as a giant umbrella, a tree that let’s you lean against it.
At Haeinsa Temple there’s a cluster of fir trees hundreds of years old, with one in particular shooting up above the others. But if you look closely at the base of that tree, you notice that people have etched their names all over as high as they could possibly reach. How could people, who dread their own ageing, have no compunctions about scarring up an ageing tree? Did the tree commit some kind of crime? All it did was cast cool shadows upon the earth on hot summer days and sing songs of transience with the wind.
People even go so far as to carve their names on that fir tree to demonstrate their importance. But just across the way from that tree stands the repository for Tripitaka Koreana, the Korean Buddhist Canon, which is comprised of 81,258 woodblocks carved in the 13th century. Yes, 81,258 woodblocks. Yet not a single signature can be found on any one of those woodblocks, no matter how hard you look. We haven’t a single clue as to who carved the more than 50 million Chinese ideograms onto them. The artisans just selflessly carved what had to be carved. That is how humble and virtuous the people of yesteryear were. So when I stand beneath a fir tree with names carved all over it, I once again feel shabby and embarrassed as a human being, and I feel sorry for the fir tree.
Most people become gentle when they stand under a tree. People who just a short time ago were conniving amidst an environment of concrete walls and asphalt can no longer do so when standing under the gentleness of a tree. Their voices become soft as they talk of eternal joys, and they ponder the nature of goodness and truth. And they begin to become faintly aware of their daily lives of busily running about in their crowded urban cubicles of noise and pollution.
When you look at it that way, you can see that human beings don’t belong in an exhausting urban environment of noise and dust. You come to realize that people belong to the remarkable natural embroidery of trees and birds and waters and clouds and stars. The fact that humanity’s great religions and philosophies were born out of secluded nature and not out of walls of concrete and brick gives credence to this.
Can people really dare say that nature is something to be conquered? On the contrary, we have so very, very much to learn from nature’s order and humility and virtue.
More teachings by Beopjeong Sunim here.
Many thanks to Korean Buddhism Net (1973)