Awakening to Our Nature, in Nature
According to the traditional story, the future Buddha was born in a forest grove, left home to practice in nature, awakened under a tree, lived and taught in nature, and passed away in nature. When Mara questioned his enlightenment, the Buddha touched the earth as witness to his realization.
Today most of us meditate in homes homes and retreat centers, separated from the joys and irritations of the natural world by solid floors and right-angled walls. This is certainly more convenient and comfortable, but has something been lost?
Spending time in the natural world provides inescapable lessons in the three basic facts of existence: dissatisfaction/stress, impermanence/change, and insubstantiality. It is almost always too hot or cold, too wet or windy, not to mention the insects and animals. Without indoor temperature control and lighting, the transience of conditions become much more apparent. And the interdependence of ecosystems demonstrates how the world is not a collection of separate things but a confluence of natural processes that includes us.
The ecological and climate crises we face now go far beyond the ordinary personal suffering that Buddhism has usually been concerned with. Traditional Buddhist teachings help us to wake up individually and experience our non-separation from the world. Today we must ask whether those teachings also apply to group delusions of a collective self. Isn’t our ecological predicament a larger version of the perennial individual predicament: the notion that we the human “inside” are separate from the natural world “outside”?
The practical issue then becomes whether we can use our spiritual practice to investigate the root causes of our present situation. On one level we have a civilization that has institutionalized greed and exploitation, deferring the environmental costs of fossil fuels and the unrestrained growth of population and consumption to the future – a future that is starting to be now. On another level, we have human hearts and minds that have difficulty restraining the drive for immediate gratification and pleasure, regardless of the harmful consequences to ourselves and to others.
A powerful avenue for investigating our personal and collective separation is being in the natural world for periods of intensive practice. With time and deep, mindful observation we can realize that in order to live in non-separation we must give up the illusion of being above or beyond nature—the illusion of control that technology and society have so deeply ingrained in us.
Being in the elements, exposed and present, can be uplifting and inspiring, but it can also be scary, uncomfortable, and disorienting, before it is ultimately liberating. It is one thing to wax poetic about the beauty of nature, another to be deeply feeling moment by moment the effects on mind and body of cold, heat, wind, water, sun, solitude, and the fears they can engender. Yet if we turn towards our experience with loving awareness, it can bring us back to our true home, opening us to absolute truth and love; and helping us realize our deep connection and oneness with all.
Since the natural world is unable to protect itself from our formidable technologies, the ultimate question is if and when we will realize our non-duality with it, to love it and be loved by it, and in that way come to embrace responsibility for the well-being of the whole biosphere, which is our only assured path of survival.
The hope for this is what motivates our offerings here.
David Loy and Johann Robbins
Coronavirus Update: scroll to bottom of page
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Impermanent Sangha is watching the unfolding events of Coronavirus COVID-19, and our hearts go out to anyone suffering from illness or exposure. This is an evolving situation that requires an abundance of caution.
We will be holding camping only retreats this summer, with safety and distancing protocols. To insure everyone’s safety and ease, we will be asking anyone with COVID-like symptoms or who has or may have been exposed to coronavirus, not to travel to Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC) for a retreat. We will offer anyone that needs to cancel for these reasons a full refund, regardless of when notice is given.
We will also require anyone who develops COVID like symptoms or becomes sick at a retreat to leave RMERC and return home immediately, to protect the health of the other yogis and teachers. If someone needs to be quarantined we are not able to safely do that at RMERC, especially as the altitude is not conducive for healing respiratory illness.
We will of course keep hand sanitizer available, disinfect high-use surfaces frequently, and put up signage reminding everyone about washing hands, covering coughs, and not touching their faces.
We are in contact with the Boulder County Department of Health and will be responsive to information or recommendations we get. If RMERC needs to keep the center closed cancel our retreat(s), everyone registered will get a full refund.
In the event of a cancellation due to coronavirus, given RMERC’s low rates and ongoing expenses, they will be asking for your support. If you are able, please donate some of your refund to support the center. It may not survive the season financially without your help.
The Buddha practiced in nature, awakened in nature, and taught in nature. Why not give it a try?
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- Eric Kolvig
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