From ancient times until now there have been many who have delighted in raising up mounds of earth, making arrangements of stones, planting trees, and hollowing out watercourses. We call what they make “mountains and streams.” Though all seem to share a common liking for this art of gardening, they are often guided by very different impulses.
There are those who practice the art of gardening out of vanity and a passion for display, with no interest whatever in their own true natures. They are concerned only with having their gardens attract the admiration of others.
And some, indulging their passion for acquiring things, add these “mountains and streams” to the accumulations of rare and expensive things that they possess, and end up by cherishing a passion for them. They select particularly remarkable stones and uncommon trees to have for their own. Such persons are insensible to the beauty of mountains and streams. They are merely people of the world of dust.
Po Lo-t’ien dug a little pool beside which he planted a few bamboos, which he cared for with love. He wrote a poem about them:
The bamboo—its heart is empty.
It has become my friend.
The water—its heart is pure.
It has become my teacher.
Those everywhere who love mountains and rivers have the same heart as Lo-t’ien and know the way out of the dust of the world. Some whose nature is simple are not attracted by worldly things, and they raise their spirits by reciting poems in the presence of fountains and rocks. The expression “a chronic liking for mist, incurably stricken by fountains and rocks” tells something about them. One might say that these are secular people of refined taste. Though they are in the world and without the spirit of the Way, this love of the art of gardens is nevertheless a root of transformation.
In others there is a spirit that comes awake in the presence of these mountains and rivers and is drawn out of the dullness of daily existence. And so these mountains and rivers help them in the practice of the Way. Theirs is not the usual love of mountains and rivers. These people are worthy of respect. But they cannot yet claim to be followers of the true Way because they still make a distinction between mountains and rivers and the practice of the Way.
Still others see the mountain, the river, the earth, the grass, the tree, the tile, the pebble, as their own essential nature. They love, for the length of the morning, the mountain and river. What appears in them to be no different from a worldly passion is at once the spirit of the Way. Their minds are one with the atmosphere of the fountain, the stone, the grass, and the tree, changing through the four seasons. This is the true manner in which those who are followers of the Way love mountains and rivers.
So, one cannot say categorically that a liking for mountains and rivers is a bad thing or a good thing. There is neither gain nor loss in the mountain and the river. Gain and loss exist only in the human mind.