In busy train stations or shopping malls, countless people pass through from one place to another. In traffic jams, commuters are busy with their upcoming working hours. In tourist spots, folks are happy with their families and friends. In cafeterias, bookstores, and libraries, we enjoy the relaxing moment with companions or books (devices) at hand.
Have you recently visited the museum in your home town? Often, a regular exhibition looks mediocre, yet you love a series of not-so-well-known artworks you have been familiar with since your childhood. One day, you notice new visitors appreciate a few pieces in a quiet ambiance. You don’t know them. So don’t they, either.
I am now at the coffee shop nearby my house. The place is cozy with the constant sound of people chatting. Some are busy talking. Others are reading books (devices) silently. Still, some are, like me, writing something.
What are they doing on earth? What are we doing? What am I doing here? I am here and now pondering about life. Out of the countless possibilities in the universe, why am I here and now? So are the rest of all the other people.
Stepping back, let’s try to see ourselves from above. We are as if a flock of sheep from one direction to another. Whether we like it or not, our lives are collectively and socially networked, even though the scale has evolved from tribal to national to global. It is systemic. We can’t escape from this system of human civilizations in such a way that a flock of sheep can never get out of their crowds.
Like a mob of sheep, life’s direction is inevitably collective. We want to decide our lives by ourselves. We believe we made our decisions by ourselves. Nevertheless, the result is always communal. Any actions we make are unavoidably socioculturally influenced and embedded.
Recalling people decades ago, we can recognize the characteristics of each period, such as art and music in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and so on. Likewise, we can even recall the scale of each millennium in various civilizations. How about the 2010s and 2020s? While they look too near to see the perspective, we will be able to look back on the collective value of these decades sooner or later.
We are all mob-like sheep. Is there no such a thing as an individual, existential decision we make? If we are all in a group like a flock of sheep, why do we feel lonely? Are we alone? Or, are we not alone at all? What is solitude? Can or should we live like a rhino?
In Buddhism, while the Buddha encouraged the seekers (Bodhisattva) to live in a community (Sanga), he also emphasized the importance of solitude like a rhino.
Renouncing violence for all living beings, harming not even one, you would not wish for offspring, so how a companion? Wander alone like a rhinoceros. For a sociable person, there are allurements; on the heels of allurement this pain. Seeing allurement’s drawback, wander alone like a rhinoceros.The Rhinoceros Sutra
In the Rhinoceros Sutra, indicating that all sufferings are from living in a group, the Buddha teaches us “wander alone like a rhino.”
In Christianity, we see the same teachings from the Desert Fathers, the first Christian hermits, based on the following scriptures:
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.Lamentations 3:26-28
Moreover, Jesus himself spent forty days and nights alone in the wilderness to face the temptations for the angels to minister to him.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred… Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.Matthew 4:1-2, 11
We are all a mob-like sheep. Nevertheless, or because of that, we feel alone, recognize loneliness, and voluntarily lead ourselves to divine solitude.
We must be the lost sheep to realize our shepherd who takes care and loves all sheep, not as a collective mob but as each of us existentially. You must be the lost sheep to re-encounter your shepherd who loves you.
So, the parable of the lost sheep symbolizes the inclusion of heaven and the compassion of Christ and the necessity and inevitability that we all must be the lost sheep amid the sheep-like mob-crowdedness.
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.Matthew 18:12-13
We all are the lost sheep. That is to say; we have to become the lost sheep and understand that we are the lost sheep. Only then we shall not want anything at all.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.Psalm 23:1-3
Image by analogicus