Friday, January 13, 2012

Farmer Zen

(This has been a harder habit to resume than I thought it would be)

So a few months ago, we moved into a house which has a lovely but needy yard. There's a nice plot that was bare of grass I decided would make for a nice vegetable garden. 

Never having had one myself, I used the garden we have at the Zen Center as an example and thereby joined in the humble tradition of the Soto school as a Zen farmer.*

For those of you that don't get the reference, in Japan, the Rinzai school was embraced by the samurai, leaving the Soto tradition to farmers and peasents who had time to patiently sit and wait for enlightenment to come. The samurai on the other hand needed to cut through the matter of life and death "now" since they may face their last opponent in battle at any time.

While I spent quite a lot of time enjoying the outdoors growing up, it's fair to say I did so as a city boy. The most farming I'd done was an herb garden that didn't turn out so well. This is a little larger scale.

I used an axe and a shovel to turn the dense Houston soil and ringed the rough plot with plastic border. It was a lot of work but each moment I did my best to stay with what I was doing and treating it as practice.

By now nearly all the seeds have sprouted and their little leaves are poking through.  It won't be too long before I'll have to thin them out.

For me, this idea of nuturing our practice like growing plants really stikes a chord. My first emotional experience concerning impermanence had to do with a flower. I've also seen the similarities between the momentary effort and patience needed in both practice and planting. My dharma name  (Heavenly Born, Magnificent Bloom) even references the growth and blossoming of my practice.

When we plant a seed, we begin the process, but that's all we're doing. We nuture it by watering and providing sunshine and wait. We can't pull the little sprout out to make it grow faster, we have to wait. The character my teacher has translated as "born" is the same used for "exit" or "protrude" as a sprout comes from the ground. Depending on who you ask, it even originates as a sprout coming forth ( 出).

So we have the sprout which grows and strengthens into a hearty plant over time. Eventually its roots become established and its branches grow strong. When the time is right, a bud forms, and once again we have to wait; there's no forcing a flower to bloom.

Some may see the beautiful opening of the flower as the culmination of practice, for some it may be. But does beauty actually accomplish anything lasting? For nourishment we need fruit so we wait again, and then again for the fruit to ripen.

The fruit bears seeds for the next generation and the dharma continues.

So the seed is hope, looking at it it's hard to discern what it will grow to be. Maintaining the growing plant patiently we only see change over time. The flower rekindles our hope and shows us the precious beauty of our efforts. But the flower's beauty is fleeting and only the fruit of our labor and patience will nourish us and those to come.

*I've also been revisiting the samurai aspect of my spiritual practice, which rather than confusing and complicated things has actually clarified quite a bit for me right now.

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