Monday, November 5, 2012

Zen Weeds

As a gardener, I was intrigued by this post, especially the first section:

A few months ago I saw a notice of Zen center calling for volunteers to come in on Saturday to remove weeds from the lawn. I had trouble with the apparent picking and choosing in that, and asked the author if he also saw trouble in his invitation.

I received the response that he was celebrating the life that the weather has brought us, and he was looking for help to extinguish some forms of the life he was celebrating. He explained he was holding two opposing views at the same time, and that's OK. Also, he did not consider the plants that are in certain places to be "bad" plants, nor did he consider certain types of plants "bad" plants. He just had a preference for both the location and types of plants in the landscape, and so he was planning to take out some plants to enjoy others. He felt preferences are not bad per se. It's his relationship to his preferences that can cause suffering, not the preferences themselves.

I felt a bit like he was not seriously addressing the question of whether this weeding was really right action. But I also thought I was possibly being a bit immature in my concepts of picking and choosing and the related Buddhist sin.

About the time I started regularly gardening, towards the end of my undergrad days, I become interested in herbal medicine. And quickly learned that many of the common weeds gardeners, farmers, and lawn enthusiasts tends to despise are, in fact, medicines. Dandelion, plantain, goldenrod, milk thistle, nettle. All of these have excellent health benefits and - their tenaciousness usually translates into invasiveness if left unchecked.

Probably reminds some of you of certain habit patterns you have. The critical thinking that turns into heavy negativity and pessimism. The awareness of potential dangers that turns into chronic worry. The desire to satisfy your sweet tooth that turns into overeating.

Like with "weeds," I've noticed a lot of all or nothing thinking surrounding these things. Note the presence of anti-intellectualism in some spiritual circles, thinking that thinking itself must be eradicated or else it destroy our chance at liberation. Or how people decide to become vegans and remove all possible "toxins" from their diet, not because of it being an appropriate response to their conditions, but because they believe this is the "only way" to be in accord with the precepts.

There's a lot of ignorance when it comes to the nature of ecosystems. Conventional gardeners and farmers think nothing of removing - often eradicating - every last plant they deem "unnecessary." Never mind the medicinal qualities of a given weed, how many folks are simply clueless as to how these plants are supporting other species and the soil, which benefits the plants they want to grow?

The author of the post above seems, in the end, to fall on the opposite side. He tries to sound open to the possibility that removing some "weeds" could be right action, but his words in total point towards not intervening.

Which brings us back to the first precept. The precept of not killing. A lifelong koan because it's impossible on a relative level to not kill anything. Our lives depend upon killing something in order to feed ourselves. That's the bare minimum.

In my own garden, plenty of "weeds" flourish. I leave wild patches grow, which brings in more bees and butterflies. I have a patch of nettles that I trim throughout the summer, both for teas and greens, and also for growth control. I also regularly remove those plants that attempt to take over the plants I'm intending to grow, and use their decayed bodies to enrich the soil.

I'll readily admit struggling with hatred towards the grapevines that spread like mad every year, despite the annual attempts to remove them completely. Perhaps they are my ecosystem teacher, and I probably would do well to accept that I'll never rid that yard of them completely anyway.

Your thoughts?


ZenDotStudio said...

Many years ago I wrote an article on "weeds" for a gardening mag and I still remember the dictionary defn "a weed is a plant growing where we don't want it to grow".

If we choose a manicured yard or veggie patch, we probably pick some weeds now and then. I don't have a problem with that. We build houses, cities and in the course of those activities, some elimination of the wild things that grow happens. The deer around my place eliminate plenty of weeds (I know, it's a food source for them). In the senseless name of beauty I am guilty of pulling and composting weeds.

Am I a thoughtless heathen, maybe. Or does the Dharma get carried to extremes sometimes? maybe.

Anonymous said...

The clear light of Mahamudra cannot be revealed
By the canonical scriptures or metaphysical treatises
Of the Mantravada, the Paramitas or the Tripitaka;
The clear light is veiled by concepts and ideals.

By harbouring rigid precepts the true samaya is impaired,
But with cessation of mental activity all fixed notions subside;
When the swell of the ocean is at one with its peaceful depths,
When mind never strays from indeterminate, non-conceptual truth,
The unbroken samaya is a lamp lit in spiritual darkness.

Free of intellectual conceits, disavowing dogmatic principles,
The truth of every school and scripture is revealed.
Absorbed in Mahamudra, you are free from the prison of samsara;
Poised in Mahamudra, guilt and negativity are consumed;
And as master of Mahamudra you are the light of the Doctrine.

The mind's original nature is like space;
It pervades and embraces all things under the sun.
Be still and stay relaxed in genuine ease,
Be quiet and let sound reverberate as an echo,
Keep your mind silent and watch the ending of all worlds.

The body is essentially empty like the stem of a reed,
And the mind, like pure space, utterly transcends the world of thought
Relax into your intrinsic nature with neither abandon nor control
Mind with no objective is Mahamudra
And, with practice perfected, supreme enlightenment is gained.

Beyond all mental images the mind is naturally clear:
Follow no path to follow the path of the Buddhas;
Employ no technique to gain supreme enlightenment.

- Tilopa

Jeanne Desy said...

The issue of picking and choosing seems to me to be about equanimity - welcoming life without formed desires or aversions. Lawns are a larger issue for me. Thorstein Veblen pointed out that they are a signifier of wealth - land that isn't put to use agriculturally. In fact, we waste water on them, and there are the chemicals, the motors that mow them. Our house came with a lawn, so there you are. We do use an organic landscape guy who mulches the fallen leaves so they go directly into the lawn, self-composting. I feel good about that.

Robyn said...

It is easy to get caught up in that question of picking and choosing to the point of absurdity. I mean, are you picking and choosing when you "choose" to cross the street after the cars have past? Awareness and intention mean a lot here, I suspect. A farmer who eats only what she grows would not hesitate to eliminate invasive plants that diminish the harvest, but like you, would be wise to learn as much as possible about each plant and come to know their potential benefits to the whole ecosystem. Often weeds are not really the problem we think they are (but they might be happier somewhere else than our vegetable garden).

Your post also reminded me of ikebana and the times when I arrange the altar flowers at the Temple. As my teacher said (with a laugh) the first time I did it, you are making something totally artificial that should look totally natural. That kind of thing is all over the place in Zen but I have noticed that, eventually, the artificiality becomes quite natural over time.

Nathan said...

I would love to transform lawns, or let them transform themselves. Obsessively maintaining little fields of grass - often not native grass at that - is truly foolish in my view. The fact that there's so much peer pressure, and legal pressure in many places to do so, makes it harder to shift towards something more earth-friendly.

Then there's this:

"As my teacher said (with a laugh) the first time I did it, you are making something totally artificial that should look totally natural." That, I suppose, is the aim of my gardening practice.

Was Once said...

What a lovely weaving of weeds of the mind in your post. I think my most dreaded weed is negative thinking which can sprout into unfounded worry about non-existent happenings.
Thank you.

Nathan said...

"unfounded worry about non-existent happenings." Yep, I know that one too.

Anonymous said...

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu relates that once someone asked the famous Dzogchen Master, Yungtön Dorje Pel, what his practice consisted of, and he replied with the negative “mepa” or “there isn’t.” Then his startled questioner asked again, “Then you don’t meditate?,” to which the Master replied, “And when am I ever distracted?” This is the essence of samaya in Dzogchen teaching: not to meditate or to practice something with the mind and yet never to be distracted, for one remains uninterruptedly in the self-perfection of the single state of rigpa or Truth.

Anonymous said...

do you like music?

Anonymous said...

I like gardening too!