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.