A gardener and Buddhist explores the conflicts and complements:

For a number of years I have wanted to write a book on being a Buddhist who is also a gardener. I wanted to explore what that meant and where the two callings in life conflicted or complemented one another. Could a person be both without sacrificing the fundamental principles of the other?

Nanc Nesbitt (Ven. Thubten Semkye)

For a number of years I have wanted to write a book on being a Buddhist who is also a gardener. I wanted to explore what that meant and where the two callings in life conflicted or complemented one another. Could a person be both without sacrificing the fundamental principles of the other? Many times the Buddha’s teaching are explained using gardening analogies such as weeding and clearing the field being similar to the clearing of disturbing attitudes from ones mind and planting as with planting the seeds of virtue and negativities in regards to karma. I have continually found analogies, symbols and stories helpful in my search for understanding. Nature provides wonderful examples of the Gradual Path or Lam Rim. Working in the garden throughout the seasons of the year offers a deep and continuous Dharma teaching, from death and impermanence to dependent arising and emptiness.

Since moving to Sravasti Abbey as a full time resident with the responsibility of overseeing the gardens and forests I realize that I have created the causes and conditions to explore my powerful connection to both the earth and the Dharma. Although writing a book is impractical at this time, I thought writing a series of short articles would be clarifying for me and hopefully of benefit to others. I have had a number of people who enjoy gardening that are both Buddhist as well as non Buddhists ask me questions concerning some gardening techniques and practices that they were unsure of implementing due to the end results of these practices. In writing these articles I hope to offer some alternative ways of doing things as well as sharing the more important task of transforming the way we think as we garden. Transforming our minds with regard to our labors will naturally affect the efforts themselves. Topics in the Lam Rim can be used to examine the why and how we gardeners do what we do, and the joy of gardening will become an even more joyous effort to benefit all beings. Some of the articles will have questions to ponder; ones that I have asked myself as I have faced challenges that confront my beliefs about myself and the beings I meet in the garden. By asking ourselves these questions honestly, we discover a lot about ourselves and how we perceive the earth we tend and the sentient beings who share it with us.

Some of the topics that may be explored in the upcoming articles are:

  • Metta (loving kindness) in the Garden: A Commitment to Non-harm
  • Our Motivation and the 8 Worldly Concerns: The How and the Why of Working the Earth
  • Death & Impermanence: Nature as the Great Teacher
  • Karma: Planting the Seeds of Virtue or Non-virtue?
  • Your Feline Friend and the Wildlife in Your Garden: Yeshe and the Abbey Garden
  • Equanimity: Who Says I’m a Pest?
  • The Kindness of Others: Behind Every Garden There are Countless Others
  • The Disadvantages of Self-cherishing and the Advantages of Cherishing Others: The “I, me, my and mine” of Gardening
  • Anger or patience? Hungry Birds, Angry Wasps and Broken Mower and Other Great Opportunities to Transform Your Mind
  • Emptiness and Dependent Arising: How Many Buddhists Does it Take to Grow a Garden? NONE

These stories and perspectives are in no way the only way to incorporate the Dharma into your gardening practices. As a beginner in the Dharma, I find that the more I apply the teachings to transform my mind, the better I am able to keep an open heart and mind when encountering the vast diversity of beings I come in contact with in my daily life. I will do my best to hold true to the Buddha’s teachings as I understand them with my limited knowledge in the hopes that some benefit may be derived from reading these articles.