In our class last night, we read from Robert A. F. Thurman’s translation of the Vimilakirti Sutra and then convened for discussion. In this sutra, the Buddha chides his devoted disciple and frequent fall-guy, Sariputra, for his vitiated version of “this great earth, with its highs and lows, its thorns, its precipices its peaks, and its abysses, as if it were entirely filled with ordure.’” After Brahma Sikhin further explains that “‘The fact that you see such a buddha-field as this as if it were so impure, reverend Shariputa,” the Buddha “touched the ground of this billion-world-galactic universe with his big toe, and suddenly it was transformed into a huge mass of precious jewels, a magnificent array of many hundreds of thousands of clusters of precious gems, until…each perceiv[ed] himself seated on a throne of jeweled lotuses.”
This experience recurs daily when Jindo, the Head Gardener at Great Vow, and I make our rounds of the various gardens outside the gym. When we enter the imaginatively named Greenhouse 2, we are met with the warm moist breath of the plants populating the space inside. Given that it is early March, there is a remarkably robust assembly inside–beds crowded with overwintering greens, some so happy as to be in flower. There are just-unpotted tiny seedlings with true leaves settling into their new homes. Now that the evening temperatures have remained above freezing for a week, a few fresh insects have appeared in the air while a slow-moving wooly bear creeps over the leaf litter.
However, I am often unable to see this “magnificent array.” As is often the case, my eyes go to the problems. Jindo, ever my zen master, with his big toe on the ground, helps me to see the jeweled lotuses before me.
It goes like this:
Myosho: How can there be this much chickweed in one place?
Jindo: Isn’t it amazing that this ground is so fertile that it can produce so much cover crop that will then compost into soil of future birth?
M: Is that plant even edible?
J: Who cares? The insects love the flowers and the leaves and roots will produce biomass to build soil fertility.
M: Is that a lacewing or some nefarious plant predator?
J: It could be. As the temperatures have warmed, the inside of the greenhouse is a riot of life and death, all happening at once.
M: These flowers will be seeds rocketing around unchecked by this afternoon! We must deadhead yesterday!
J: Look at how the plants express themselves! We can add those flowers to tomorrow’s salad and leave the remainder to go to seed we can collect for future plantings. It will be especially suited to the microclimate of Great Vow.
M. That evil weed harbors powdery mildew. It must be destroyed.
J. Doesn’t this purple flower look beautiful? [Plucks weed and throws to the path.]
M. OMG…powdery mildew pervades the ten directions!