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Friday, October 11, 2013

From the ten ox-herding pictures and Permaculture Design to a way of life

From Zen Flesh,
Zen Bones.
The book
is available
in hardcover
toll-free number
[USA] 1-800-526-2778.
One of my all-time favorite things is the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, an effort to explain in graphics the typical "spiritual" journey of a Zen adherent. The original version is attributed to Kuòān Shīyuǎn (廓庵師遠), a master from the twelfth century C.E., and has been redrawn many times. The one at left is by twentieth century woodblock artist Tokuriki Tomikichiro

The idea is that when we notice something seems "missing" in our lives, we go forth in search of it, and perhaps we find that a certain amount of self-discipline will get us what we think we want. In this case of this metaphor, the Ox represents "enlightenment." But, in the end, there was really nothing missing, the universe (of which we are a manifestation) is one thing, and in full realization of this we begin to forget ourselves and come back to the human community prepared to offer the benefits of this realization.

This herding of the ox resembles the process of noticing that civilization is damaging the earth and all its inhabitants, and of seeking an alternative to it. One of the alternatives some find is Permaculture, which with its adumbrated three ethics and twelve principles can be a handy framework for rolling up our sleeves and pitching in.

One might regard the pictures as applicable to the process of signing up for (and paying an ungodly amount for) a Permaculture Design Course (PDC), taking the hands-on classes, and receiving a certificate as a Permaculture Designer. The last image, "Entering the village with bliss-bestowing hands," lends itself to that nicely.

I'm not going to tell you not to go do this; we probably need all the Permaculture Designers we can get. I think there are some adjustments that could be made to the current system; correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't it seem a little as if PDC teachers seem to be certifying more PDC teachers than keyline diggers, gardeners and foresters? Not everyone has all skills, and for a community to adopt a solution there may have to be some division of labor.

After a change of heart (mind), it's a good idea to also have a change of hands. As in calluses.

Toby Hemenway wryly notes the relative success of Transition as opposed to the PDC model, and points out that Rob Hopkins, the movement's co-founder, is a certified Permaculture Designer. He's kind of quiet about it, though. People tend to organize themselves in ways that are already familiar to them, and he's figured out how to play to that.

The genius of Hopkins' approach is that at first it's rather like organizing a Garden Show. Folks get together to eat, play music, watch a puppet drama, swap plants, and treat themselves to a not-overlong whiteboard session on how to muddle through should industrially-induced scarcities (of energy, food, affordable housing, clean water) threaten to strike in their neighborhood. It's issue-oriented and open-ended. 

The open-ended bit is where the power of this approach lies. At the initial event, roles are propagated and a date fixed for the next get-together. And the next. Instead of a six-week intensive, it's a lifetime community learning experience, with coordinated action to build resilience into the group, the group's families, friends, neighbors and beyond.

Also, the "authorities" seem to have relatively little problem with Transition as a manifestation of community spirit. It seems a bit like the Rotarians as seen from the outside. Any time you can get the mayor to attend a ribbon-cutting for a storefront food-and-gardening supplies cooperative or a labor exchange is a definite plus.

Those bearing a PDC certificate who set themselves up as a teacher of PDCs or as a small business -- an independent site designer helping owners start their polyculture gardens and food forests -- are doing a good thing. Not only does the world need all of this it can get, it fits under Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Getting paid to do it means not starving, as well, which fits under "Obtain a yield."

I think, though, that last picture in the ox-herding series contains one more step. "Entering the village with bliss-bestowing hands" involves the whole village and involves a gift-giving, gift-exchange local economy. This is neighborhood action,  and it can take diverse forms; many of those involved will have never heard of Permaculture or even Transition Towns. Yet aspects of either will be found throughout, because good principles have a way of showing up, simply because they are often already known to be the best way to do things. Tradition can be a stumbling block but it can also be a guide. Folkways often embody winning strategies.

Recognizing that the universe is one thing and what's going on is not primarily about me, I find myself doing what I know, as it seems time is short. It may not be the whole Permaculture enchilada, but the village is all around me, the day is wasting, and there are calluses to be earned.

Biodeisel demo at a Sustainability Fair

Some (mostly food-oriented) ways to get on with it: 


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