Thursday, July 16, 2020

Bodhisattva activity

So here we have the mid-July report. As our northern hemisphere summer gathers pace, the expanded garden has been taking advantage of 70F-80F days to put on foliage. More foliage than fruiting, admittedly, but there will be some things.

Here we have the squash patch. As we're not trying to save squash seed this year, it's a hodgepodge -- push aside the leaves and you may see assorted zucchinis, straight necks, butternuts, spaghettis, Sweet Meat, delicata, or pie pumpkins forming. To save seed, we'd need to choose maybe Romanesco zukes (summer) and butternuts (winter) and put them in two different gardens -- the ones we have are over 100 feet apart, to prevent crossing. Crossed squash are welcomed -- they can be cooked up for poultry all winter -- but not preferred.

We're told to chop and drop the leaves to help the bees find the flowers, and we've done some of that, but also noticed the flowers are reaching up through the canopy and definitely finding the bees. I'm impressed. 

Sunchokes in the near distance were planted this year as a wind barrier -- we find wind is blowing more of the time and desiccating plants more as compared to a decade ago. That corn in the foreground may not come to much. Well, we suspected it was not going to be a great corn year, so there's only a small packet of a sweet hybrid planted there.

Here is the main spud bed, about sixteen by thirty feet. They're putting more effort into flowering than usual, and appear to be much appreciated by the pollinators. No idea what's going on below, though. We weren't able to loosen the soil very deep during lockdown -- just snaffled over it with a cultivator. Deep mulch would be the ticket but there wasn't a lot of that on hand either. Fingers are crossed.

I mentioned we have a number of willow trees that were once bean poles. Here's one in progress in one of the bean trellises.

Lettuce and carrots taking advantage of the bean shade. It's 88F today and there is a bona fide heat wave coming in.

We had a few extra beans and cukes so made a string trellis against the garage with some tee posts.

Romanesco is much featured in current menus.

The collard patch grows apace.

We have two kinds of comfrey, the Bocking 4 or 14 seen here and, at lower right in the shade, the ancestral kind that can spread from seed, not as big. Both are medicinal topically and make great mulch or compost tea. We find the old comfrey puts up with drought better than the Bocking and we don't at all mind it taking over as you can raise poultry on it -- they don't seem prone to the alkaloid problems we've been warned about.

Here, it's disposed along the "moat" fence. Ducks can crane their necks through the mesh and self- serve without wiping out the plants.


The sangha's current assigned reading includes Living by Vow by Shohaku Okamura. It's an exegesis of some of the chants used in Western zendos. He addresses the concerns of those, especially newcomers, grappling with what seems to be an inordinate amount of ritual in Zen ("I thought this was going to be liberating").

His choice of a key word is "vow," which he explains is not a complete translation of the Chinese and Japanese word(s), which connote something more like "resolve." "I resolve to ...." One does not fail if one does not achieve 100% of what has been undertaken, or perhaps even if one does not achieve any of it. Scale and certainty are perhaps less important in Mahayana Buddhism than sincerity and a willingness to try things.

The activities that are recommended to try are simple enough: "do not do bad things; do good things; serve all beings." What's emphasized there is not personal "salvation" but service to the community. Ultimately the community is everyone ("all beings"); but a sangha comes together to practice service. Student barbers practice on one another for a reason. 

To light the candles on the altar in a prescribed manner brings some order out of chaos and provides an opportunity for a kind of gracious mindfulness, but also for offering the gift of light. As we learn to work within the rules of our practice, we free ourselves up to concentrate on the contentless content of our practice -- the place where freedom begins to emerge without an overdose of self-regard.

Ritual is everywhere, I think. Aside from being a Zen nun I'm also a member of the Society of Friends, North Pacific Yearly Meeting affiliated. This flavor of Quakerism has no liturgy, no creed, and no professional clergy. Yet when one comes to Meeting for Worship, one knows what to expect -- greet the greeter, walk slowly in, settle down in the silence, wait in silence for an hour together, listen to any testimony that arises. The clerk or an appointed closer says "good morning, Friends" and shakes hands with those nearby, the handshake spreads round the room, and there are announcements. All this is nothing if not ritualistic, yet it clearly expedites the central concern -- the sitting together in worshipful silence, from which springs the Meeting's service to the wider community.

At the moment, this is taking place virtually, in online Meetings, but you get the drift.

Most cyclical religious (and humanistic!) activity, I think, has this function: to season service with wisdom before offering to the world. It is a dance, and we may call it sacred.

Gardening, to me, is such a sacred dance. 

My writing about the garden is an effort to produce dance notation. It chronicles seasons and strategies, up and downs -- a life, mine, but also a microcosm of the life of society. I'm active in a cyclical way, performing annual tasks: seeding flats, building up beds, spreading compost, setting out plants, irrigating, harvesting, putting the beds to bed. The aim is to find the wisest ways to do food hyperlocally, and impart what has been found. Sharing the ritual of constructing a bean trellis from willow growth, it is hoped, serves as an instance of bodhisattva activity.

Every act of kindness, no matter how small, provides space for good things to happen. -- Sensei Alex Kakuyo

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