Zen and the Art of Gardening

From the beginning, the zen concept is a paradox. Zen is without words and can only be defined with words. In his book, The Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau, he offers a definition on page 385: “….the process of concentration and absorption by which the mind is first tranquilized and brought to one-pointedness, and then awakened.”

It is this exact thing that the zen gardener is doing. Concentrating on the garden, the soil, the plants, the leaves, the flowers, the bugs, coming to focus without distraction, and suddenly coming to a deep understanding of what is observed, that is not separate from the deep understanding of the observer. Only then is the zen gardener ready to act, not upon the garden, but in co-creation with the garden. The observed and the observer are one in zen and the art of gardening.

Some of us are programmed to approach gardening in this way. Some of us are programmed to think and plot and plan and design, without meditation. Either way, one ends up with a garden, and the life of the garden is beautiful, rewarding, and nourishing. So what is the difference, and why differentiate?

For me, the fulfillment is in the co-creation. I was honestly surprised when I saw the first produce appear on the plants. I was astonished. I had forgotten that there would be this outcome. But it was more that I was never concerned with the outcome, only with the activity of gardening and nurturing the life there. It is kind of like being somewhat surprised at your adult children. You knew that would happen, but you were always focused on the child, so that their maturity can feel kind of shocking. This is known in zen as the path with no goal. I find it a very liberating path, filled with adventure every day.

Many if not all gardeners have experienced what I describe. But if you have not, or are curious about this path as a way forward in your gardening, here is the technique. Sit somewhere within or on the edge of your garden every time you go out to work there. Sit still for 20 minutes or more before going to work. That is all. The communication from your garden to you requires one thing, your stillness. Don’t try to see or hear. Just sit, eyes open, but still. Try it out, and let me know if it changes your gardening habits in any way. I would be interested to hear.

People sometimes volunteer to work in my gardens. There is a requirement for volunteers, however, and it is this. Sit still within the gardens for 20 minutes before going to work. As a teacher of Zen, this is the teaching. Take it or leave it, no problem. Want to volunteer in my gardens? Send me a message, and we will get you started with your first 20 minutes.

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