What is garden practice? It’s a question I ask myself every day. What does it mean to practice, in and with the garden? What is it to understand myself as not separate from the living world around me? What does it mean, as a monastic community, to grow our own food in a moment of such ecological crisis?
It has been easy for me to emphasize interconnection in these letters, because interconnection is easy to see outside with bees buzzing around and rain clouds on the horizon. But such communion is not passive; it requires something of us in return. It asks us to be in right relationship to the bees and the fields and the rain. It asks us to confront every part of how we are living, individually and collectively, that is based in killing, stealing, lying, arrogance, greed, and disparaging the value of life itself. To practice with the garden is to be radically challenged by it, to confront something that is beyond my small control, to let myself be changed by the work and the land in ways that I cannot predict or understand.
It is one thing to intellectually understand that tomatoes grow on plants, which come from farms, and then are shipped to the store for us to buy. It is something else for my body to know what it is to plant tomato seeds in the dark of winter in faith that the warmth will come, to dig a bed by hand with sweat pouring off my head, to water them in the heat, to weed out the grasses and smell the distinctive perfume of tomato leaves on my hands for hours, and to watch day by day as the fruits set and grow dusky pink until finally they are ripe to pick. It is one thing to know intellectually that pesticides are harmful; it is something else entirely to stand in the field and consider spraying poison on the ground that I have tended and the vegetables that I am going to feed to people I love. My body actually will not let me do it. And yet we live in a world where such a thing occurs on a staggering industrial scale.
What would it mean to live our vow to the earth? I’m not asking abstractly. Our lives actually depend on it. Please genuinely sit with this question in your own life, and in our lives together. Our food comes from the earth. All of it. And the earth cannot sustain the way we have been living.
What would it be to truly face the carbon consequences of eating meat and dairy? What would it mean to let go of “supermarket thinking”—going out to acquire the predetermined specifics for a recipe, wherever they may come from—in favor of cooking based on what is available in our place and season? Would it be possible to only eat foods that grow within our region, in the season in which they grow? What might it look like to develop a vegetarian home and temple cuisine that honors our own ethnic heritages, but is based in foods that grow here, rather than relying on cultural foodways that may come from very different climates and require globally-sourced and resource-intensive ingredients, like coconut and other produce from the global south? Where does renunciation live in our practice of ethical life?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but these are what the garden is asking of me right now. I share them with you with the invitation to explore them together, and encourage you to consider them with the kind of heart that is open to being changed by the encounter. What does it mean to live our vows as a community when the stakes are our very lives?
In faith and love,
Letters from the Garden: Digging, June 25
Letters from the Garden: Harvest, June 4
Letters from the Garden: Permission to Be, May 8, 2021
Letters from the Garden: Work Week, April 17, 2021
Letters from the Garden: Planting Good Seeds, April 3, 2021
Letters from the Garden: Dharma Blossoms, March 20, 2021
Letters from the Garden: The First Birdsong, March 6, 2021