Robes and rubber boots at AHZM (March 2021)

Letters from the Garden: Dharma Blossoms

Dear Sangha,

This is the first spring I’ve experienced at Ancestral Heart Zen Monastery, and I continue to be enthralled by how fast everything changes. It feels like overnight that the apple trees are suddenly putting out buds and little green nubs of flower bulbs are poking up through the ground. Last week was close to 70 degrees, and this week we’re back to freezing. It’s still too early to really plant anything outside, but the day is coming soon.

This past Wednesday we celebrated Ancestral Heart’s first annual Garden Opening Ceremony, in which we held service outside under the sky and planted seeds while chanting Dogen Zenji’s “Dharma Blossoms Turn Dharma Blossoms.” It feels good to stand in the stubble of the field and thank the earth for the life she gives us; to give our lives in return. It feels like coming home.

Robes and rubber boots at AHZM (March 2021)
Robes and rubber boots
A temple under the sky at AHZM (March 2021)
A temple under the sky

Most seed packets will tell you that early varieties should be planted “as soon as the ground can be worked,” a phrase which I find delightfully ambiguous. I interpret it to mean that the ground has both unfrozen and dried out enough that the seeds won’t rot in the ground. But when is that exactly? It’s not my analytical mind that knows, but something in my body can tell when the weather is right and the soil is ready. I feel all my ancestors in that knowing.

The one thing (besides grass) that is growing in the new garden field is something we planted last October—a pound of garlic cloves. Last fall the bulbs put up a few little shoots before going dormant for the winter, and then lay sleeping under several feet of snow until just a week ago when the last of it melted away. Now they are waking up again and putting out new green shoots to reach the spring sun. Hopefully they’ll grow some tasty scapes soon.

Garlic sprouts this spring at AHZM (March 2021)
Garlic sprouts this spring

As Dogen says, “Although bodhisattvas who emerge from the earth into myriad worlds are the great sages of timeless dharma blossoms, still they emerge now turned by themselves and turned by others. Do not regard emerging from the earth alone as turning the dharma blossoms. Regard emerging from the sky also as turning the dharma blossoms. Know with buddha wisdom that bodhisattvas emerge not only from the earth or the sky, but also from the dharma blossoms.”

Lots of love,
Ella Antell