The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Roses On The Rough Side of Town

My friend J has bought an old home with her companion in a dicey, inner city neighborhood.
It's their first home together and they jumped in with the usual exuberance of first time home owners who have abundant energy, no extra money and BIG ideas.
Rip up the kitchen floor? No problem. J did that over a weekend.
Take down the wallpaper in the living room, paint and put in a full sized bar with a full length mirror, and have it completely stocked in time for Sunday night football? No problem. J and her companion did that over a 3 day weekend.
Rip out the snaggly, ugly shrubs in front of the walkway? J cut them all down, stuffed the remains in leaf bags and took it all to the dump. That was an afternoon of work. Now she's looking for someone to pull out the roots. If she could physically do it herself, it would already be get the picture.

For weeks now, J's been dreaming about putting a garden in the back yard, even though it's nothing but mud. She has a grand scheme to line the fences with sweet smelling annuals, flowering bushes and lush roses. And it's not that she particularly loves roses, but she figures it will erase the odor of dog shit that wafts over the fences on both sides--everyone has a pit bull in this neighborhood and many of them live in tiny back yards.
The more flowers the better, so that she can enjoy her own back yard.

I asked her today how her gardening was going and she hung her head.
Not good she said.
I asked her what was wrong, had everything died?
She said, Oh no, everything is still alive, I just haven't put it into the ground yet?
I sort of laughed, because I know she's had these rose bushes for weeks, she's been obsessed with this back yard Eden, but the fact that the rose bushes are still in their pots is unusual for J.
So, I said, are you preparing the soil and bringing in manure and all that good stuff roses like?
Oh God, she said, I'm not going to touch anything like that. She looked at me like I was crazy.
I said, J you want to prepare the soil so that the roses get a good start, just take a little time to read about what they like to grow in, you'll have gorgeous roses someday.
J looked at me as if I had suggested sprouting wings and flying to the moon, then stopping off to swing on the Big Dipper.
She said, when are you coming over to plant my roses for me?
We laughed, then left the topic behind.

I really like the idea of planting roses to have something sweet smelling when you're living in the city, not to mention how lovely they can be, how any flower might be in an otherwise gritty environment.
And I like the do-it-yourself energy that J always seems to have at her disposal.

But the conversation left me feeling saddened. I had to think about it for quite awhile before I realized I could see the idea of roses as a metaphor for the mind we all possess, but which remains only partially realized without deep, nurturing cultivation. Without compassion, without patience, without wisdom and vitality there is no growth.
Without the proper conditions, our minds wither and die, or at best, sprout buds but fail to blossom.

The idea of putting those beautiful little rose bushes, with all their potential and capacity to grow, blossom and astound, into ground that is mud-hard and depleted, gave me the shivers. I imagined them lined up on a sunny windowsill in J's house, those stalky, barbed shoots protected with wax, maybe a few tender green shoots beginning to emerge, their tags promising all the colors of the rainbow, as well as instructions to guarantee their progress, but sitting there none the less.
All that hope and potential.

As Sokyong Mipham points out in Turning The Mind Into An Ally, "True happiness is always available to us, but first we have to create the environment for it to flourish."
He goes on to point out, "There is an old saying that bringing Buddhism to a new culture is alike bringing a flower and a rock together. The flower represents the potential for compassion and wisdom, clarity and joy to blossom in our mind. The rock represents the solidity of a bewildered mind. If we want the flower to take root and grow, we have to work to create the right conditions. The way to do this--both as individuals and as a people in a culture in which the attainment of personal comfort sometimes seems to be the highest standard--is to soften up our hearts, our minds, our lives."

Last night at Priest Studies, Sensei said, "The universe will give you opportunities to wake up at every moment."

What do we need to realize that? What are the conditions and the nutrients? What is the realization?
Each of us must find out, but not if we leave ourselves on the windowsill or neglect the soil in which we find ourselves planted.

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