Soil for the Soul: Peaches, Plums, and the Path
Gardening for Enlightenment
Dogen’s poem, “Viewing Peach Blossoms and Realizing the Way,” is as inspirational as it is directive.It illustrates that nature, in this case a peach tree, reveals truths to human beings.Dogen makes this seem rather simple by stating that he was “viewing” the peach blossoms.Yet, “viewing” is not merely the ability to see something with the eyes.It is also the extent to which the item being viewed is actually perceived through the eye of the individual.Viewing is an awareness of something outside of oneself.People must devote their time to observation and rumination on nature in order to realize those truths.Dogen proclaims:
In spring wind
begin to come apart.
Doubts do not grow.
branches and leaves.
The peach tree blooms in the springtime, and the loss of its blossoms is a “spring” as well.Dogen places emphasis on the word “begin,” since it begins its line, but the significance of “begin” is that the flowers “begin to come apart.” The flowers’ petals, sepals, and anthers separate in the breeze.They do not pause to ponder if they are sure if they really want to or not.Nature’s creatures, aside from humans, do not seem to hinder themselves by ignoring nature’s cycles.They are guided by nature’s cues and natural laws.Humans, on the other hand, often procrastinate.As a species, we have lost touch with our natural instincts which would guide us to action.People should take note of the peach blossoms immediate action, for if humans never “begin” anything they shall never achieve any ultimate goal.
The human condition constitutes a plague of questioning and doubts that exist within human consciousness.Doubt propogates inaction.When a person is uncertain they do not move forward or “grow.”Instead, they stagnate and remain diseased by illusion, just as a stagnant pool becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and is unhealthy for consumption by living creatures.Water needs to flow, and so too does a person’s spiritual development.The peach tree sheds its blossoms in the spring before leaf growth occurs, and doubts must be shed in the same way.
Viewing the peach blossoms assisted Dogen in “realizing the way” of the Buddha, or the eightfold path.I am not specifically stating that you must follow the Buddha’s path (although it may be beneficial), rather I am telling you that there is a path.You must find the initiative within yourself to relinquish your doubts and commence your journey.
Of course you do not have to sit and view a peach tree specifically, but try to find a flowering tree. Do not sit indoors and stare at the tree from within your home.Go outside of your abode into the natural world.Feel the same breath of air passing over your skin, just as the wind passes over the flower blossoms.
Dogen did not limit himself to learning from only one entity of nature, the peach tree, he studied plum blossoms as well.“This old plum tree is boundless.All at once its blossoms open and of itself the fruit is born./ It forms spring; it forms winter.It arouses wind and wild rain.”There is a relationship between the tree and nature’s other elements.They stimulate each other. The tree bears its own fruit, people too can give birth to the fruit of enlightenment of their own accord.Dogen goes on to state that “the treeness of the great earth, high sky, bright sun, and clear moon derives from the treeness of the old plum tree.They have always been entangled, vine with vine.”The relationships between the earth, sky and tree exemplify the uniqueness of themselves to illustrate their true meaning, their ness-ness—separate from one another they are not the same.All of these things consist within a great macrocosm, yet the plum tree and its blossoms represent a microcosm of humanity.
“The old plum tree is within the human world and the heavenly world.The old plum tree manifests both human and heavenly worlds in its treeness,” Dogen claimed.The plum tree provides a connection between the “high sky, bright sun, and clear moon” of the heavenly world with the soil and earth of the human world.Also, since the plum tree is “boundless” there are no limits to its potential, and its sacred link with the human world implies that humans contain this infinite potential as well.Here we should take note that, Dogen claims “Myriads and billions of blossoms are Buddha-ancestor blossoms.”The Buddha-ancestors are a diverse group, yet billions of them have been able to blossom.Also interesting, is that “budding” is a synonym for “potential.”The buds of a tree remain latent until it is time for them to bloom, and in time any person may do so with striving and dedication.
Plum blossom represent the Buddha-ancestors who have reached within and outside of themselves to have mystical experiences.The branches Dogen discussed in “Viewing Peach Blossoms and Realizing the Way” describe a path you may take to accomplish the same.Yet, the importance of the ancestors is that, not only does a path exist, but you are not the only one ambling along it.Others have as well with positive results.The way is a path and it has been trodden by numerous other individuals’ feet, and the path exists, because it has been worn down continuously by others aspiring for a similar goal.
In “The Wisdom of Trees in the Celtic Landscape,” C. Austin explains that Druidspiritual beliefs evolved within their landscape.Yet, the Druids did not merely form spiritual beliefs about their natural environment.They formed intimate relationships with numerous aspects of nature, especially all of the different trees.Austin claimed:
The concept of a divine World Tree or Tree of Life, the mythic bridge between the worlds of god and human, is entwined with the veneration of trees. As an embodiment of the universe, the roots of the World tree inhabit the underground, the deep knowledge of earth. The trunk unites the roots with the upper celestial canopy. The products given by each tree were considered a physical manifestation of divine providence.
Obviously, Dogen and other Buddhists were not the only ones who believed that trees could bring people closer to the divine.The Druids also believed that the trees buds and fruit provided humans insight into the world and existence.
So, what does any of this have to do with gardening?Everything.To make things a little simpler I shall create a summation of the edifying points from Dogen:
- Action versus inaction
- Connection of self with the natural and spiritual realms
- Human spiritual potential
Honestly, you should already feel some sort of compulsion to go plant some species of flowering tree, but maybe you do not.Therefore, I am going to align Dogen’s lessons into a gardening perspective for you.Quite plainly, if you do not take action you will never have a garden,
Dogen was able to realize the deficiency of the human condition which exists in doubt by recognizing that uncertainty does not exist within other natural entities.This lesson is a motivational call to action.As a gardener, I see it as the rationalization behind my desire to go rest on the grass, dandelions, and lambs-quarters under my pear tree as I gaze above me at the impressive, white blooms that blanket the tree’s limbs and branches.It is the desire to not only visually see the theater of beauty that nature displays, but to experience that beauty through an awareness of all of my senses.I can touch the rough, multi-colored browns of the tree bark and stroke the gray and green lichens inhale the blossoms’ fragrance, and recall eating the bitter pears the previous year.But this is all nothing, in comparison to other things.
On rare occasion, the pear tree speaks to me.I do not mean this in a literal sense, of course.I watch its branches wave in the wind wishing me a welcome morning of dew and fragrance, but I mean something far beyond this, something exasperatingly difficult to describe.The pear tree is not just a symbol of something between this world and another.The tree is a conduit of energy.I do not wish to espouse Feng Shui or anything, but the tree (as well as my other plants) emits some sort of a force of energy which I can only describe as positive, joyous, and more (the “more” is the thing I usually find lacking).I do not always sense this from the pear tree, as I said; it is only on rare occasions.It is as if everything is on the pear trees’ terms, not mine.I can go into my backyard and tell myself that I am going to attain that same sensation from the pear tree which I have previously, and it will not happen.Yet, other times, when I have no specific intent the tree does speak to me, however, I do not have the ability to sustain that feeling.Somehow, with time, it always flows outside of my grasp, and that is as close as I can come to the heavenly or spiritual world.Maybe you could find more than I have.
Also, though, I should mention that there is more to it than a mere sensation, because it truly is more.It is like a moment of clarity when all the roots, limbs, branches of the tree and everything else growing in my garden does feel connected.It is almost as if I could understand the connections between the worms, millipedes, wasps, and soil on a level entirely separate from science.I could sense all the living things and how they were all playing symbiotic roles in the survival of all things, including myself.
Dogen helped me develop a new perspective of my pear tree and a lot of my other plants.All that budding, blooming, blossoming is possible for me to accomplish as well, and you!
Life as a mother, wife, and student can be difficult and tedious.I often find myself “distracted” by society’s and my family’s demands.Yet, the pear tree, just like the peach and plum trees, reminds me that there is something more to my life, and that I have one strong desire specifically for myself outside of other people.Observing my pear tree bloom pervades my being with a desire to not only bloom myself, but to assist others in doing the same.I derive great pleasure from sowing seeds and saplings in the soil so that they may attempt to achieve their potential just as I am doing.Yet, I also enjoy sharing my beliefs with those who are open-minded enough to listen
Successful gardening requires action.Of course, it requires times of inaction as well.There is a trade-off between the two which must be realized in the gardening sphere, but the topic of inaction in gardening is really just a discussion of patience which shall be touched on as we move further.On another level, gardening can be symbolic of your continuous goal of transcendence.As your plants flourish and blossom, you can always observe them and contemplate the messages which they are transmitting to the world and you.
Growing a garden provides you with a continuous glimpse into nature’s operations.You can observe the relationships between the plants and other creatures.You can also begin to recognize yourself in relation to nature’s decrees.Yet, more importantly you will continuously be offered glimpses into the flowing of the natural cycles and the mental and emotional effects they have on you.
Plant a tree!Select a species that resonates with you so that it can be your personal reminder that you are attempting to grasp the divine within yourself.You are trying to live in harmony within your environment just like the tree does with its treeness.In the spring you can prune back the dead branches of your tree, and while you are doing so, you can also prune out your doubts and fears which restrain you from mystical experiences.