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Pulling Weeds

May 20, 2012

by Stephen Damon

The rain seems to have finally stopped until the autumn so we’ve begun to clean up the backyard by pulling the weeds that had seeded and multiplied during the rainy months.  As I crouched down to pull the overgrowth I silently recited one of my favorite lines from Dogen’s Genjo Koan: Yet, in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread. A more fluid translation might be: Flowers fall even though we love them and weeds grow even though we dislike them.  You don’t have to be a gardener to appreciate the obvious truth of this statement, but you do have to have some kind of inner practice to appreciate what this says about us and the way we see the world around us.

In Dogen’s statement, “we” refers to jiko or the self and “flowers” and “weeds” refer to banpo or the myriad things.  Flowers and weeds, like everything that lives, grow and bloom, each in their own way before they wither and die.  In truth, neither flowers nor weeds are inherently good or bad.  But we love the colors and smells of flowers that make us happy and dislike the weeds that make us feel angry.   

Our judgments of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, valuable or useless, make it impossible for us to experience life as it is, things as they are.  When I was a young boy working in our garden, my mother asked me what a spider and a flower had in common.  Without a moment of hesitation I responded: they are both part of life.  I’m not sure why she asked that question and what kind of answer she expected, but she seemed surprised and happy with my response.

Reflecting on that exchange as well as Dogen’s statement in the Genjo Koan I begin to see that our subjective responses to what we encounter, not only cloud our perceptions, but actually form our lives as we experience them.  Our life is formed by what encounter because we create our world of likes and dislikes based on how we categorize our experiences.  We constantly create and uphold our views of the world with our automatic responses to the things we encounter.  This is how the mind works.

But, if take the time to study how this happens we begin to see that the world we experience is not necessarily the real world.  If we stay with this observation, it is possible to let go of our rigid beliefs about the world.  Then we can let go of the narrative of our life story.  We begin to get a taste of things as they really are without the interference of thought.  Then we can experience the beauty of life blossoming on  a warm springtime afternoon.



From → Zen Buddhism

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