The mystery of the walled garden

Sangha night 28/5/20 with Shuddhakirti

The Buddha and Buddhism uses many examples of plant like metaphores in the teachings throughout the ages; well know examples being the lotus and the Bodhi Tree.

Shuddhakirti would like to share with you tonight a few poems and his experience, love and delight in nature and gardening as a metaphor for ‘growth’ and spiritual unfoldment towards the light of Bodhi, Nibbana. We will start with meditation and later groups as usual.

There is a very beautiful poem from the White Lotus Sutra, to get us in the mood before the class, called ‘The Parable of the Rain Cloud’ which really captivates the boundless love and Compassion of the Buddha. Listen to track 11, to hear it being read by Sangharakshita (the founder of Triratna).

A couple of questions;

Do you respond / resonate to this metaphor of growth in relation to your spiritual life and aspirations?

What conditions do you think you need to grow and thrive?

Whats your experience of being in nature, has it supported your Buddhist practice, if so how?

So first of all what is a walled garden and what is mysterious about it?

This is what Robert Bly has to say;

Entering the garden we escape from rain of blows offered by the world and find a temporary shelter.

The walled garden is a shelter from the world and a place to recover from broken trust, its also a place to develop introversion; Rilke says:

Quote 1. Rilke poem, Robert Bly ‘Iron John’, p131.

Quote 2. From the first paragraph plus the poem The Rose  Robert Bly ‘Iron John’, p132.

So its not just any garden though it could be, its a place where we feel safe and will not be disturbed, you could say a sacred place. A place where we can relax and gradually feel at peace and turn inwards. A place to contemplate and reflect. Being in nature, in the hills or mountains, in the forest or on retreat can be like that; but we can’t always get away into the hills or mountains, particular recently. 

But we can go into our garden or if we don’t have a garden into a park, by a river or canal. I have a favourite spot where a canal divides into two by a brick bridge in Kings Norton. Its a beautiful sunny spot, there is a bench and I sit there after a cycle ride just watching the world go by.

Its important for me and I think for many of us to regularly get a period of solitude outdoors in the beauty of nature, to experience ourselves more full and clearly including the more subtle aspects of ourselves which may get lost in the business of daily life. To gaze out over a lake or to experience the soft green verdant foliage of herbs and grass gently waving in the wind, or trees rustling in the breeze.

I find the sighing of the wind in pine trees can resonate with my own grief and sadness, particularly when I am grieving, and heal me. Being in nature like this can heal us and revitalise us.

Sangharakshita talks about one of the qualities of the Individual (spiritually mature person), which is ‘aloneness’ which is different from loneliness. For me when I am alone in nature particular for a long time I might start out feeling lonely (missing people, my friends) but soon after a while when I think about them with love I feel reconnected with them and quite content. After a time I also feel connected with the nature around me and often feel merged, at one with it, its quite joyful experience.

Sangharakshita says, something like, that if you can be content on your own then you will be content with other people and vice-versa; I think that is what he means by aloneness. There is a sort of feeling which goes with it, in my case its like a joyful melancholy. I often feel this at its strongest in Autumn with the interplay between the beatiful colours of the falling leaves and their impermanence. 

Back to Gardening.

If you are fortunate enough to have a garden it can be a great joy for many of us and it has to be said it can also be a chore too. But I think it depends on our attitude and skill, though it does not take long to learn the basics.

For me I have been gardening for most of my life as man and boy, as it were, mostly as a hobby. I do it for the love of it, to me its like a work of art in progress; what motivates me is trying to create something of beauty. When I first start work on a garden I like to build on what is already there, using the large features like walls, landscape, large trees and bushes ect and waiting to see what ‘comes up’. In the garden in the community where I live, which needed quite a bit of attention, I didn’t plant anything for a couple of years. But I did remove an enourmous quantity of perennial weeds that had taken over. 

I also did quite a lot of landscaping, building walls and changing the shapes of the boarders and adding paving. I enjoyed the hard physical work and found the results very satisfying.

I then started planting, I wanted the garden to produce food, be productive. So I chose fruit trees and planted a small orchard of 14 trees over about 3 years. The apple trees have been very successful.


So as you can see I got quite involved, quite absorbed in the design and it had an integrating effect on my mind like meditation, lifting my state of consciousness. I think that this is often the case with creative activity when you finally get it right to your satisfaction. An important factor is that you are fully involved / interested, similar to meditation, to that extent we are lifted to a higher state of consciousness and transformed.

Weeding in particular can also lead to absorption with the rythmical pulling of the weeds and clearing the ground (full of metaphors for working on the mind). Its like there is a mirroring of the mind, clearing the weeds also seems to clear the mind. There is this sense of integration, satisfaction and then peacefulness that follows from it.

But I think that, as well as doing all the work, its also important to have time to ‘potter around’, to sit and enjoy the beauty of the flowers, trees, bushes, new growth and the wildlife.

Difficulties and challenges.

There are also the difficulties and challenges in the garden, the more involved you get the stronger they become. As well as the beauty and growth; things go wrong! Pests and diseases; your favourite apple tree gets diseased and stunted, the squirrel eats all your plums! The gooseberry bushes get goosberry saw fly! The shape of the garden continuely changes as plants continue to grow and some die.

As a Buddhist how do we deal with this skillfully? At my best I have seen this as a great teaching of impermanence. Its also a great teaching that I am not in control! I have influence but I am not in control, its humiliating, the best lesson for me is, as soon as I can, just let go and keep on letting go.  Its easy to get things out of proportion, I and the community am not dependent on the food for survival so it doesn’t warrant using sprays ect. killing anything.

But what I have found is that if I leave the blackfly on the roses, after a few days, the birds and the ladybirds soon clear them away. Again at my best I can laugh at the cheeky squirrel eating all my plums. Its humiliating but it can help me to develop equanimity and loosen my attachment to ‘my possessions’ and develop kindness and generosity. Remembering that the Buddha said that everything is impermanent including my favourite plants.

Being in the garden and in nature over time can have a ‘normalising effect’. That you see the whole cycle of birth and death constantly turning. 

From the spring buds of opening flowers which then within days of glory quickly fade away to trees finally growing old and rotting away, becoming part of the soil Seeing young animals being born, particularly birds, and then dying, their bodies then also becoming part of the soil. Its the normal way things are which is different from our so called ‘normal’ way of seeing things where old age, sickness and particularly death is hidden away from us.

So we can learn a lot from nature and the garden about the way things are, we can see the Buddha’s teaching of the 3 Laksana’s; impermanence, insubstantiality and unsatisfactoryness lived out in nature in quite a wholesome sort of way which I find is easier to take on board than just reflecting on the Laksana’s in my mind, though it is an important practice, its good to have practical examples in front of me.