The planting season has started on the farm. As I made my way through the garden beds, burying seeds in the ground, I was struck by two things.
First of all, I find it amazing how small some of them are! A “big” seed can be the size of the tip of the little finger. A green bean would be an example. However, cabbage seeds are the size of the dot at the end of this sentence. The idea that a four pound head of cabbage could come from such a small seed is incredible to me.
On the other hand, it's mind-boggling to think how many seeds you have to plant for a garden to grow. During the growing season, hundreds of seeds will be buried and grown in the soil of my garden to provide the beans, radishes, potatoes, etc., that will feed my family through the winter.
More than that, thousands and thousands of seeds will be planted by the commercial farmers who live around me so that families across the country will have food for their dinner tables. Placing tiny seeds in the ground again and again results in full bellies and happy lives for everyone.
I thought about that in terms of our walk as Buddhists. As Westerners, we are taught that life is about big things and quick results. We are trained to “go big or go home”. We expect tectonic changes to occur in the world due to singular actions.
But that's not how life works.
Big vegetables come from small seeds and big life changes come from small changes in behavior. More than that, it is rarely enough to do something once, even if we do it perfectly. Just as we must plant countless seeds to grow a garden, we must engage in wholesome and vital actions countless times to develop a happy life.
This is why Buddhist practice emphasizes consistency rather than perfection. Every time we sing, meditate, or bow before our altar, we are planting a seed. and as we continue to plant those seeds day by day, we cultivate a garden of enlightenment.
But that cannot happen if we are not willing to put in the work.
Similarly, when we talk about our daily lives, there's nothing glamorous about feeding our pets, mowing our lawns, or folding our laundry. And if we view these tasks as a drudgery that we must endure or avoid at all costs, we suffer. However, if we consider them as seeds with the potential to develop a happy and fulfilling life that we can enjoy, they become a source of pleasure and satisfaction.
Like a wise gardener, we must choose our seeds carefully and dedicate ourselves to planting more each day. It is this constancy of effort that allows our enlightenment to grow. Additionally, we need to make good choices about the seeds we choose to plant. He is a foolish gardener who plants apple seeds in hopes of growing a tomato plant.
Likewise, if our actions sow the seeds of greed, anger, and ignorance in our daily lives, we should not be surprised if the results are not what we desire. Instead, we must ensure that our actions are in accordance with Buddhist doctrine; which we hold to the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Six Perfections and the four Brahmaviharas.
When we do this, we grab virtuous seeds such as compassion, equanimity, loving-kindness, and sympathetic joy, and plant them in the soil of our lives. We do it whenever we are nice to our neighbor, whenever we love our partner. And every time we do our best to help someone who needs help, we are nurturing the seeds of Dharma.
And as they grow in the garden of our enlightenment, it becomes easier to plant more seeds, which benefits not only ourselves but also others. Thus, the planting of spiritual seeds, like the planting of vegetable seeds, leads to a wholesome and vital cycle which is beneficial to all who participate in it.
That said, when you think about how many seeds you need to plant to grow a garden, it can be overwhelming. When we think of the amount of physical and spiritual seeds that need to be cultivated, it can be daunting.
We may think that the work can never be completed, so we refuse to try. At times like these, it's important to remember that you can't fill a garden bed with seeds without first filling it with one. And if we plant only one seed, it can still become nutritious food for us and for others in the same way that a single cabbage seed can become a four-pound head of cabbage.
We don't need to plant the whole garden. We don't need to fix everything. We just need to plant a single seed and nurture it until it sprouts.
Namu Amida Butsu