by Wayne Ren-Cheng
Awareness of the world we engage each moment, coupled with mindfulness of our own perceptions that lead to our thoughts and actions allows Buddhist lessons to arise even in the most mundane of activities or experiences. We are part of a community gardening project. In two 4′ X 8′ spaces we grow all manner of vegetables . . . but I must admit to being partial to the tomatoes. Each morning I tour them, check the progress of all the plants, water when needed, weed when necessary, and always marvel at the joy of being a farmer, even an urban one. This morning the realization that a lesson was being offered arose and I listened deeply to it. Tomato plants were the muse of realization this morning.
There is a sort of mantra in Engaged Dharma that connects to an important ideal. It is meant to act as an intentional reminder that while there are always differences, those differences don’t separate us. The mantra is ‘We are each unique expressions of the Universe . . . we are not each unique in the Universe.’ At each end of the eight foot garden space are tomato plants . . . 2 Big Boys, 2 Lemon Boys, 1 yellow cherry, 1 red cherry. The six plants on the left are growing and maturing significantly faster than the right side. They were planted at the same time; the soil is the same; they get watered with the same frequency; yet there is a clear difference in their development. The ones on the left flowered first, and have the most flowers. The ones on the right haven’t grown as tall or as bushy. They are unique expressions of tomato plants . . . but not unique in the garden.
Each of us are like those tomato plants. There are factors that make each human being unique. Even those that ‘grow in the same soil’ have characters, skills, goals, thoughts and dispositions that make them unique expressions of the universe, that make them unique human beings. Each of us are like those tomato plants. There are factors that make each human being not unique in the universe. The Buddha teaches of the Four Ennobling Truths. Every human being in the known universe encounters moments of suffering during their lives, suffering that arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of how the causal universe works. For those human beings there is a path, a way to minimize and ultimately alleviate suffering. That way is the Middle Path, the Eightfold Path. In this era and culture there is a lot of time and effort put into proving and reveling in whatever unique expression someone may be. So many human beings are focused on what makes them separate from others that they deny or ignore what makes each human being similar. Focus on differences weakens compassion, weakens interdependence, and weakens interconnectedness. Focus on similarities strengthens compassion, strengthens interdependence, and strengthens interconnectedness. Tomato plants don’t care whose is taller, more bushy, or who has the most flowers . . . it the fruit of their actions that is important. It must be the same for human beings.
‘We are each unique expressions of the Universe . . . we are not each unique in the Universe.’