A week ago I spent a day at the Denver Botanical Gardens -- a sort of work/retreat. It happened that I was there the day after a huge hailstorm had rumbled through Denver. Wonderful plants had been battered to the ground; leaves and petals and branches were strewn about. The gardener/horticulturists were out in force, cleaning up. One of them commented to me that, when they arrived earlier that morning, they alternated between tears and busyness, as the day before everything was beautiful. That was easy to see, even amidst the hail-carnage. As the day progressed, I watched a lot of picking up. And I was struck by one worker, who stooped down and pulled up a weed. A WEED! In the Denver Botanical Gardens! Why was I surprised? Certainly, at my house, in my garden plots, weeds continually appear despite my (and Spectracide's) best efforts to keep them at bay. Why should the Botanical Gardens be immune?
Fast forward a few days, and I'm listening to a reading from the Gospel of Matthew (13.24-30), a parable Jesus told about wheat and weeds. And I recalled that the Sunday prior, I heard another parable that included references to weeds (Matthew 13.1-23). In both stories, the weeds are used as figures for something "bad". And certainly, that was what the action of the gardener at Denver Botanical implied. And I got to wondering about the (supposed) inherent "badness" of weeds. I recalled Mary Douglas's definition of "dirt" as "matter out of place"**. Are weeds simply plants out of place?
I love the beauty of cultivated plants and flowers. And crabgrass in the middle of my lawn seems to detract from the even-ness of the grass; I'll happily try to pull it out! But is crabgrass "evil"? Is it "bad"? I guess not. It's simply trying to do what it needs to do to survive. As do dandelions and thistles. On the other hand, some folks use dandelions to make wine; others have cultivated thistles to become delicacies: artichokes. It's a matter of perspective, not a matter of morals, it would seem.
Some of this all came together when, in my email inbox on Tuesday, I received the following quotation:
It is very important to see your life not only from the narrow view of your egoistic telescope but also from the broad view of the universal telescope called egolessness. This is why we have to practice. Right in the middle of the stream of time, we have to open our eyes there and see the total picture of time. Through spiritual practice we can go beyond our egoistic point of view. We can touch the core of time, see the whole world in a moment, and understand time in deep relationship with all beings.
-Dainin Katagiri, "Time Revisited"
In a "universal telescope", daffodils and dandelions may simply be categorized as "plants". The same is probably true for other distinctions we draw, using our egoistic (individual and societal) telescopes-distinctions of race, gender, class, political persuasion, etc.. Distinctions that may bring harm to us all when we start assigning moral categories to them.
* With apologies to Lady Macbeth (Shakespeare, Macbeth Act 5, scene 1, 26-40).
** I reflected on this last month in a different context last month. You can find that meditation here . It's the second of the two meditations on the page.