Does Life Have Meaning?


This morning, March 19, a warm and sunny day, I walked out of the house and wandered into our fenced-off vegetable garden. I walked over to visit the lemon tree that I planted in January. It had been in a pot for two years. It was doing quite well; producing nice new soft, shiny leaves, and new buds. Then I spotted our new cat Willow lying under the shade of the yellow, (dynamite) pepper bush. She seemed very happy that I was there with her in her territory, her garden. It then came to me that tomorrow the 20th is the first day of Spring. I just stood still silently participating with her zazen. Little by little the whole garden was coming alive and revealing itself. The new small lettuce, the green carrot tops, the new leaf buds on the blueberry bushes. I could feel the tremendous energy of the earth all at once reaching for the sun, being expressed through this green world.

A few years ago I made a little housing for Liz’s garden figure of St. Francis, the patron of the animals. She had hung a ceramic sign on it that said, “We come from the Earth and return to the Earth and in between we garden.” I remember one time reading somewhere, something like, “Cultivating the Dharma in the Garden of the Heart.” This reminded me that the seeds of all of our thoughts and actions are stored in our subconscious mind-ground, the ālaya vijñāna, the garden of the mind. These wholesome and unwholesome seeds sprout and manifest according to our actions and thoughts, causing happiness or suffering.

A question was presented to me the other day about the meaning of our life. What is that?  What could be more meaningful than dropping our self-absorption and devoting ourself to cultivating the Garden of the Mind? We are vegetable, animal, mineral and human. When we take off the coverings, and open our eyes we can realize all of these qualities in ourself. Our body/mind is not separate from the world. When we take care of the world we take care of ourself and vice versa.

The blood runs through our body. The heart beats, the breath-door swings, the thought bubbles come and go, the body ages, and none of it is controlled by “me.” It is the universal activity. This is what we belong to. There is a deep satisfaction that comes from cooperating with this universal activity, which is our true self. Maybe this is what self-respect is. Our practice is to find the meaning in each moment, taking nothing for granted.

A monk asked Joshu, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the west?” He said, “The oak tree in the garden.” He also had a great awakening when he saw a peach tree in full bloom.