by Chris Earle-Storey
I’m busy digging over a corner section of my garden. I haven’t quite decided what to do with it; I have a vague idea of a small pond, or perhaps some more plants to attract the bees and butterflies. The ground is heavy with clay and so digging is hard work. I also have to keep stopping to move the numerous earthworms and other small beasts that appear as I dig.
The late afternoon sun is warm on my back and I take regular pauses to rest and watch our new neighbours, a family of blue tits who’ve set up home in one of the bird boxes on the side of our house. The parent birds flit backwards and forwards, tending to their new brood; I can hear frantic cheeps coming from the box every time one of the adult birds arrives with more food. It’s good to have a family back in the bird box after a couple of quiet years.
I return to my digging. I thrust the fork into the ground, turn the soil… and notice I have cut an earthworm in half with the fork. The two halves wriggle and I vaguely recollect reading that worms can survive being severed, but maybe that’s an old wives’ tale as this one does not fare well. As I stand and watch helplessly as the unfortunate worm dies, two thoughts come to mind. The first is that it is so very hard to keep the Precedents, in this particular case the wish not to take life – for I have indeed taken this little life, albeit unintentionally. The second thought is of the Buddha and his childhood experience of watching small creatures unearthed by the plough and being eaten, and how deeply affected he was by witnessing life’s suffering.
I go back to my digging but it is as if the sun has gone behind a cloud. How could the death of one small creature affect me so much?
Later, as the light of the day is fading and the poor worm has passed from my thoughts, I go out to fill the hedgehog feeding bowls and top up the bird feeders. As I do so, I notice there are two blackbirds on the freshly dug patch of ground, pecking amongst the soil for juicy bugs and other morsels disturbed by my digging. As the Buddha recognised, life and death are inextricably bound together. Some creatures die so that others can live. This is the joy and sadness of our samsara experience. In my garden, as everywhere, the circle of birth, life and death continues.
As I head back indoors I pause to look at the changing colours of the sunset. It seems particularly beautiful tonight. I am swept by a sudden acknowledgement of the richness of our Mother Earth in all its beauty and suffering.
Namo Amida Bu.
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