The Prana of Dirt

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil ca. 2000

I love gardening. It’s something I think I get from my mother’s side of the gene pool. She liked having houseplants (though not to the degree or quantity I and her mother do) and my mother’s mother is a pro when it comes to African violets – at this moment I bet she has over a dozen in just one window. As often as I can, I try to have plants inside and outside my home and I’m often intentionally selective with their placement. Some plants will on their own try to dictate conditions under which they’ll grow – and they’re mostly right. A cactus, generally, will NOT grow in a swamp. However, I take such as “suggestion” and like I mentioned in my post about the Deading Dance, in my home things are often done … differently. Plus, I think there’s also a good bit of … umm … magic that goes into gardening. It should always be encouraged that sage or lavender or both be planted near entries and exits: doors, driveways, gates, etc… But none of that matter for this post really.

You can’t garden without dirt. And while dirt can sometimes stain and can almost always get under fingernails, it is precious. You wouldn’t be here without it. Literally. I have always enjoyed the smells dirt can have. After a rain, during a rain, when it’s super duper dry. Nobody wants a dirty house, but I’d be totally happy if my clean house smelled like dirt. It’s great stuff. I think the Buddha knew that, too.

I recently picked up a book called An Offering of Leaves by a Jewish-ish gal called Ruth Lauer-Manenti. I found her book at a second-hand book store I really ought to own stock in for as much money as I spend there and I was able to bring her work home for probably something like $6. I knew even before making the purchase that this book would end up living in the “General Hinduism” section (if that’s a thing) of my library. And I liked that each chapter seemed to start with some kind of Sanskrit stanza (this appeals to me because I take a lot of tattoo inspiration from these bits!) Beyond that I wasn’t sure I’d much enjoy the book, but could tell it would be good for stop-n-go reading, so … why not?

I had the book for at least a few days before deciding to dig into it and that really just means that it sat on my nightstand for a further few days before I actually opened it to read. The last part of the first chapter hit me hard, but in the sweetest way. I’ll share it now…(I’m going to add brackets to make it clearer who is speaking)

“There was a student, and every time he went to learn teachings from the Buddha he brought gold as an offering. He had so much wealth that he could bring a lot of gold. Then, many years passed, and this man spent all his wealth. He no longer had any gold. There was one special teaching coming up that he wanted to go to. He thought, ‘Well, I have nothing to offer. How can I approach the Buddha empty-handed?’ So he decided to go to the Buddha and ask. ‘Dear Buddha,’ he said, ‘I want so much to go to the teachings, but alas I’ve spent all my wealth. I have nothing to bring you. What should I do? I don’t want to come empty-handed.’ The Buddha said, ‘Oh, your wealth is gone?’ The man said, ‘Yes.’ [the Buddha said…] ‘Oh! Gold is no longer there? You have no more gold?’ ‘This is correct,’ the man replied. ‘I have no more gold.’ [the Buddha said…] ‘OOohhh! Your wealth is finished?’ ‘Yes, it is finished dear Buddha. I have finished with my wealth.’ ‘Oh!’ the Buddha added. ‘Well, you have one garden. Don’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ the man responded. ‘I have one garden.’ [the Buddha said…] ‘You grow beautiful things out of that garden, don’t you? So many beautiful things grown in your garden?’ ‘Yes,’ said the man. ‘Beautiful, nice things grow in my garden.’ [the Buddha said…] ‘Your dirt is very fertile. So it’s a beautiful thing to grow out of that dirt.’ [the man said…] ‘Yes. The dirt is full of nutrients.’ [the Buddha said…] ‘Ah! It’s good dirt, is it not?’ ‘Yes, it’s good dirt,” said the man. [the Buddha said…] ‘Bring me some of that dirt. You have so much of it. Beautiful things grow out of it…. bring me some of that dirt.”

When I read this I made a short post to Facebook about being moved to tears because of dirt. Honestly, I was moved by a number of things: To a degree, I can relate to the student who became a wealthy adult. I have far, far more than I need and like the wealthy man I’m happy to give and I feel bad if I find myself in a situation where I can’t. I can relate to the Buddha, too. Whether they realize it or not, I’m generally very aware of the perception others have of me and as baffling as it is to me, there are those in my life who feel like they need to bring something to me to sit at the same table. Like some kind of payment is part of the picture.  Like the Buddha, gold is the last thing I expect anyone to have or to bring. And like the Buddha, I can see value in things others might overlook or otherwise undervalue. A simple, cheap bouquet of flowers, of all things, means more to me than about any other present I might ever receive. So if I were the Buddha, it’d absolutely be something I’d tell someone to do: Bring me something from your garden.

But dirt is where the Buddha blows me outta the water. I love dirt. And I love the things that grow from it (both flora and fauna). But you’ll notice from the story that the Buddha had to tell the guy TWICE of the beauty growing out of the dirt. When I say beauty growing out of the dirt, I don’t mean flowers – and neither did the Buddha. Had he meant that, then he would have told the man to bring one of the beautiful things growing from his fertile dirty.

Beauty is itself growing out of the dirt. There is also beauty of growing out of the dirt. Latent, potential beauty of the dirt. All these aspects and fifty more.

I have had a close relationship with dirt for AGES. It’s practically a generational thing (again, from my mother’s side) and I still don’t think it has ever – even once – crossed my brain space that when my hands are caked in mud, I’m holding the potential … of everything. Of every thing. That superficial realization startled me. It almost made me sick, to think of it more deeply and as I did I just found myself crying a little. It was a peaceful little cry, but one that came from deeper within than I expected. It might sound silly to say, but I think I went to bed that night a different person.

The Buddha understood the prana of dirt. Now, thanks to a Jewish yogini’s book from a second-hand store, I’m beginning to also.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

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