The Secret Life of Plants
By Jagabandhu dasa
Many years ago, while living in California, my wife Krishnaashrita dasi and I had worked as apartment managers overseeing a huge three building complex near downtown Oakland. As is usual in the more temporary habitation of the rental marketplace, tenants often leave unwanted things behind in their sometimes hurried transience to yet another temporary place of residence. Because of this, over time, we eventually developed a sort of impromptu house plant “orphanage” as we “adopted’ those plants abandoned in vacated apartments and consequently undertook their care. While under our care over a period of years, these “orphaned ” plants thrived and grew, filling our future consecutive homes with lush greenery and a subsequently greatly increased supply of oxygen. When we moved to San Francisco to be closer to our good friend Guru dasa, the plants had grown to such a degree that they filled an entire sun room, thereby turning it into a virtual jungle.
As our children Gita and Sachi were born, one after the other, we eventually moved back across the Bay to the suburb of Concord, in order to provide a better life for them with a house that had it’s own backyard facilitating their young developmental recreation. At first the plants were given accommodation in our temple room, which was situated in the front part of our new residence and turned it into a sort of forest of greenery. The plants continued to thrive under our care and were treated as affectionate family members. We gave them water to drink from our altar. And these fortunate souls heard much chanting of the Lord’s Holy Names.
One day I began to feel that perhaps our temple room was overcrowded with our plant jungle, which caused me consider possibly placing some of them throughout the suite of bedrooms in the back part of our house thereby also increasing the oxygen. But then I was struck by the thought that if I did so, these living entities presently embodied as plants would then be less able to hear the chanting of the Lord’s Holy Names as easily as they could when they resided in the temple room where besides our own kirtans, there was a constant flow of taped kirtans playing over our stereo system. Needless to say, our friends the plants remained living in our temple room.
In the front yard of this same house, there lived a beautiful tulip tree that had every flower that she produced offered on our altar for the time we lived there. Unfortunately, because our house was a rental which was eventually sold, we were forced to move again. It nearly broke my heart to leave that tulip tree behind who after years of having every bloom upon her dedicated in puja was a more pure servant of the Lord than I could ever hope to be.
A couple of years later, we moved to Florida to be nearer to family, thereby forcing a difficult situation upon us. These plants, who were like members of our own family and who had heard the chanting of the Lord’s Holy Name for many years, along with drinking much Maha-water from our altar, we could ill afford the expenditure of having them shipped across America on a journey which they might not survive. We wanted very much that their care might be transferred into the loving care of a Vaishnava home where they might continue to hear the Holy Name. Fortunately, the kind Grace of our good friends Bahusira Prabhu and his good wife Mother Lila-Shakti came to the rescue. And the plants who had thrived on kirtan were safely placed in the loving care of a Vaishnava family.
Nowadays, we reside deep in the river woods, far from cities or any Vaishnava community. This isolation has forced upon us the constant consideration and consciousness of nonetheless always being surrounded by all variety of embodied souls, plant and otherwise. By the Causeless Grace of Guru-Gauranga, I am often prone to chant to the sentient beings within the forest where I now reside; insects, lizards, frogs, squirrels, foxes, racoons, deer, birds, plants, trees and all variety of living creature, while always thinking of them as pure spirit soul beneath their respective temporal coverings.
Recent cataclysmic events within our troubled world have caused me to lose enthusiasm for the continued pursuit of my occupation as a construction worker while developing a desire to become a farmer. Or at least a farm worker. My younger daughter, Sachi happens to have a close friend named Prema, whose father Jatayu Prabhu owns and operates a small organic farm. A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to spend a week there mostly working on my knees in the dirt, primarily weeding.
Before long, while working, I began to consider how Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur’s own interpretation of Mahaprabhu’s Third Beautiful Precept “… humbler than a blade of grass…,” was that because the grass has no fundamental problem of false ego
(well-knowing it’s own base position in the greater scheme of things), it therefore will uncomplainingly tolerate anyone trampling upon it, whereas humans suffer greatly from false ego. Therefore, in order to check such vanity in the honest earnest pursuit of real spiritual life eternal, we must for our own sake and true inner health consider ourselves beneath the grass.
Reflecting thusly, as I wrought havoc amongst the weed community, I began to feel pain for their suffering, wishing that the weeds had some purpose beyond being cruelly uprooted and wantonly cast aside to scald and wither to death under the scorching sun (when in actuality I must consider them superior to myself, a vain false egotistical poor excuse for a human being).
So I began to softly sing Sri Hari Nam and namo maha vadanyaya… to the weeds as I pulled them from the soil, apologizing to them for my meanness, all the while wishing each weed a better life, next time. And remembering that truly, all is vain but kindness.
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