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Quote of the Week: Wendy Johnson

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There are the headline stars of socially engaged Buddhism, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. And then there are the lesser-known folks like Wendy Johnson who are beautiful, hidden gems.

I’ve been lucky enough to know Wendy for almost 15 years now and for the past three days, I’ve been enjoying being part of “True Nourishment from the Boundless Field,” a retreat with Wendy and Sensei Beate Stolte here at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe.

Wendy has been a Zen practitioner for 35 years in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. She helped to found the organic farm and gardening program at Green Gulch Zen Center in 1975, and she’s taught gardening and environmental education since the early 1980s. Joanna Macy once said, “If Earth took a human voice, it would be Wendy’s: wry, fierce, passionately attentive to detail, and so startling in its wild freedom it’s almost scary.”

This week’s quote is an excerpt from Wendy’s magical book Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World. You’ll notice the quote jumps from Wendy’s first gardening principle to her seventh… obviously there are five in between. Though I was tempted, including them all would have made this post way too long. So you’ll just have to get her book to find out the rest ; ) But this should be enough to give you a flavor of Wendy’s love for this earth.

Gardening is all about picking and choosing and following our passion. Some very basic principles inform how I garden. They come out of my love for gardening and for the world. Today I count seven principles. Tomorrow there may be eight or nine, because they arise out of an untamed rootstock from below the bottom of time.

My first principle is to learn gardening from the wilderness outside the garden gate…There is very little true wilderness remaining in the modern world. And yet when Thoreau says, “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” he reminds me that wildness, at least, persists. It endures underneath the paved-over pathways of our cities as well as on the fringe of urban farmland. It persists in patches, sumps, and wallows, in weedy tangles everywhere on Earth. Staying in relationship to the uncultivated world is a primary principle for me as I garden domesticated land….

My seventh principle is generosity with the harvest. In the biblical book of Leviticus, one of the laws of Jewish life was not to cut the corners of the fields after the main harvest but to leave them standing so there would be food to be gleaned by the hungry, the lonely, and the stranger. I treasure this old admonition to share the bounty of the garden harvest with all beings; it reminds me not to cut corners and to garden wholeheartedly for the benefit of both the visible and the invisible hungry world.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

One response »

  1. Wendy is a wonderfully fierce spirit. I met her at our zen center here in Minnesota when she was doing the tour for the gardening book. We had a great conversation about dandelions, if you can imagine that!


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