Garden Reflection by Tharpa Sersang

On December 12, 2018, Tharpa Sersang was ordained by Karma Lodro Kalsang, becoming the the newest Parma Rabjung (the first stage in lifetime monastic ordination) at Gampo Abbey. Tharpa arrived in January of 2017 for the Warriors Who Are Fearless temporary monastic residency. Under his care, the abbey’s garden has flourished, providing a cornucopia of healthy and delicious food during the warm months.

Reproduced below is Tharpa’s reflection on the 2018 garden season.

A Pithy Reflection on the 2018 Garden Season

The Heart

            In attempting to sum up my experience in the garden last season, the word that overwhelmingly comes to mind is re-imagination. What had continued to occur to me over the season was how my previous assumptions, conceptions and experiences were very much informing, whether consciously or not, my current experience of tending and relating to plants and earth. And what I began to notice was how my perspective, the attitudes I’ve been cultivating and carrying, were actually limiting potential, possibility, growth, and further understanding.

During my tenure in the Karmê Chöling garden, we were producing and producing hefty amounts of healthy, organic produce: 10 – 11 thousand pounds, marketed then at around $25-thousand USD. While the garden sprinkled with plenty of perennial and annual flowers had an alluring atmosphere, the underlying attitude handed down to me was concerning production. This has undoubtedly been an influential base for my growth as a gardener and flavored how I’ve continued to connect with and nurture this passion.

This season was especially marked by my choice to grow annual flowers within the vegetable garden. Inspired by what I do not know, I undertook a new avenue for my green-thumb, choosing a minimal number of cultivars to explore. As the season progressed and warmed, I watched how the flowers incredibly began to come to life – they breathed and sighed and waved and danced in the winds. I was utterly and continuously entranced by these charismatic, effervescent invitations. The regalness of Antirrhinum, or Snapdragon, the mightiness of Helianthus, or Sunflower, the elegance of Papaver, or Poppy, and the spirit of Tropaeolum, or Nasturtium. They transformed, ornamented and enriched the atmosphere from a simple, straight-laced vegetable plot into a space that welcomed all to be immersed into its ever-dynamic aliveness, a dance of colors, shapes, patterns, elements.

Contemplating Value

What slowly began to turn over in my mind as I spent my days beneath the sun, hands in the soil, was my whole attitude regarding the purpose of tending to a garden. Once, very much fixed and transfixed on producing worthy and tangible outputs, now an entirely new perspective was opening up. Beyond relative, material offerings, beyond feelings of wantingness, or purpose, what can a garden give way to? And how might this experience influence one’s broader attitude towards the earth and her many living beings? How does relationship mature with the natural world when it’s steeped with direct experiences of connectivity, communication and deep appreciation?

As we can quite sadly see from the perils and delusions of modern big-business agriculture, the value and necessity of such connection and appreciation has long been deserted and rendered worthless. We ravage the earth not even necessarily for the resources, or generosity she offers, but for the money it puts in our wallets, for short-term profit and pleasure. We continue to choose and implement the means of stripping bare our very source of nourishment and vitality with minimal thought of implication, or reciprocity. In relative terms, it’s quite necessary to meet the very real and immediate needs we have, like feeding seven-billion people. This reality cannot be simplistically abandoned in an attempt to enact some deluded bucolic fantasy. However, we also cannot continue full-steam ahead, nursing our shortsightedness, quenchless greed and amnesia. We are at a great crossroads and we have a choice: transform or…

What my experiences have genuinely brought to light is the need for nurturing a bigger view, an embracing, panoramic attitude which can hold everything – ignorance, insanity, sorrow, splendor, profundity. How can we intentionally cultivate appreciation and connectivity as the vast view? How can we re-imagine our relationship with the natural world so that it blooms into doorways of reciprocity? How can we re-imagine our role within the greater cosmos of interconnectivity? How might re-imagination begin to spark a shift of our entire world?

The Numbers

2017                            2018

Estimated Spending:                 $900                           $1,827.32

Estimated Value of Produce:   $4,143.39*                 $5,659.67*

*Organic prices were not always available and thus conventional prices substituted.

This number is most likely a modest underestimation of the actual value.

Greatest Hits:

2017                            2018

Dark Leafy Greens:                     $1,107.23                    $1,044.59

(Kale, Chard, Collards, Pac Choi,

Cabbage, Tatsoi, Raab, Beet Greens)

Lettuce:                                         $602.17                       $675.99

(Including Radicchio)

Salad Greens:                               $369.63                       $171.43

(Arugula, Mizuna, Mustard Mix, Cress)

*During the months of Mid-June through Mid-October 2018 the kitchen did not need to purchase any greens whatsoever due to the abundance of the garden.

“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.” -Wendell Berry

2 thoughts on “Garden Reflection by Tharpa Sersang

  1. Hello Tharpa, So happy to see you are still with and progressing at Gampo Abbey. Congratulations.
    I worked in your beautiful garden and felt your loving presence within the garden and your smile was pure sunshine. With gratitude, Sara from Sudbury On

  2. Greets!
    Bottom line to this is a simple question regarding compost 🙂

    I wonder …
    Years ago (autumn 1991) we had a problem. What should have been bins full of raw material for compost had become … my lord, something straight out of a charnel-ground nightmare … very offensive sludge.

    Now from my experience I know that the antidote to those repulsive heaps was fresh air, sun’s warmth, and perhaps the vibrant flora/fauna.

    With the garden slightly downhill (looking towards he main building) and with the road to my right, with the “chicken coop” above, and directly behind the garden Buddha … I hda candidates for “what to do”, but … do do it //where//?!
    Looking over my left shoulder across the field the lead to Sopa Choling, I saw a chance.

    With a yoeman helpder hauling good soil from up above, across the road, I loaded and unloaded buckets of goop over the fence, a few feet into the field, spreading out into what I thought was a reasonable layer, to be covered (and slightly mixed) with the dirt arriving by wheel-barrow.

    I covered it with sod (an old trick from my days as infantry) and shared a good laugh with my helper: it looked like a grave site!

    Has any of that left some historical trace? just over the fence from where the compost bins had been.

    –KC: aka ben

    p.s. I’m snooping around; looking for someone to talk about end of life planning.
    tashi delek!