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Suffering and Joy on a Buddhist Homestead

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Recently, I fulfilled a lifelong dream by purchasing a piece of property that I hope to turn into a homestead. It is nothing fancy; a small house in the country with a couple of acres behind it, but it is perfect for what I want to do: to practice Buddhism and grow my own food.

Each morning, after I make the bed and feed the animals, I like to make a cup of tea and sit on the back porch. I watch the sun rise, I listen to the birds sing, and I laugh at a pair of roosters on my neighbor’s property who compete to see who can crow the loudest.

Then I walk over to the crops I have planted to check on their progress. I have lettuce, cabbage, swiss chard, beets, garlic, and potatoes in the ground. Some of my crops are growing in garden beds that I built from materials the previous owner left behind and others are planted in grow bags and plastic pots.

Photo by the author

This style of food production is more expensive upfront than the traditional model of tilling soil and planting seeds in the overturned earth. However, I am hopeful that it will result in less weeding and fewer issues with pests. Either way, I feel something akin to a father’s pride each time I look over my plant babies and see that they are a little bigger than they were the day before.

At some point, I would like my garden beds and container plants to provide 50–70 per cent of the food my household consumes. I envision a future where our plates are covered with salad greens and root vegetables that I pulled from the earth, topped off with fruit that came from our orchard and berry bushes.

But big dreams require a big work ethic, and my days are spent lugging soil all over the place, planting crops, and struggling to keep up with my ministry duties. I would be lying if I did not admit that there have been days when I collapsed into my bed at night and wondered aloud: “What did I get myself into?” But I derive a deep satisfaction from the work and as my body adapts to my new, more physical way of living, it gets easier every day.

That said, as much as I love this new lifestyle, it is not without challenges. Within a month of moving into my new house, the boiler broke and required some expensive repairs. I am now engaged in a never-ending battle with squirrels who want to eat my cabbage, and I recently had to cancel an online meditation and sutra study class that I was leading because my internet went out during the livestream—something that never happened in the city.

Even here amid the Buddhist homestead that I am trying to build, there is suffering. Reflecting on this reminds me of Buddhism’s first noble truth, which states, “Life is suffering.” Westerners do not like the first noble truth. It makes us uncomfortable. We are raised in a culture that tells us that suffering is bad, and that if we suffer in any way, we are either being persecuted or doing something to deserve it. The result is that we go through life feeling anger toward the people who have harmed us or guilt for the harm we have caused ourselves.

That said, when we are willing to sit down and read those words, “Life is suffering,” without any qualifiers or preconceived notions, two things happen.

First, we see the foundation upon which Buddhist practice and the salvation of sentient beings are built. After all, how can we alleviate suffering for ourselves and others if we will not admit that it is there.

Second, we gain a mature understanding of life, which reminds us that there are times in life when suffering is inevitable. And instead of trying to run from the sources of our pain, it is often better to face them in a skillful manner.

I cannot build a garden and fill it with delicious food without animals trying to eat it. I cannot buy a house with out having to make repairs. And I cannot move to the middle of nowhere without having my internet service be less reliable.

Photo by the author
Photo by the author

However, the first noble truth reminds me that these moments of suffering go together with the garden, the home, and the rural lifestyle that I enjoy. They are the currency that pays for the sound of cicadas chirping at night and the smell of fresh-cut grass.

Living and working on the homestead every day has shown me how my joy is tied inextricably with my suffering. And it is only when I practice acceptance toward the latter that I can fully appreciate the former.

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