The Zen of Permaculture.

Risa Bear, a Blogger I’ve read for a while now, has started an interesting new blog on “Buddhism and Permaculture.” It’s basically an effort towards cross-referencing the tenants of the two systems.

Risa’s thoughts have inspired me to post a brief series on the topic here. 

I think it may yield some very practical results that can be used in our lives and our gardens.  Think about all the great books on a wide range of topics with titles like “the inner game of this,” or “the Zen of that,” or “the Dao of this, that and the other.”

I look forward to exploring “the Zen of Permaculture.”


One step on the 8-fold path, “right desire,” mingles dangerously with the Permaculture principle of “obtain a yield.”

In Buddhism, “right desire” means wanting things that will lead to true, lasting happiness, instead of false, fleeting happiness.  One element of this is to shift one’s desires for health, joy, etc. to include the same for other people, or even “all beings.”

First, this points out that we’re all connected.

If we pursue happiness in a way that makes a mess out of the community we live in, then we (and our children) get stuck living in a messed-up community! Alternately, a rising tide lifts all boats, including your own. 

And there’s an internal benefit, too. As Swift put it in his versus on his death:

What Poet would not grieve to see,
His Brethren write as well as he?
But rather than they should excel,
He’d wish his Rivals all in Hell.

To which I can add:

A Gardener winces when he’s seen
Another’s yard more lush and green,
He’d rather see their garden rows 
be plagued by horn worms, drought and crows.

It’s only natural. But it’s nice to find sincere “sympathetic joy” in other people’s happiness instead. For me, the more I focus on my work being to benefit others, the easier it is to get over myself and start finding that sympathetic joy.

Permaculture takes the exact opposite route to the same place. For those of us who want to help heal the planet, it’s important to remember that our efforts can only be sustainable when we “obtain a yield” for the energy we’re expending. We’re usually the types who give pretty selflessly. But if we only give energy without getting anything in return, we will overdraw our wells. However, when we can “obtain a yield” from our good deeds, of money, of food, of shelter, of energy, then we can re-invest that back into our efforts. If we’re skillful, we can plan our efforts so that they produce a “positive feedback loop” where increasing yields and increasing abundance can be put to work “for the good of all beings” as Buddhists say.

Keeping both sides in mind can help us find balance and can have some interesting practical applications in our Permaculture designs that I will get to in a new essay soon.

One thought on “The Zen of Permaculture.

  1. Ha, great little poem there! I applaud your efforts and hope that you are getting some sort of yield from the energy and intelligence you are contributing to our local PC community; I think I speak for many when I say that we'd sure miss you if you stopped posting/blogging/showing up. You've inspired me to start doing better documentation of my own projects, post some photos that have been languishing in hard drive “Naraka,” jump into more online discussions, etc.

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