the kubota-sattva

ascent's editor discusses moving moss & moving mountains

photo by charles green

excerpted from the print magazine…

There is a traditional story that I learned while living in China called “The foolish old man that moved mountains.” The story goes something like this:

There was a foolish old man from Northern China. Although his house faced south, outside his door two large mountains, Taihang and Wangwu, blocked the sun. So he decided to move the mountains. He got out his hoe and shovel and began digging. Then the Wise Old Man came along and said, “You’re a fool. It’s impossible for you to dig up those two mountains.” The Foolish Old Man replied, “When I die, my sons and daughters will carry on; when they die, my grandsons and granddaughters will continue until infinity.” He went on digging, unshaken in his conviction. Eventually, two bodhisattvas came down and carried the mountains away on their backs.

I learned the story in Chinese class and read it in Mandarin. After reading through the text several times I was convinced that my Chinese language skills were terrible because the story didn’t make any sense to me: how could the foolish old man’s stubbornness be rewarded by bodhisattvas? I checked the story out with my teacher and she assured me that my reading skills were fine. She said, “You understand Chinese language – you just don’t understand Chinese culture!”

That was several years ago, but I have been thinking about the story quite a bit while finishing ascent’s space issue. Not because we’re trying to move mountains, but because I’ve been landscaping. It’s spring in the Kootenays – blue flowers peeking, green things glowing phosphorescent greener, the air warm. In this gentle atmosphere, I decided to tear up the lawn outside one of the ashram’s houses. See, the ashram is situated in the woods, at the base of a large mountain, and it’s kind of silly to maintain a lawn in such scenery. So the idea was to return the space in to its original habitat – a moss and rocky landscape – and move the lawn to fill a hole where an old building was torn down.

It seemed simple enough. I put on my red Chinese gardening coat and started edging the lawn and cutting it into little sections that could be rolled and moved. I edged two rows and then tried rolling some of the grass – good god, it was heavy! The next day I got a crew of people to help – after a morning’s work we barely put a dent in the lawn. After lunch I found myself alone on the lawn lifting little sections of sod – determined and daunted at the same time. Eventually, two people came to help and we started in on a new row. As we worked, I felt the glow of acceptance warm me – knowing that the job was going to take a long time I settled into the doing and stopped thinking about the outcome. I began to feel very spacious.

Now, I’m not comparing myself to the foolish old man; because I’m not foolish, I’m not old and I’m not a man. But I know a little what he must have felt like when the bodhisattvas came and moved the mountains. After hours of edging and lifting up sod, James, the ashram’s garden manager, suggested that I get the tractor to lift and move the lawn with the front-end loader. A divine idea.

The tractor is a Kubota and that afternoon it became the Kubota-sattva! Ah the smell of diesel in the sun, the measured movement and precision of such a powerful machine. You might think I’m just an intellectual editing type but I’m developing a certain finesse with the tractor. With the help of the celestial, all-terrain Kubota-sattva, we easily moved the entire lawn before supper!

In the midst of my time on the tractor, I developed my own spin on the story of the foolish old man: While it is important to be persistent in an endeavour, it is also necessary for my mind to be spacious enough for the bodhisattvas to arrive. And when they do arrive, it is important to recognize and appreciate them. On that note, I’ll end with a short Chinese prayer to the tractor:

namo kubota pusa.


Web Exclusive: Watch a slide-show of pictures from the moss & rock garden and lawn in its new home...

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