This is how a plant becomes enlightened. And how you may yourself become enlightened.
Once there was a soybean, and it was planted in the deep rich soil of the river valley. It did not know the river. It did not know that the river came from a distant mountain, having fallen from heaven. It did not know of heaven – or hell. It did not even know its farmer, who took the river and brought it to irrigate the valley, and protected it from its many unknown enemies.
The soybean set down roots, and grew above the soil, connected biochemically through the soil and air with the other soybeans around it, and even with the strange, wild plants that sometimes grew among them. It lived long days, and set fruit, pollinated by bees and beetles, mosquitoes and flies. It was happy until the day it died, content with its children. Its children, embryonic in their mother’s womb, could have been planted in the same valley as their mother, but were chosen by their farmer for sale. The farmer did not know what would happen to the soybeans, but loading them on his truck, took them far away from the valley.
By chance – simple chance – the soybeans were sold several times before being owned by a manufacturer, who chose them to make the ink with which you read these words. And one of those beans, by chance – simple chance – having been cared for by the farmer, traded by the merchant, crafted by the manufacturer into ink, now, by my own care, has become the word “enlightened.”
Along the way, that bean was protected and fed. Countless beings protected and fed it: microorganisms mineralized nitrogen, cattle provided manure, spiders defended it from its enemies. It was carried and protected and fed by the help of metals found deep within the earth which had been sought for by miners, crafted by blacksmiths, into semiautonomous robots - advanced computers with the rudimentary beginnings of artificial intelligence, little less aware than the bean they help craft. This is so unlikely, such a small chance, that it is a miracle.
The paper, once a tree, was pulped with similar care and it was only chance that the tree would carry that word of enlightenment, bonding with the ink. In that random marriage of soybean and tree, the tree serves the noble purpose of bringing you to greater awareness – as I do. As my computer does, in shaping the ink.
And the cattle that fed the soybean with their manure, the farmer, the merchant, the manufacturer – they were fed by the soybean’s minor companions. These soybeans fed, too, the weavers who made the clothing required by the farmers and miners, the manufactuers and computer engineers. And these people were sheltered in houses built from the minor companions of the pulped tree, each having yielded up quality timber for that purpose with their lives.
You may trust the words I caused to be written with the ink on this paper, for they were made not by me alone, but by a Sangha, natural and artificial, all of whom are purposed for the relief of your suffering.
And though it was the purest chance that brought you to read these words, consider the pure chance that brought them to be written: the good fortune of a single soybean, or a tree, to become enlightened may become your own – if you allow yourself to become transformed and shaped, as they were. Ink is easily shaped with patience and care. An animal is easily trained with patience and care. Can you not shape and train yourself? Develop your skill in body, mind and heart.
It is possible to develop your skill. If it were not possible to develop your skill, I would not tell you to develop your skill. If this development of skillfulness was conducive to harm, I would not direct you toward development of your skill. But because this development is to your benefit, I urge you to develop your skill.
Abandon what is unskillful. It is possible to abandon those behaviors of body, mind and heart that are unskillful. If it were not possible to abandon them, I would not tell you to abandon them. But because it is possible to abandon them, I tell you to abandon them. If this abandoning caused you harm, I would not direct you toward that abandoning. But because the abandonment is conducive to what is beneficial, I urge you to abandon what is unskillful.
For truly, if even a plant can become enlightened, so can you.
Over there are the roots of trees; over there, empty rooms - practice and study! Grow stronger - heart, body and mind - to practice and study. Grow stronger – this is practice and study.