We have an old lemon tree in our backyard. ThereÕs a lot of history to that tree; how it got there, the lemons it produces, the uses the lemons have been put to. The fruit are large and delicious. Now the tree is dying and weÕre trying to save it.
This past winter we noticed that large sections of the foliage was turning brown, something that had not happened before. We thought maybe the trees behind it were beginning to interfere with its growth somehow. So the limbs that overhung and grew through the lemon tree were cut back. We noticed the bark was splitting and the branch that grew above the split had died. Some research indicated that the cause of the problem could be too much sun and possibly root rot. We wrapped the tree in burlap to protect the bark and cut water to the sprinklers near the tree. There are three main limbs, one seems to be lost the other two may survive. WeÕre preparing for the possibility that the tree does not survive by trying to propagate cuttings and germinate seeds.
Had we taken better care of the tree we would not be in this situation. We enjoyed the tree so much that we allowed it to grow too big. I have this notion that plants should know what to do. In general they do; they grow, they fruit, they die. I liked how the tree looked and the abundance of fruit it produces so I let it grow and extend it limbs. If I understood what I was doing I could have pruned the tree back regularly. The foliage might have been fuller and protected the limbs and trunk. Now one of the branches that may survive has had a crack in it that we keep from deepening by supporting the branch with a 4 x 4.
There are all kinds of things in the world around us that we have no clue about. Things that we recognize and things we have no idea exist. Granted we know about a great many things but there are also many things we are simply unaware of. How to care for a lemon tree may not have great consequences. However for the tree, for the history, for the fruit we enjoy there are certainly consequences that have value.
No matter what we do the tree will eventually die. WeÕre reaching the end of the forty-or-so years that they usually live. When the tree dies it will leave more than just a hole in the ground. Like all things the tree exists in relationship with other things. The tree is changing, affecting things around it. Our memories of the tree and its fruits will continued to be a part of our lives. The experience of its lemons, which were put to many uses from garbage disposal freshener to cheesecake, will continue to inform how we appreciate lemons. I could not eat pineapple for a long time because of the summer I spent working in a pineapple cannery. Every strawberry weÕve eaten since we left the Northwest has been measured against the sweet, field ripened shuksans and hoods we enjoyed there. We are affected by our experiences. What we are doing now to help the tree survive will also influence how we respond to other things.
It seems like a lot to be so concerned about a lemon tree. There are so many more important things going on around us. Everyday, every moment we are experiencing things. Some important, others less so. The things that are not so important are probably the things that happen more frequently. Perhaps a daily experience we donÕt think much about. These are the common everyday things that have just as much influence in our lives as the events that are milestones. To pay attention to these small, seemingly unimportant experiences, help us recognize the deep connections we share with life. Not just the big experiences, but the everyday experiences that are with us all the time.
In these everyday experiences we can discover the limitations of our abilities. Limitations that remind us that we are unenlightened. Unable to dislodge ourselves from the importance of how I see the world. Something we tend not to want to acknowledge. Something we prefer not to see. This is samsara. The constant percolating of difficulties from our inability to see things simply as they are.
We are unenlightened beings who do not see things clearly. It is the assurance of Amida that allows me to look more openly at my assumptions. To begin to open up to possibilities. To begin to see how I am sustained by infinite causes and conditions regardless of my limitations.
Through a dying lemon tree I can begin to appreciate the fruits of the tree, the history, the people, the experiences, the bugs and birds, the soil and water. The lemon tree, dying, changing, influencing through the relationship it shares. A relationship that influences how I see and engage the world.
However we might understand Amida, the assurance of Amida to resolve the difficulties I experience allows me to appreciate what I experience. The gratitude of Jodo Shinshu is not for the wonderful things and experiences of our lives. We should be grateful for these experiences in any case. The gratitude of Jodo Shinshu is simply for the assurance of Amida that transforms how I experience the world. Namo Amida Butsu expresses that gratitude.