“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
― Cicero, Letter to Varro
Stoic philosophers have been gaining a noticable amount of attention lately - a significant amount of people probably have had a chance to see them on their social media or get in touch with one of the newer books on Stoicism. Quotes of Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and other Stoics cover our feeds, dashboards and walls. But how many of us, actually contemplate, think or meditate on the wisdom said in those? I would hope it is a significant number, but indeed, it is rarely ever a harmful thing to investigate own tendencies, just to make sure. Popularisation of something brings many goods, but also, many bads, especially in era of short attention spans and generally a disdain towards a calmer, contemplative lifestyle - it being perceived as lazy and selfish. To avoid vulgarisation, to avoid blind consumption without thinking, to save wisdom from becoming mere posts on our walls or yet another "inspiration" to cope with life, we should look at it with patience, care and attention. All of these qualities are also, closely related to that of which I intend to write today. The title of this post is "De Cultionibus" - a Latin expression consisting of words "de", meaning "of" and "cultionibus", which is plural ablative of the noun "cultio" and has a meaning of "cultivation" but also "veneration". It is not hard to understand that the words such as culture, cultivate, cult stem from this Latin root. I have selected the Latin name, precisely because of the secondary meaning of "veneration" or "reverence". In English language, the word "cultivation" , according to Cambridge Dictionary, means "to prepare land and grow crops on it" and "to try to develop and improve something". Wikitonary mentions one more, meaning "advancement in physical, intellectual, or moral condition". Preparation, development, improvement seem to be the reoccurring theme in both languages. What is it that connects agriculture, improvement of human's condition in all spheres of existence and veneration? Why does Cicero, in his quote, also suggest subtle connection between cultivation of the garden and cultivation of the mind? Perhaps we could find more quotes coming from sages, philosophers, scientists, artists about the pleasure of the art of gardening or in other words cultivating plants. There seems to be an almost addictive, yet usually harmless pleasure that comes with it.
To Believe in the Future
Human experience has always included a degree of turmoil, hardship, destruction, suffering and challenges. War, illness, and loss hardly ever left the humanity and it is highly unlikely that anything will change in the near future. The solace which once religion, myth, folklore and other types of beliefs offered, no longer offer it in an age where people do not accept those explanations to be true. Falling into nihilism, cynicism is an easy path to take. Why should anyone create, cultivate in a world devoid of meaning? And why should they do it when destruction is everywhere around? Like any other, self-fulfilling prophecy, humans, by not believing in the future, do not create future, aimless destruction becoming the only way to express emotions, thoughts and convictions. To cultivate, anything, be it an actual garden, or our character, physique or knowledge is to do what seems to be seemingly naive but actually requires courage as it demands of us to dedicate our time to something that we may not live long enough to see. Yet, at the same time, there is in it, a childlike innocence, in which there is no concern over future but rather a full life in the moment. Cultivation, therefore, of anything, requires patience, wisdom and that which our modern world has to a large degree lost, faith. To cultivate a garden, means to put a seed and then with patience, love and care allow it to grow, knowing that in due time, the seed will bring fruit. However, it requires also a great patience, as no matter how much we water the seed in winter, the fruit will hardly come, before spring. To look at the seed and see a flower is the core of, in our fast and noisy lives, the lost art of patience. It could be said, that human mind, character and spirit also resemble a garden - full of seeds and sprouts but needing attention and care in order to grow and develop. Sometimes, it is water that is needed, sometimes the right amount of sun and sometimes it is removal of weed that is the most necessary, but whatever it is, the garden of humanity, both internal and individual and external and collective, need to be cultivated with the same patience and care we would give to a beautiful flower in our garden. Thinking of Cicero's quote once again, humans can cultivate their minds through good books. However, in our time, we could say, that it means also being careful of what goes into our minds - being mindful and careful not to consume that which will later become weed that we must burn. We see images, videos, read words, texts that in no way nourish mind, character or spirit. That does not mean we are not to engage with ideas which are intellectually challenging us or bring discomfort but that we should avoid giving space to that content which has no purpose other than to vulgarise, mock and spoil. To cultivate human being means to grow so once individual human life perishes, rich fruit is left behind.
Gardens of Paradise and Veneration
Human beings very often, imagine paradise as either kingdom or a garden. Or a kingdom with beautiful gardens. This is not exclusive to Abrahamic traditions only, throughout mythologies, religions and metaphysical systems, we can find the metaphor of garden used to describe what humans consider to be the state of eternal bliss, purity and freedom. Abrahamic traditions speak of gardens of paradise, Ancient Greeks spoke of Elysian Fields and its bliss, Buddhist "Sukhavativyuha Sutra" speaks of rebirth in Pure Lands of West, through which individuals can attain nirvana, the text has rich descriptions of gardens. It recites: "And there, O Ananda, of the trees made of gold, the flowers, leaves, small branches, branches, trunks, and roots are made of gold, and the fruits are made of silver. Of trees made of silver, the flowers, leaves, small branches, branches, trunks, and roots are made of silver only, and the fruits are made of beryl. Of trees made of beryl, the flowers, leaves, small branches, branches, trunks, and roots are made of beryl, and the fruits are made of crystal. Of trees made of crystal, the flowers, leaves, small branches, branches, trunks, and roots are made of crystal only, and the fruits are made of coral. Of trees made of coral, the flowers, leaves, small branches, branches, trunks, and roots are made of coral only, and the fruits are made of red pearls. Of trees made of red pearls, the flowers, leaves, small branches, branches, trunks, and roots are made of red pearls only, and the fruits are made of diamonds. Of trees made of diamonds, the flowers, leaves, small branches, branches, trunks, and roots are made of diamonds only, and the fruits are made of gold. " Why is it, that us humans, so often, use metaphor of gardens for a place of eternal bliss? Whether this place is truly a garden, is of lesser importance for this context, but why does this metaphor appeal to so many people, across cultures and customs? Why is it so easy for us, to imagine a place of eternal bliss and purity, as a beautiful garden? This idea of blissful gardens, has also inspired humans throughout the world, to sometimes develop very complex and intricate art of gardening - whether it is gardens of East Asia, Near East, Southern Europe or some other place. The creation of gardens and cultivation of plants, remind us of something better, more noble in ourselves. In order to create a garden, we have to serve something beyond us, outside of us. We must, like suggested earlier, dedicate our time to cultivation of something that even if we see it grow, for a long time will not give us any benefits. Of course, humans can plant vegetables and fruits which will feed them, but humans also create gardens without edible plants, those that only have one purpose - to be beautiful. To dedicate time, to put effort, to cultivate that which later will not feed us, but rather, in its beauty and perfumes, bring company, serves as a reminder that human beings are not in need of just food and fuel for the body, but that they can dedicate themselves to such a selfless act and still, feel bliss, joy and happiness in it. In that sense, to cultivate is also to venerate - it is to give love but also to see within own existence, something that is not merely a beast that gnaws at other beasts, but something that yearns for beauty, blissful existence and freedom from self-obsession. It is to venerate life that exists outside of our own selves.
All the speech about cultivation, about the tender relationship between inner and outer spheres, bring us to a conclusion - to cultivate is to venerate and to cultivate is to love, create and take care of life. It is an act of serving life rather than just using life, an act of creating not merely consuming. It brings together veneration, patience, attention and faith - all which seem difficult to do in our fast, busy and stressed lives.
Perhaps, we can observe all life, all existence as a garden in need of cultivation. Perhaps we can learn how much water, light and time each needs in order to grow and perhaps then the cultivated human being can start to resemble, to embody the great metaphor of gardens of paradise.
Links Sukhavativyuha Sutra Cicero Letters Anna Aden Photography