By Kanchana Weerakoon
Founding President Eco Friendly Volunteers (ECO-V) Sri Lanka. Co-Founder/President Journeys for Climate Justice (JCJ), Australia. Co-Founder Edible Routes Foundation (ERF), India
The first Metta Garden was established in Colombo Sri Lanka in 2015 as a contribution to the INEB Eco Temple network. Since I started living in New Delhi, India a few years later, the same concept has been applied at the Mahabodhi Society Buddhist temple premises in 2019. This temple was going through some changes, and it was the best time to introduce eco practices to the temple community. For example, it did not have a composting facility and all the garbage was given to the municipal council. There were also not many plants available other than some seasonal flowering plants. Therefore, the idea of converting the temple to some eco practices was initiated by establishing the Metta Garden in December 2019. The main objectives were: 1) providing some organically grown vegetables to the 3 monks living in the temple, 2) using the organic waste of the temple to make compost, 3) bringing back some urban biodiversity to the temple premises as a service to environmental conservation, and 4) lastly inspiring the lay community towards eco practices.
From a Buddhist perspective, the design was done according to a “mandala”, which is a sacred geometric figure that represents the universe but is also an important permaculture design concept. It is a garden for all sentient beings (living and non-living). It is a space to connect with all these beings using the five sensory organs and experiencing the sixth sensory organ – consciousness (vijnana) which is part of mind and can be cultivated towards wisdom. This is a place to see, hear, smell, taste and feel correctly—practicing mindfulness (sati) at the moment of contact (phassa)—while understanding the functions of all elements. On the other hand, from an environmentalist’s point of view, it is a place where all animals, plants, microbes, insects, etc. live in harmony with the interconnectedness with each other like a web of life.
While the design of the vegetable beds was done following the mandala concept, a separate area was dedicated for a compost facility. Fallen leaves on the temple grounds are collected and added to the compost to recreate the soil. This eventually helps to generate more earth worms which nourishes the soil. Food waste coming out of the kitchen is minimized, however, whatever remains—such as leftover cooked food, tea leaves, coffee grounds—are be added to the same compost. The monks were trained to maintain it organically.
As the project began at the beginning of the winter in New Delhi, winter vegetable saplings were planted along with some seeds of carrots, beets, cauliflower and broccoli. There are no “pests” in the Metta Garden as all are part of the bio-diversity. Therefore, no pesticides, weedicides, or any kind of harmful chemicals are used in this garden space. The bio-diversity will balance the condition without much human interaction. Therefore, it’s an organic living space.
Weeding is done sometimes, but it is only done as a meditational activity, such as letting go the bad actions/feelings (weeds) while keeping and continuing all good deeds or actions and becoming conscious about one’s lifestyle. Paths are used to walk around the garden to develop mindfulness of the soil, conditions of the surface, all wild plants, grasses, and bio-diversity.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit India at the beginning of March. By the 20th of March, the whole country went into lock down. The temple visitors were stopped, hence food deliveries to the temple were minimized. However, this was also the time the vegetables of the Metta Garden starting to give their yield. The monks had managed to stock some dry rations, but fresh vegetables were a challenge as the daily vegetable vendors had stopped their roaming. However, this never became an issue for the monks. Every time I called the venerables to inquire how they were doing, the answer was, “Thanks to the Metta Garden, we are eating fresh vegetables and salads every day. So Covid-19 is not stopping our fresh organic vegetable supply”.
The Metta Garden was one great initiative we did just before the pandemic. Even during lockdown, I was able to send some seeds for summer planting. Therefore, the garden continues, and the organic vegetable supply will continue too. The wider temple community is already talking about the Metta Garden as one of the best stories they experienced during the crisis.
The garden and temple will also be used for training many people, especially kids, in gardening and teaching them how to become more “Eco-Centric” thinkers while getting rid of “Ego-Centric” thinking. This is the model that we use to train people to confront climate change by increasing urban bio-diversity with food security.