Seek in the heart the source of evil and expunge it. It lives fruitfully in the heart of the devoted disciple as well as in the heart of the man of desire. Only the strong can kill it out. The weak must wait for its growth, its fruition, its death. And it is a plant that lives and increases throughout the ages. It flowers when the man has accumulated unto himself innumerable existences. He who will enter upon the path of power must tear this thing out of his heart. And then the heart will bleed, and the whole life of the man seem to be utterly dissolved. This ordeal must be endured: it may come at the first step of the perilous ladder which leads to the path of life: it may not come until the last. But, O disciple, remember that it has to be endured, and fasten the energies of your soul upon the task. Live neither in the present nor in the future, but in the eternal. This giant weed cannot flower there: this blot upon existence is wiped out by the very atmosphere of eternal thought.

Light on the Path

 The weed has been called "a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered". One is not sure whether to accept this at face value and consider the possible benefits some day to be unmasked, or whether to embrace the likely irony in the statement and join the serried ranks of those who deem the plant, now and forever, a bane to the human enterprise. More than one poet has tried to persuade us that it is only an "unloved flower", but the majority have come down hard on the side of censorship and vilification. The lowly weed may be imagined to shrivel under this negative barrage. Likened to all that is pernicious, immoral and unrefined, one would think that the sheer intensity of conscious rejection, mustered against it like thought-clouds of DDT, would send it scampering back into some palaeobotanical oblivion. But as every green thumb, tomato tender, corn cultivator and lawn lover knows, the weed flourishes in every possible way.

 Let us hasten, however, in a spirit of ecological equity, to point out that mankind and Nature in general do derive certain benefits from the weed. In disturbed areas such as landslides they provide fast ground cover, helping to prevent erosion from rains and wind. Their high nitrogen content provides nutritional forage for animals while they are alive and humus for the soil when they die. Many weeds are also relished by people who, in various cultures, carve them out of the rocky hills or pasturelands in order to cook them with rice or make pitas of them. The wild greens gathered on slopes where only the surest-footed goats eke out a living are unmatched for their mineral-derived richness of flavour, and many others provide medical relief for those who know how to distil their roots or leaves. The nether slopes of the Eastern Ghats in South India are believed to be rich in medicinal weeds and to have been visited by Hanuman as he hurriedly searched for a particular plant to save his Lord Rama's life. So anxious was he to arrive back at the scene of the battle in Lanka with the right weed that he simply took away one entire hill with him. Needless to say, the right weed was growing somewhere on it and its use did indeed save the valiant king's life.

 It is also true that certain crop plants evolved from weeds, to the benefit of man. Wild oat weed grew in a symbiotic relationship with emmer wheat in the ancient Middle East. When the wheat travelled to northern Europe, the cold climate favoured the oats and they became an independent crop, eventually the fourth most important cereal crop in the world. But for every crop plant evolved from a weed, there have been many more cultivated plants that 'escaped' to become weeds, and despite the benefits that they may have to offer, there is something rampant and rank about them which seems to eclipse their good points. The fact is that weeds act as hosts for harmful fungi, bacteria and parasites that attack crops. Their presence causes more agricultural loss than all other factors combined, and billions of dollars are spent annually on herbicides in North America alone. Hard to eradicate and tenaciously adaptable to changes, it is little wonder then that the weed has long been a metaphor for vice and evil of every sort.

 St. Augustine likened it to anger, whilst Edmund Burke said that slavery was the "weed that grows in every soil". Oscar Wilde, lamenting his confinement in gaol, wrote that "The vilest deeds like poison weeds/Bloom well in prison air", and Mother Goose has warned us that "A man of words and not of deeds/Is like a garden full of weeds." Many others have added their scorn, linking the poor weed to revenge, sloth, ensnarement, choking, indiscrimination, perversion, and ill effects of every description, convincing one that the virtues of the weed have indeed been overlooked and that it has instead become firmly planted in human consciousness as an intrusive and undesired evil in the world.

 When the majority of the people have clear-cut criteria to go by, criticism and self-criticism can be conducted along proper lines, and these criteria can be applied to people's words and actions to determine whether they are fragrant flowers or poisonous weeds.

Mao Tse-Tung

 Many weeds are successful crop mimics, reminding one that it is not always easy to distinguish a weed from a carefully cultivated plant. Ask an untrained child to go and weed your garden and you may be appalled to find that he or she has pulled up baby vegetables, cooking herbs and pre-blooming ornamentals along with the oxalis and devil grass. Most people assume that adults can distinguish weeds from cultivated plants but this is not always the case. Those who have never had any involvement with plants in a particular area will not necessarily be able to discriminate the weed from the non-weed. But how is it that anyone at all can make the distinction? Does one have to have planted plants or seen them growing in an obviously man-made row to be able to identify the domestic flora from the weed? What is a weed? What characteristics does it always have that justify man's use of the term? If one considers the question from the point of view of gatherers, horticulturists or farmers in various parts of the world, one will not find any distinctive set of genetic or structural characteristics which provide an inclusive identification. Instead, one will tend to arrive at the one common feature that all weeds share, namely that they are plants which grow where they are not wanted. To put it differently, weeds are 'weeds' not so much because of certain characteristics or habits, but because of their relative position with reference to other plants and man.

 Weeds are out of place, aggressive, rank in growth, resistant to control and often useless, harmful and unsightly. All these characteristics reflect their effect upon, and the way in which they are perceived by, human beings. It is, in fact, owing to their close association with man that they are called anthropophytes or malanthropophytes, depending upon the standpoint. They are also thought of as synanthropes ('camp followers') because they have so frequently been diffused by man as he moved from one campsite to the next, carrying with him the seeds of weeds in his fodder or animals' coats. The Confederate violet associated with Civil War campsites is a good example of this. As a camp follower, crop mimic or parasite, the weed has (as the warning words in Light on the Path suggest) persisted and proliferated through the ages, and most of this accumulation can be laid at the doorstep of ever active, ever manipulative man. Disparager of weeds, man has, nonetheless, been their prime agent of dispersal and multiplication in the world, and his distaste for them has not precluded his use of their dyes for cloth to be made into coats and capes and widow's weeds.

 Despite the fact that the definition of the weed is so difficult to pin down, many intrepid and democratic-minded botanists have devoted large tomes to their classification on the basis of painstaking descriptions of their stigmas, styles, anthers, filaments, sepals, penducles, axils, nodes, petioles and many other esoteric parts recognized by the initiated few. They also categorize them according to life span - annuals, biennials (with their developed root system) and perennials (which may be produced both by vegetative means and by seed) - as well as in terms of their mode of propagation. Botanists study them as they now exist in their hundreds of thousands of species and they collect their pollen and seeds in ancient strata of the earth in order to trace their adaptive and increasingly prolific history. In their sifting and testing, these patient investigators of the lowly weed have found that many types originated during the Pleistocene interglacial periods, which marked a global break between the flora and fauna of more ancient epochs and the two-million-year period that would follow, leading to our contemporary age. These types were scattered and few in numbers of species, having to compete for sun and soil with great savannahs and the mighty trees that began to shape the primordial forests of the world. It is only later, in Egyptian and Sumerian vocabularies, that a word for the weed emerges and mention is made on stone tablets of clearing fields to rid them of weeds. Only with the advent of agriculture do goddesses of weeding like the Roman Runcina begin to play an important role, and negative terms within the Indo-European language like mauvaise herbe, Unkraut and άγριόχορτον (agriohorton) come into common usage.

 It is thought that ornamental plants, originating in Indonesia, radiated out to Oceania, China, Japan, India and Afghanistan. Seed crops seem to have similarly radiated out from a centre somewhere in central Africa into the Near East and beyond. As the knowledge of agriculture began to spread, these strains became crossed, producing some of the earliest crops and, like a shadowy growth, weeds. Some cultivated plants such as scotch broom, comfrey and chicory (grown respectively for their ornamental, drug and vegetable value) 'escaped' to become weeds. Others simply evolved as man progressively altered the environment around him. Before Europeans came, what would eventually be called North America was covered with native flora and fauna. To the indigenous population, the concept of a weed did not exist. All plants were mysterious extensions into the world by the Great Spirit and were believed to contain within them various powers that would reveal themselves to the individual of spiritual insight. There was no such thing as a plant growing in the wrong place. When Europeans cleared away native flora to plant crops, alien species quickly invaded the areas. With every westward move of settlers there was more space for weeds. Their seeds abounded in the hay and grain transported by these struggling farmers as they slashed and burnt and plowed new virgin fields. Even the ships that brought them to the New World from the Old contributed to the distribution of weeds, for the ballast that weighted down their bowels was composed of earth containing seeds. Ninety different species of weeds are reported to have grown from the ballast piles dumped at the seaport near Philadelphia, all undaunted progeny of a covert and unplanned passage.

 In 1672 John Josselyn mentioned a large number of weeds brought by cattle to New England. Later on, others expressed concern about a "Scandinavian element" which was "particularly aggressive". The invasion by weeds into a "disturbed habitat" was very much under way. In many other parts of the world deforestation in ancient times, followed by centuries of transhumance, encouraged many weeds to intrude themselves so thickly as to make it almost impossible for an acorn or a pine seed to germinate and sprout successfully. This sort of 'invasion' follows on the heels of disturbances sometimes brought about by natural effects but more frequently caused by human beings. The invasion is fast (not the result of a slow shift in natural selection caused by something like the changing meander pattern of a river), bringing about a quick establishment of new types of flora and the destruction of many barriers existing between plant populations. This encourages many intricate and diverse genetic mechanisms to operate rapidly, leading to the development of more aggressive forms, often weeds. Hybridization thus increases when populations no longer have interspecific isolation, and when a strong selective advantage manifests in some of the hybrid offspring, they and their descendants may spread well outside the area in which the cross-breeding originally occurred.

 As weeds flourish and spread there is a gradual tendency for vegetative propagation to dominate over seed propagation, especially when there is a passing from diploid to polyploid plants in the same genus. The polyploid weed, which propagates vegetatively, lives longer and spreads more easily. In thinking of the giant weed that grows in the heart, one is more apt to envision the terrible lateral hooks of such a long-lived and tenacious weed than the annual seedling hidden in the grain fields. But both may grow there and sink their parasitic roots ever more deeply within its sacred cave. Vegetative propagation, however, seems more insidious, stealthily extending itself underground, as it were, instead of taking its chances on the wind. It utilizes modified stems in conjunction with conns, bulbs or tubers, or it sends out stolons or rhizomes, like certain grasses and bamboo. A variation on this theme involves propagation by root stems from the air or from underground, producing fully established new plants wherever the stems spread. Anyone who has dug down as deeply as eighteen inches to get out the last lurking stems of devil grass before planting a lawn is aware of the potency of this propagative method. They also know that if you do not pull out the last tiny piece, it will rest deep in the earth, fully alive and only waiting a bit before sending forth stems that will eventually surface in a vast network of growth.

 Such alarmingly adaptive habits render the weed almost invincible. Many of them thrive in adverse as well as good conditions. Perennials can often regenerate lost parts, so that if the root stalks are scattered during hoeing or cultivation, they are each capable of generating new growth. Their reduced or modified leaves often enable weeds to conserve water better than other plants, and many types have unpleasant odours, sticky coats or thorns to protect them from animals. Seed weeds are remarkably prolific as well. A single plant of hedge mustard can produce over five hundred thousand seeds in one season, leaving one to wonder why the whole globe is not simply knee deep in yellow-flowering weeds! Buried, dug up, dried out or drowned, many other types of weed seeds can endure amazingly hostile conditions for decades and yet germinate and sprout, adding their growth to the vast herbal army champing at the bit on the edge of every freshly plowed field in the world.

Now 'tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted;
Suffer them now and they'll o'ergrow the garden.

William Shakespeare

 One of the greatest faults of the weed is that it grows in direct competition with more refined forms of vegetation. The rank growth of weeds often enables them to put out leaves that capture the sunlight while casting a slower grower into partial shade. Lower levels of a canopy reached by such filtered light do not receive the wavelengths most effectively used in photosynthesis. Thus quickness of growth and mere height alone can determine the weed's dominance. But the competition does not stop there. The weed vies for nutrients in the soil and usually takes up nitrogen more rapidly than crop plants, its root volume directly determining how much of the available nutrient-bearing water it will capture. Even carbon dioxide, which aids in the process of photosynthesis, is competed for, adding to the many ways in which the life of the cultivated plant can become stunted or brought to a feeble end.

 One must weed out the insidious growth in time before it waxes strong and defies our most vigorous efforts. One must be ever on the look-out, like Shiva, the Good Gardener who never suffers even the most modest-seeming weed to take root and grow. If one desires to become the good gardener in regard to his or her own mental and moral growth, one will find the methods used to control the weeds of the fields most instructive. For the weed is a very powerful symbol which, when viewed from various perspectives, either biological or metaphorical, consistently maintains its analogical potency. The correspondence between the identification and treatment of the weed in the field and the weed in the heart is very close, a fact that adds considerable and even unexpected interest to such topics as crop rotation, spudding, tilling or mulching.

 The first thing to bear in mind is that the methods by which a weed reproduces must be known in planning its eradication or control. Is the weed an annual seedling or a biennial or perennial? Does it spread by means of vegetative propagation? If you cut it in two, will its parts regenerate new plants? Does it flower early in the season or wait until its second year to mature? Should one try to eradicate the weed or merely control it? Most farmers believe that eradication is possible if the weed has a limited distribution, but if it has become widespread, they do not think that removal is realistically possible and they opt for control of some sort. Of these, mechanical control is the oldest and most fundamental mode, involving pulling out by hand, hoeing, mowing, burning or tilling. It serves to reduce the competition of weeds and prevent them from going to seed. With crop rotation the farmer attempts to control annual weeds with one crop, perennials with another, or he may try to 'smother' the weeds by growing clover or alfalfa. As many weeds associated with certain crops thrive when the same crop is grown over and over again, crop rotation is used to interfere with their life cycle, and together with 'smother cropping' may yield a scheme for successful control. In addition to these methods, some growers have tried to practise biological weed control by the introduction of a particular weed's natural enemy. The danger in this practice lies in the fact that many weeds (especially those in grain crops) are closely related to the crop plants themselves, and what might affect the weed could equally affect the crop plant. It would seem that the crop mimic has more going for itself than a mere similarity in external appearances.

 Of all the methods of weed control, chemical sprays require the most careful and selective application. Many of them are indiscriminate killers, sometimes highly flammable on dry leaves and capable of contaminating the soil itself. Selective herbicides must be carefully chosen and applied at the right time, usually when the plant is young, active and exposed, and on a cloudy but rainless day. Some chemicals are inserted in the soil, some kill on contact and others are absorbed systemically, but if used repeatedly, weeds, like insects, can develop a tolerance to them and (with their alarming adaptive capabilities) adjust themselves through natural selection so as to become immune. This raises the spectre of increasingly resistant weeds which are no longer capable of being controlled. It also raises the question of whether eradication is preferable to continual efforts to control or whether it is even possible. It is known that the application of chemicals in sub-lethal doses (to control rather than exterminate) produces ideal conditions for the evolution of resistant strains. Highly adaptive mutants may evolve, requiring stronger and larger doses or even subtle switches in timing to catch the clever weeds that learn to germinate slightly later.

 In the heart is the source of evil and it is likened to a weed. The weed is well used in the metaphor from Light on the Path, not so much because it has been labelled as evil by a majority of people, but because the weed is a 'weed' relative to a situation wherein it grows as a rank intruder, supplanting other nobler forms of growth. It is a shadowy growth, growing up alongside the desired plant and competing with it, even to the point of killing it out. It is a growth peculiar to the human heart and is therefore linked up with self-conscious choice and the manipulations of artificial and natural circumstances wrought by man. In human history this has been dramatically reflected in man's increasing ability to alter his environment, break down floral population barriers, and unleash the legions of weeds that have flourished and increased with agriculture. In the human heart this alteration and manipulation has likewise been conducted by the mind. The "disturbed habitats" there have been the result of an over-aggressive lower manas, whose limiting lines of reasoning have carved their furrows into the subtle soil of the soul, destroying the delicate balance of potentials that existed there and unleashing a throng of lower thoughts and desires. This is not to say that the development of Manas is necessarily productive of evil, any more than one could say such a thing of agriculture. It is, rather, to say that weeds are anthropophytes, the camp-following, shadowy crop of rank and potentially evil growth that accompanies every struggling phase in spiritual evolution. They grow in the heart of the unwise and unwary thinker just as surely as they grow in the field of the unwise and inattentive farmer. But they are not all alike. They are not of the same species nor do they have the same growth patterns or modes of propagation for all persons. One man's weed is another man's food or medicine. Each individual must identify the lie in his own soul, the weed growing surreptitiously in his own heart.

 If a man or woman is not strong enough or would rather abandon the vigilance demanded of the good gardener, then such persons will have to wait for the weed to grow and bear fruit and die. They will walk along the fields of their hearts and of the collective heart of the world and refuse to learn to distinguish the crop mimics from the real thing. They will dream over the tassled heads of corn but never sweat or labour in the rows to pull out, weed by weed, the rank competitors that suck away their vitality. They will eat the fruit at the table but never understand the sacrifices of others that have brought it there. Just like the child sent out to weed the garden, each individual must learn to distinguish the weeds from the cultivated plants in the garden of his or her particular set of circumstances. Only the persistent and the strong can learn to discriminate correctly and dig down deep enough to get out the last vestige of an unwanted root.

 Through the ages, as man has paralleled his slowly growing mastery over Nature with sad abuses of his power, the weed has increased and now flowers as a deadly upas plant of gross egoism. It is more resistant to eradication or control than ever before and, like the hydra-headed monster, pops up in flourishing growth as quickly as one chops off its protruding stems. With time it will wax stronger yet, so that the weak will be even more overwhelmed by its growth. They will gaze in dismay at the glutted fields and feebly pray for some hero to rise up and kill off the creeping bane with one wonderful puff of chemical doom. This is how the throngs of mental and moral cripples in human history have added endlessly to the gigantic shadowy growth of evil in the world. Denying their own role as master cultivators, they weave myths about chemical or spiritual saviours and endlessly externalize the blame for the collective malaise. After all, the weed that invaded the crops always came from Mongolia or Chile or somewhere else, didn't it? But he who would enter the Path must tear it out of his own field - his own heart. It does him no good to insist that it came from somewhere else. If it took root in his heart, it is his own weed and he alone can tear it out.

 That this should be done on the first rungs of the ladder rather than on the last is obviously preferable. For the weed of self will wax even more strongly in the heart of a spiritual aspirant, fertilized by the developing powers of mind. If the weed in the fields is allowed to run its full cycle, it may succeed in severely stunting or even killing the nobler plant of Truth struggling to grow there. If it is pulled out upon maturity, its roots will have established a strong hold in the soil and they will have to be dug out deeply, every last grain of soil released from their parasitic grasp. In doing this, even the roots of the plant of Truth may be disturbed and go through a phase of withdrawal before reasserting themselves. The wise gardener weeds in time, before the roots are embedded and the flowering begun. All the energies of the soul must be fastened to the task. If a crop mimic grows unheeded and shades the nobler plant, it will capture the rays of an individual's conscious mind. Such persons will mistake the weed for the cultivant and nurture it with supportive thoughts and feelings, building theories and rationalizations that contribute to its well-being. There will come a time when the weed will have flourished so grandly that the individual in whose heart it waxes will not even notice that the nobler plant that was to have fed the millions has died.

 Can one rest content with merely controlling such weeds? If farmers tolerate the shadowy growth as an inevitable adjunct to agriculture, which has to be minimized but cannot be realistically eradicated, what about the good gardener of the heart? Must the disciple also learn to live with a batch of weeds, barely controlled in his heart? One might recall the efforts one had made to avert one's attention from thought patterns that led to separative rationalizing or syndromes of self-pity and the like. One may well have employed a 'rotation' of thoughts, reading, use of time, energy and space in an effort to cut through the cycles of weed-like patterns of consciousness. We have all probably tried to 'smother' these tail-spin tendencies with the thick growth of busyness or complicated distractions or 'tilled' the soil of our prospects, hoping to find suddenly a fresh growing ground of new possibilities. But few individuals have actually sat down and spent the time necessary to identify the particular characteristics of the weed growing in their heart. What are its modes of spreading, of propagation, its cycles of budding, flowering, noding, bulbing or seeding? Only those who study the weed through its effects and gain an increasingly clear picture of its nature will know what mode of control will work and when the time has come to eradicate it altogether.

 That it eventually must be eradicated is undeniable. Indiscriminate reliance upon external saviours in whatsoever form will not kill the weed. Repeated doses of such day-dreaming only encourage an endless avoidance of the real issue, which requires coming to grips with the source of evil in one's own heart. Just as repeated chemical spraying can result in ever more resistant weeds, so repeated reliance upon miracles or upon clever manipulations of the external ingredients of situations will allow the shadowy growth within to wax in secret, growing tougher and more resistant to self-analysis or the proddings of one's conscience. The only way truly to kill the weed is by pulling it firmly and thoroughly out of every corner of one's innermost being, to embrace the ordeal fully, though the heart bleeds "and the whole life of the man seem to be utterly dissolved". Every time one feels that another has triumphed at the expense of oneself, that an injustice has been done to one, that one's efforts have not been properly appreciated or that one is deprived or excluded from something, one is feeding the evil weed in the heart and diminishing the vitality of the plant of Truth. But every time one rejoices in another's success, accepts what comes to him as part of a larger justice, performs his duties for their own sake and always feels included in the human race, one is pulling out the clutching roots of that weed. The longer the plausible rationalizations for likes and dislikes, anger and bitterness or despair have been indulged in, the deeper one will have to dig, until one's whole life seems turned inside out and the leaf, stem and root of the persona ripped apart, whilst the frail plant of Truth within the lacerated heart may be nearly uprooted in the process, its stunted leaves and feeble stalk scarcely capable of recognition. But if the poisonous weed has been truly eradicated, the noble plant will take hold and grow freely to fill the heart with its aromatic florescence.

 Living not in the hopes and desires of the present nor the self-centered longings of the future, the ever vigilant Good Gardener dwells only in the Eternal, wherein the weed of partisanship cannot grow. Such a soul is so well rooted there that everything passing before its gaze is seen according to the sizes, shapes, habits and patterns reflective of archetypal Truth. No mimic of truth can fool it, nor need it create a disturbance of habitats through an effort to establish separate growing grounds for the noble plant. Seeing it universally, wherever it grows, such souls strive always to nurture it in its own soil. They know that the crop that will feed the millions of spiritually starving will not be mass produced, egged on by chemical boosters or sprays, but will grow silently and for all time in individual hearts wherein the ground has been cleared and cleansed of weeds and the plant of pellucid Truth can flourish.

Hidden in the human heart
Doth thrive the lowly weed.
Suffer not its roots or parts
To scatter 'round its seed.

But pluck it from that precious soil
No matter what the pain.
Leave not behind a stem or leaf
That it may rise again.

Hermes, September, 1985