Meet Buddha Tamang
A note from the interview: Buddha Tamang is an elderly Buddhist man living just down the hill from Conscious Impact's camp. His friends in the village could only praise him for his love of organic farming and dedication to his plants and trees. We knew we had to meet him. He is a permaculture enthusiast in every definition of the word. He plants in a way that benefits all the living things near and on his land. His trees are intermixed with crops and everything he grows has a purpose. His devotion to Buddhism is directly reflected into the way he farms. Buddha has often said he loves his trees as much as his children. He loves to talk about his life, his plants, and how he has coped through major distresses including the passing of his wife and the 2015 earthquake. Buddha is now a close friend, a coffee co-op member, and a mentor, we visit him often.
Q: How is your way of planting trees different, and what is special about that?
A: My original home is not here, but in Daduwa. When I first moved to this land there was not a single tree. This land was just for grazing animals for the people of Takure and Dude. From that corner of land to the other, in the 15-20 ropanis (2-2.5 acres) of land, I could only collect 1 basket of grass.
All that I have planted I brought from somewhere else. This tree here, has grown here (pointing to large tree behind him). This land had no plants or trees, when I first bought plants, I didn't know how to grow them. Then I learned how to use compost. There wasn't any grass for my animals to feed on, so I learned to grow grass. Now this time, there won't be wood shortages or problems. We grow trees for wood and bamboo to make baskets. Before we used to carry everything in rice sack bags, but now we use bamboo to carry things and make baskets.
When my wife was sick, I learned how to grow fruit trees, specifically lemon trees. I took my wife to India and other foreign countries. I would carry around lemons in my pocket to put in water when I wanted to drink. When she was in the hospital there was no one at home to wash my clothes. I took off my jacket and hung it in my house and did not wash it for a year after she was sick. After one year, once she had passed away, I reached for my coat again, and found the same 2 lemons, but now they had become dry. When I opened them, there were 11 seeds. I wanted to know if they would grow, so I planted all 11 seeds in the mud. I wanted to try, and all 11 seeds grew.
I planted the 11 trees in small plastic bags. I put soil and compost inside the small black bags, and placed them under the shade of a tree for 2-3 years to grow. I gave them water and took care of them, even though I didn't have experience, I dug 11 holes to plant the trees. I planted them too close together, so when they grew the branches touched each other.
After my wife died, I traveled to so many places and saw many people doing tree grafting. I watched and learned how to graft by watching other people do it. I eventually did the same for my plants. Through tree grafting, I was able to grow 80 lemon trees. All these trees, especially lemon, are from grafting. I used to have more trees, but 20 trees were destroyed when the government expanded the road.
"I want to build a garden around this land. Gardens need to be cared for. They need water, and medicine, everything. I want to make this place a garden. That's why I'm doing this."
There was no system that allowed my son to stay home and work in Takure, because there were no jobs available. Like the heavy rains that wash away everything in its path, my wife died, and I was left alone. I was left having to pay back 14 lakh rupees in loans, which I had spent on my wife's medical treatment. And even after she died, I spent so much money on her death ceremony and funeral.
Because of the need to pay back these loans, there was no way for my son to stay home. My son, when he comes to stay, is more like a guest. Not out of his own interest, but because he is obligated to work.
Throughout all this, I had wanted to build my house. I have so many plans to work on my land. I have a problem where there is not enough water. I want to make the land level and build a dam to store water. I already have a small pond. I want to plant different types of fruits and vegetables, like onion and garlic. Anything can grow in this soil, on this land. If there are problems with starvation for 2 months, we will survive because I have grown so much food, like yams and sweet potatoes. I planted all different types of wild yams and sweet potatoes all over this place.
Q: What are your dreams and vision for your land for the next 50 years?
A: In my view, I want to make it a better place. I've only done experiments on this land, and haven't really benefitted from what I grew until now. Now I've seen I can do what I want to do. My son and grandsons, are all involved with the agriculture on this farm. Everyone's heart is in this work and land. Right now, why go to America or the UK or Korea or different countries? If we can plant trees and fruits here, we will have flowers, and now I have bees. We can create benefits from all these things.
Nowadays, there are roads and markets everywhere. You can use vegetables for eating, you can sell them in the market, and you can send them far away to be sold. Onions, garlic, and green vegetables are essential. We need them every day, morning and evening. If you have extra vegetables, you can sell them, and then you don't have to buy it. I will manage the problem of water, and I will grow different kinds of fruits and vegetables. It is hard work doing agriculture, but there is no other option. This is what I want to spend my time doing, putting all my energy on this land. Not just for myself, but for my grandson. My grandson has a good education, and it is good for him to do this work because he has knowledge. That is why our dream is to manage this place, and to have guests like you from far away. I have experience, I just don't have enough resources or economic power. I have less income and more expenses.
"Right now, why go to America or the UK or Korea or different countries? If we can plant trees and fruits here, we will have flowers, and now I have bees. We can create benefits from all these things."
If we look, there is nothing to do. But if we just do, we find what there is to do. We have so many bamboo trees, so we can make so many things from them, but we need the skills to learn how to make these things. What we need is skills. How to plant trees, how many trees need to be planted – all these things need to be learned.
I have 6 children/grandchildren. All of them are going to school, being part of society, attending ceremonies and inviting everyone. If for 2-3 years, you are all coming and going from this place, you'll have the opportunity to see these changes. If one person died, we don't have to stop doing things, because dying is a natural part of life. In 2-3 years, I want to decorate this place like a bride on her wedding day. I may die, and I will not be able to do this, but my son and grandson will be able to continue this work.
Q: There is a large tree behind your house and there are many pigeons living in it. Have you built these homes in the tree for the birds?
A: Before the earthquake we had a two story building here, and the 2nd floor was a just for pigeons. There were 500-600 pigeons there. I don't keep pigeons, but I give them grains. Because of the earthquake our home was destroyed. After that, there was such a horrible smell. We realized it was the smell of pigeon poop. 500-600 pigeons produced 80 sacks of poop for compost and I collected all of this.
"If we have to climb up, then we will also have to climb down – there is always both happiness and sadness. We have laughs and tears, life is like this. Even if you feel right now everything is okay, maybe it won't be later."
We dug a hole under the lemon tree and put all the pigeon poop there and covered it. You can see the lemon tree is still flowering and giving fruit. After that, the pigeons were still living in the damaged house. We didn't have any space for them to live. Just like human beings, who also didn't have anywhere to live after the earthquake. But still they would come at night and live there. We believe that 50-60 pigeons were eaten by cats.
For agriculture, when it comes to rice, millet, wheat, corn, black beans and other different kinds of beans, you will not understand if I tell you all the different things I know about these crops. I am the child who did so much agriculture and still I am doing. Now I have so many hardships because of my wife. I have experienced so much pain because of my wife. I was not even 50 years old when she died. It is not worth it to love someone who has died, but it is worth it to love those who are living, that is why I love my children. I get so much happiness and so much sadness from everything I've experienced in my life.
I traveled so much. If we talk about India, I went to Calcutta, New Delhi, and many other cities in India. I also went to West Pakistan. In my country, I went to Rolpa, Dolpa, and Gorkha. I have so many experiences through traveling. Time did not give me the chance to do everything. I am not hopeless, nor am I overconfident. Everything is good with me. I am okay. I am not jealous that other people are earning more money. If anyone says anything, it doesn't make me feel bad. If time favors me, I am going to be able to do so much. We have to travel to different places inside and outside our own countries. And if you will come here sometimes, you will see all the changes that I want to do to this land.
I have planted 150 Lapsi trees around here and I have cut some of them for wood. I have also planted 50 chestnut trees, one variety that you can open with your teeth and the other you have to crush with stone. Now they are bearing fruit. We came to this land just 30-35 years ago.
"You ask, I will answer. Or I will just speak alone like a crazy person."
If we have to climb up, then we will also have to climb down – there is always both happiness and sadness. We have laughs and tears, life is like this. Even if you feel right now everything is okay, maybe it won't be later. Time is powerful, and we have to move according to time. We cannot say, "No I can't," due to the power of time.
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To learn more about Conscious Impact visit: www.consciousimpact.org
Interview by: Jose Welhan and Bryce Tanner
Edited by: Bryce Tanner
Photography: Johanth H. Lee