I have silver ivy growing since I was a child in the 1960's, in various incarnations, which once draped my childhood kitchen sill. I have a couple of grape fruit "trees" started from seeds from the school cafeteria a couple of years ago, that look (so far) remarkably like bonsai cork trees. I have thyme just so I can stroke its tiny leaves now and again to remind me that the sun will return.
In school we grow all kinds of things just to grow--and I tell my lambs the story of photosynthesis over and over again. Stuff comes from stuff, stuff comes from stuff, stuff comes from stuff....energy affects the relations of stuff to stuff, but plants do not transform light into stuff.
The stuff of the plants in our classrooms comes from the breath of those around them. With each breath, we release pieces of us into the air, and the leaves around us quietly knot them back together again.
That's as close to to religion as you're going to get in a public school, and about as close to religion as you're going to get in any gilded temple as well.
Plants, thankfully, do not live sanctimonious lives, and do not seem bothered if we do not revere them as we should.
One of our pots has an errant amaryllis, given to us by a wonderful man who is now my daughter's husband. The plant spends months outside, months on the windowsill, months in a brown bag in the pantry--I really have no idea what I am doing, but it still rewards us with a beautiful flower or two during random times.
When we brought it in last October, I just dug it out of the ground and plopped it into a pot. By December, tiny plants sprung up around it. I let them be.
Yesterday, the same man who gave us the plant touched one of its companions in the pot, and a seed pod exploded! We touched a few more, laughing each time, and now we have tiny curls of hairy bittercress all over the windowsill.
Today I will sweep up the tiny pieces of happiness to take to school. I will not, of course, mention Hotei, but when I see the kids laughing later in May, I will hear him.
The painting is by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and is now at the British Museum.