The Flower Sermon

In history, the Buddha delivered so many words for wisdom. His students recorded them as a volume of countless sutras. They spent their entire lives reading and studying these precious, voluminous sutras. Even in his days, the Buddha’s words were invaluable. Whenever he delivered his sermons, his disciples were so eager to listen to them and tried their best to understand very meanings.

One day, the Buddha appeared in front of his disciples. With great anticipation, they were waiting for his precious words to be uttered, expecting they can learn something valuable. The Buddha, however, did not speak up anything. Time passed. He kept silence. They became impatient, even irritated. They also tried to keep quiet, but their minds were already chatty, saying, “What is going on? Why does he not speak up anything?”

After a short silence (for his disciples, they already felt it a long silence), the Buddha gently picked up a piece of flower and held it for a while. Traditionally, it was a piece of white lotus flower.

Observing the Buddha with this flower, they were still puzzled. Or, perhaps, they tried to decipher what he meant to say through his behavior. The more they tried to understand, however, the more they got puzzled, even frowning.

Among them, the tradition says, only one disciple named Mahākassapa (महाकस्सप, 大迦葉) showed his gentle smile.

Paradoxically, one of the most well-known sermons delivered by the Buddha is such nonverbal, called the Flower Sermon (拈華微笑). Zen Buddhism values it as one of the essential teachings, called a wordless transmission (不立文字). Relying on the words and concepts, we can never reach the Enlightenment or Kenshō (見性). Only transcending them, we could scarcely see its glimpse.

We can also recall the conversation of Emperor Wu and Bodhidharma in the teaching of non-merit (無功徳).

Wu asked, “So what is the highest meaning of the Noble Truth?” Bodhidharma replied, “There is no Noble Truth; there is only Emptiness.”

Asking Wu, “Then, who is standing before me?” Bodhidharma’s answer: “I know not, Your Majesty.”

Just like this Emperor Wu, those Buddha’s disciples were also eager to possess something valuable for themselves. Emperor Wu wanted to be proud of his excellent work. For those disciples, they also wanted to be proud of their knowledge of the Buddha’s words and teachings.

We seek to possess, possess, and possess. Why are we so obsessed with the state of Having instead of Being?

We are chasing after worldly fame and recognition. We believe our good works can promise such achievements. We also think our wisdom and knowledge can prove them. We admire celebrities as our ego role models in any genre and build a library of self-help philosophies. We are just like those disciples waiting for the Buddha to speak up, aiming to possess his words and teachings for our benefit, pride, confidence, fame, and recognition.

That is why, the Buddha picked a piece of the lotus flower, which could be pure and selfless amid the muddy water.

Without appreciating the beauty of this simple flower, we could never understand things as they are and their aimlessness (apraṇihita), which is to say, the universe as is, the mysterious nature of suchness (tathātā) not Having its concept, but Being-in-the-World (Dasein). It remind us of the following verses.

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Matthew 6:28-34

Just like the Buddha on a piece of the lotus flower, we could contemplate on the lilies of the field and appreciate their inherent beauty, which is aimless, suchness, and Being. Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto us. Take no thought for tomorrow. Smile just like Mahākassapa did appreciating the beauty of the Buddha’s flower.

Image by Pexels

3 thoughts on “The Flower Sermon

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