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“The Flower Sermon”

February 28, 2011

Laugh if you will, but up till yesterday I had never heard of the “Flower Sermon”, possibly because no words were exchanged, it is believed. The story itself is not so much a story, but feels much more like a koan. My new friend Chuck brought it up and gave me a brief idea of what went down. I did some more research and here is what I surmise based on the research.

Before the Buddha’s passing, he and his disciples went to a quiet pond for a teaching. They all sat and patiently waited for the Buddha to speak.

He sat for a moment, quiet as could be. He reached down to the earth and pulled a lotus flower from the mud. It was covered and dripping with the mud.

The Buddha sat for a moment, patiently looking at the flower, twirling it a bit in his fingers.

He held it in his hands for all to see. Most of the disciples were uncertain of what was happening and waited for an explanation. They did not receive one.

He stood up and and began to show it to every person. They were still unsure of what was going on.

He made his way to his follower, Mahakashyapa, and he could sense his understanding. Mahakashyapa smiled and began to chuckle. The Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakashyapa and thus, had taken him as his disciple.

Now, I’m not 100% on the reasoning behind this teaching, but a beautiful thing, such as a lotus, coming from something as uninviting as mud is always an inspiration. Suffering, in and of itself, is just as repulsive as mud. With a little clarity, that mud begins to wash away. In the end, when it has all washed away, we are left with something beautiful. This story gives me hope that we all may reach this level of lucidity in our lives.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2011 9:58 am

    Nicely done.

    As with Kris, the “flower sermon” is also one of my favorites. It/It’s “lesson” is why I have a lotus tattooed on the inside of my wrist.

  2. March 1, 2011 4:41 am

    To the degree that it’s about dharma transmission and lineage, and “getting it”, I think it’s a very pretty story. But I take it as an invention rather than a description of an actual event, since the Buddha seems to have been very clear on not giving special authority to any one person. Looking at the Pali canon, it seems clear Mahakassapa wanted to run things, and probably did take charge, for which I may be grateful since Buddhism survived — no one can know whether it would have done as well, or better, or worse had he not done so. It’s a tough line to walk, that one between keeping the teaching authentic through lineage, while not being deluded by power. Sorry to be a bit of a bummer here, Nate. I was just reading this detailed PDF about the failings of Zen Masters: http://tinyurl.com/4hxu8j6 so I had been thinking about the flower transmission just moments before I came out to visit your blog.

  3. February 28, 2011 5:17 pm

    Mahakashyapa is considered to be the first Zen patriarch in India. The idea is that the teaching is so profound that it defies description or rational understanding. You can’t put into to words what cannot be described or even understood rationally.

  4. February 28, 2011 3:46 pm

    Though I’ve always heard a slightly different version, it is one of my favorite stories of the Buddha, and your ending to the post is great.

    I’ve also heard it stated that it is believed this was the first Ch’an teaching.

    …joining palms
    Kris

  5. February 28, 2011 3:54 pm

    I’m no expert on the story, I just loved it and kind of elucidated a bit on what I read about it… I think this teaching is way more profound than it’s simplicity implies.

  6. Michael Odom permalink
    February 28, 2011 3:45 pm

    I don’t remember where I first heard this…been a while. Thanks, Nate, for the fresh observation. And the reminder!

  7. February 28, 2011 3:34 pm

    Thank you . A wonderful post. I do indeed hope…’With a little clarity, that mud begins to wash away. In the end, when it has all washed away, we are left with something beautiful. ‘

    Namaste :)

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