Flower Sermon

From Buddha World

The lotus flower, the species of flower said to have been used during the Flower Sermon.
The lotus flower, the species of flower said to have been used during the Flower Sermon.

Within Zen, and thus from an emic perspective, the origins of Zen Buddhism are ascribed to what is rendered in English as the "Flower Sermon": in which Śākyamuni Buddha transmitted direct prajñā to the disciple Mahākāśyapa. The Flower Sermon was wordless, encapsulating ineffable tathātā: it comprised the purity of direct communication wherein Śākyamuni proffered a white flower to the sangha (a flower by which he had been gifted immediately prior to ascendence of the teaching dais), amongst whom there was no realization except Mahākāśyapa, who smiled. According to tradition, the smile signified Mahākāśyapa's direct cognition, and Śākyamuni affirmed this by saying:

I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle [D]harma [G]ate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.

Thus, a way within Buddhism developed which concentrated on direct experience rather than on rational creeds, doctrinal scholasticism, intellectualism and analysis. Zen is essentially a spiritual discipline, an exploratory methodology that maps consciousness, a meditative tradition that foregrounds direct experience of tathātā which may only be forded by the entrance, the trance, of the "gateless" Dharma Gate. Jung and Kerényi (2002: p.179) demonstrate a possible commonality in intent between the "Flower Sermon" and the Eleusinian Mysteries:

One day the Buddha silently held up a flower before the assembled throng of his disciples. This was the famous "Flower Sermon." Formally speaking, much the same thing happened in Eleusis when a mown ear of grain was silently shown. Even if our interpretation of this symbol is erroneous, the fact remains that a mown ear was shown in the course of the mysteries and that this kind of "wordless sermon" was the sole form of instruction in Eleusis which we may assume with certainty.

Possible Interpretations

Another version of the Flower Sermon says that Buddha uprooted a lotus, muddy roots and all, from the pond and showed it to his disciples. The point he was making may have been that an enlightened (ego-less) mind springs from our egoistic minds in the same way a lotus flower springs from pond muck. Another interpretation is that Buddha was trying to make the point that all things come and go, that all things are transient, like a flower. Another interpretation is that Buddha was trying to illustrate the concept of "suchness" - that things are just as they are.

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