Friday, August 31, 2007

Flowers in Space

Chapter 43 of the Shobogenzo is entitled, "Kuge," or, "Flowers in Space." I happened to be reading this chapter this morning as a natural consequence of my progression through the Shobogenzo.

As so often seems to be the case these days, the synchronicity was stunning. Flowers, after all, are the reproductive organs of plants -- that is to say, they are sex organs. (I like to tease my wife, who is a landscape designer by profession, by telling her that her gardening catalogs are all plant porn.) All this on the heels of yesterday's post. Cool, isn't it?

This beautiful chapter by Dogen deserves a read by everyone. Go buy the book!

Here are a few quotes. All of them are taken from the third volume of the Nishijima and Cross translation, published by Dogen Sangha Press.

"... blue lotus flowers inevitably open and spread inside fire. If we want to know the inside of fire, it is the place where blue lotus flowers open and spread."

"Not only in spring and in autumn do flowers and fruit exist; existence-time always has flowers and fruit. Every flower and fruit has maintained and relied upon a moment of time, and every moment of time has maintained and relied upon flowers and fruit... Flowers are present in human trees, flowers are present in human flowers, and flowers are present in withered trees. In such circumstances there are the flowers in space of which the world honored one speaks. Yet people of small knowledge and small experience do not know of the colors, brightness, petals, and flowers of flowers in space, and they can scarcely even hear the words "flowers in space."

He goes on; the man was a genius. Yes, the language is poetic, perhaps even obscure for our day and age, but Dogen points at a magnificent understanding.

Everything is flowers.

All of existence is eternally budding, eternally opening, eternally receiving. Every single object, event, and circumstance we see around us is born of these eternal flowers, which are infinite in number. The flowers have no dimension, they have no limit, and they belong to no time. The heart of flowers cannot be touched, but only sensed within our breath itself: and within every single one of them is contained the entire ecstasy of the universe, in its only and single act of creation.

Of course, flowers beget flowers. Every larger flower is composed of smaller flowers. And those are composed of smaller flowers still. Just as we, inhabiting these bodies, must find ourselves within flowers in order to discover flowers, so every flower can know itself, know the flowers of which it is composed, and know that it belongs to the blossoming of an ever-larger magnificence.

So we need to think and experience in these ways:

eternally budding,
eternally opening,
eternally receiving.

In the midst of these three actions, we may discover ourselves, and everything around us, eternally reproducing. When we combine the three ways of budding, opening, and receiving, we discover the fourth way of reproducing, of giving birth to the new.

To try to know flowers with the mind is like picking flowers. They become separated from the life that produces them. Of course we can admire them, study them, even arrange them perfectly under such circumstances, but we have deprived them of the natural conditions in which they arise. It is best, then, to come to know them through the inner landscape of the body; to discover them in the hills, the valleys, the swamps and ponds, and even the mountains which they naturally inhabit, and to observe them there, secure in the knowledge that they make up our world and stand prepared to receive the pollinators that visit them.

In seeking the flowers within us, we use sensation to seek the roots within us; then the stems, leaves, and branches. Eventually, we may catch the perfumed scent of the utterly glorious nature of reality, which truly is an endless series of flowers in space.

May your buds yield blossoms, and your flowers yield fruit.

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