Friday, November 9, 2007

The udumbara flower

Reading this morning from Dogen's Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross translation (Dogen Sangha Press), book 3, chapter 68, "Udonge."

The Zen Buddhists can hardly be accused of reductionism. To the last man, the masters all seem to be poets. And who can blame them? After all, what is uncovered in the search for being turns out to be infinitely richer than any of the dry words we find in the technical prose of spiritual workbooks.

Gurdjieff steered away from explaining this to Ouspensky; instead, we get tables and charts and mathematical formulas. All of them are, of course, totally valid within their context, but in the end, don't they beggar the question? Only in his magnum opus "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" do we find any hints of the rapture that man ought to inherit as his rightful legacy.

Perhaps Gurdjieff, seeing man's powerful and often destructive inclination towards imagination and romance, decided he should do anything but encourage it. I find myself wondering, however, why he did not refer more to this profoundly creative and magnificent force that arises within our body and can give us so much to help us understand what our life is. In contrast to his legendary generosity with children, he seems to have preferred to dole out his sweets for his adult associates in the smallest possible quantity.

Dogen makes a compelling case for the idea that we may be better off, sometimes, casting our lot with the poets instead of the yogis.

In Chapter 68, we encounter the udumbara flower, the selfsame flower that Buddha held up on Vulture Peak, where only one disciple, Mahakasyapa, understood the implication.

Everything is flowers.

"The seven Buddhas and the many Buddhas are all in the same process of twirling flowers, which they have practiced-and-experienced, and realized as twirling of flowers the ascendant state, and which they have torn open and exposed as twirling of flowers down in the here and now. Plus, inside the concrete reality of twirling flowers, every instance of ascending and descending, or towards the self and towards others, or outside and inwards, and so on, is the totality of flowers displaying itself."

If there was ever a chapter in which Dogen made it clear that his endless references to flowers involve work with the inner centers, it is this one.

The chapter, which is not very long, expounds the idea that the twirling of flowers -- the "spinning" of Chakras, the investment within the inner centers --is the very essence of enlightenment. It is the fragrance and the sensation of the inner centers that earns them this comparison with flowers.

Dogen encourages us to travel deeply inwards until we experience the sweetness, the depth, the beauty of the motive forces within our being. One whiff of the real world as it enters through the nostrils will launch more than a thousand inner ships; I would not trade even one single, momentary taste of a flower opening, once, for everything Bill Gates has.

Why? Because the blooming of the inner flowers renders money and power completely irrelevant. Why drink in the material things of this world, when one can drink the nectar of life itself instead? Can anything be so precious as the scent of roses in one's fingertips? As the sensation of an ethereal orchid that opens in the heart?

It's true: the Buddhists chose the udumbara flower as a symbol of this kind of opening simply because the flower its self is supposed to be so incredibly rare. Opening our heart to the action of our inner flowers is an equally rare event--or at least so it is implied.

But perhaps it need not be that rare. Perhaps it is much more available than we suspect. Perhaps the fragrance of the inner flowers lies within the air we will draw in in our very next breath.

"The opening of flowers is the occurrence of the world. A flower is five petals opening and the bearing of fruit is naturally realized."

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.