The Flower Sermon

Zen Buddhism is said to have originated with the Flower Sermon. Gautama Buddha gathered his disciples one day for a Dharma talk beside a lake on Mount Grdhakuta. When they gathered, Buddha remained silent. Some began to speculated that he was tired or ill. Wordlessly, Buddha picked up and twirled a white lotus flower. With a subtle smile and twinkling in his eyes, he raised it to the level of his eyes, then, silently, he returned to his seat.

Each disciple wondered in silence what the lotus meant, what it could symbolize. The last of the disciples to be shown the flower was Mahākāśyapa, who quietly began to laugh.

Buddha remarked, “I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvāṇa, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.”

Thus, Zen developed a way which concentrated on direct experience rather than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures. Wisdom was passed, not through words or concepts, but through a lineage of one-to-one direct transmission of experience from teacher to student. It is commonly taught that such lineage continued all the way from the Buddha’s time to the present.

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