In the teaching of The Buddha and the flower, it is said that The Buddha near the end of his life gathered his disciples near a pond. The Buddha, in silence, reached deep into the pond. From deep within the mud, The Buddha, pulled up a lotus flower by the root and held it before them. He did not utter a word. Just silence, save perhaps for the drops of water descending to the ground below. The disciples did not know what to think. The Buddha showed the flower to each of them in silence and each of them, in turn, shared what they thought was the meaning of this image – this lesson.
The Buddha moved from disciple to disciple, still in silence, eventually gazing upon his disciple Mahakasyapa. At the sight of the flower, Mahakasyapa smiled and began to laugh! The Buddha handed the lotus to his disciple and finally spoke. He said, “What can be said I have said to you. And what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakasyapa.” It is at this point that Mahakasyapa became The Buddha’s successor.
So…it’s a flower, you may say. And of course you wouldn’t be wrong. We see flowers all the time. We see them cramped in pots, dancing in fields. We see fake ones masquerading in homes, always vibrant in color if not a bit dusty. We give them to friends grieving and to lovers in celebration of the love in our hearts. Sometimes in our busy bustle we don’t notice them underfoot, crushed in our hustle. Sometimes, though, the world seems to all but stop as one catches our glance and captures our breath.
But have you seen the Universe in a single flower?
Take a moment and reflect on this notion…
It really is quite scandalous, if you give this thought its due. We are used to labeling things, ideas, thoughts in such a way that brings us an illusion of protection from mystery…Reality. The Buddha holds up a flower, we say to ourselves, “Oh, nice flower…moving on.” We busy ourselves with tasks, we feed our emotional storylines by replaying them over and over again in our minds. We want to feel useful, we want to feel important, because for some reason we have forgotten or just can’t believe that we already are. We have forgotten or just can’t believe that the entirety of the Universe lives within a single flower…lives within us.
So, how do we get there? How do we see the Universe in a flower, in us? How do we open our eyes to such union, or what we call in Buddhism – Interdependence?
We get there, perhaps better yet – we arrive to where we already are – through Mindfulness…through living mindfully.
The best place to begin living mindfully is within us. We start with ourselves. Most of the time we are living in a fractured way, our mind lost in thoughts of past and future, while our bodies struggle in the present. So, we begin with our breath. We stop and we observe our breath. Breathing, for the most of us, is an involuntary happening. Our bodies operate this function without our having to think about it or attempt at controlling it. So, in this practice we are not actively breathing, rather we are just letting the breath happen and following it. As we breathe in, we are aware of what this feels like in our bodies; the air flowing through our nostrils, our chest rising in expansion to allow space. As we breathe out, we are aware of our chest descending back into itself, and the warmth of the air as it exits. We can even say to ourselves, “breathing in” as we breathe in, and “breathing out” as we breathe out. Sometimes this only holds our attention for a moment and then we are off and running away again with our thoughts – that school assignment, that project at work, the friendship on the rocks, or the one who holds our hearts. We are distracted by positive thought as well, sometimes even wonderful – creative – inspired thoughts that can be beneficial. This practice, however, is about staying with the breath. Why? Because there is a very practical, quite delightful, and truly beneficial miracle that happens when we stop and become aware of our breathing…we unite our minds with our bodies. When we do this, we are present, we are whole, and Being. Not caught up in worry, not caught up in drama, in thought or emotion. Simply Being. Not that there is anything wrong with thought or emotion. They are…however, they are not us. Yet, we so readily define ourselves with these…I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m happy, I’m an artist, I’m a Buddhist. So, return to your breath. Return to the present where your body and mind are truly home. This is our ground, our anchor in a stormy sea…better yet, our life jacket allowing us to flow with the River.
This is mindfulness, this is mindful living. To have mind and body in union, connected and fully present. To be awake in this moment. This has a very practical, mundane (if there is such a thing) benefit as well. Science is now documenting the benefits of mindfulness and mindful living. Reduced stress, reduced blood pressure and related diseases are being documented as benefits to this practice.
But from a mystical and spiritual perspective – this is what allows us to Be. This is what starts to open our hearts and minds so that we see more than a flower. We see the sun that gave love with its warmth, we see the rain that quenched its thirst, the soil that fed it, the wind or bee that dropped it to a waiting, nurturing Earth. Neil Degrasse Tyson has said, “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” When we are able to see this, and trust me in time you will, then every bush is burning and we can hear the voice of what we call Divine everywhere…not least of all, within your heart. The Universe within you. And when we begin to see the Universe – life fully Itself – within us, we begin to see it within our neighbor next door, the person we are in conflict with, our lover, the dog barking, the ants tasking, the worm burrowing, the tree changing color, the sun giving way to the moon.
We need this reconnection for our survival. We need this re-unification for the health of world. We need this restoration to who we already are, for the awakening of our souls. We need humans to once again remember that we are human Beings. And before mindful living can be mistaken for passivity, may I ask you – Is there anything more active than being fully engaged with all of who you are, offering all of who you are to the present moment? This is mindful living, this is enlightenment.