Apr 15, 2021
Jenny Hall

Verses from the Dhammapada 58

The lotus growing in muddy water and then rising up to bloom in air has become the ideal symbol for rising above the defilements including the delusions of 'I' that bring unhappiness. However, this release arises by coming to terms with the nature of those ties that bind.

Snowdrops in snow



“As the lotus will grow on a heap of rubbish by the wayside spreading its sweet scent, so the disciple of the Enlightened One will shine in the darkness around him among the refuse of the ignorant spreading the sweet scent of his wisdom.”

‘As the lotus flower…’

With the onset of Spring, we marvel at the first appearance of delicate snowdrops pushing up through the frozen earth. In the Mahayana tradition, the Buddha nature, the energy of the life force, is symbolised by a flower, ‘the thousand petal lotus’. The Buddha nature being empty of self-nature and spacious is beyond description. However not only snowdrops and lotuses but all the changing phenomena of the world emerge from it. Through wholeheartedly giving ‘myself’’ away into these circumstances it is realised. A Spring walk offers abundant opportunities.

One day a Zen master was walking silently with a student in a mountainous area. They sat down under a tree to eat. After finishing the meal, the student asked: ‘How do I enter Zen?’ The Master didn’t answer immediately. After a while he asked: ‘Do you hear the sound of the stream?’ The student had been totally unaware of any sound at all. He had been too busy thinking about Zen. He became alert and listened. He heard the soft trickle of the stream. The student answered ‘Yes, I can hear it!’ The Master raised his finger and said: ‘Enter Zen from there.’ They continued the walk aware of the birds singing, the bees buzzing and the crackling of twigs underfoot. After a while the student once more became filled with thoughts. He asked the Master a second question: ‘If I had been unable to hear the stream, what would you have said?’ The Master said: ‘Enter Zen from there.’

‘… will grow on a heap of rubbish by the roadside…’

One of the Sanskrit names for lotus is ‘‘mud born’. The flower is rooted in the mud at the bottom of the pool. It grows up through the darkness. Finally, it opens in the sunlight unstained by its muddy origins.

In the Zen training we are encouraged to become familiar with those parts of ourselves that we may regard as ‘unclean’ or ‘shameful’. The Buddha described them as the fires of desire and hatred. Just as mud and earth are necessary for the growth of a lotus, so the fires are regarded as precious. We are encouraged not to waste the emotional energy either in expression or repression. Instead, it is acknowledged, met and invited to ‘burn me away’. When the churning and burning are suffered, then the energy is transmuted into the Buddha nature, or ‘choiceless awareness’ as it was called by the sage Krishnamurti. If ‘I’ am out of the way, there is at-one-ment with everything that is. In this communion, warmth and compassion flower like the lotus.

After the Winter months, it is appropriate to express such care in Spring cleaning our homes. A neighbour remarked that she was in a perpetual battle with dust. She remarked: ‘I never seem to get rid of it.” The Buddha once reminded his followers that the whole world is made up of dust. Everything is coming to be and then breaking down again. The dust becomes a rich environment for other living beings. A young Zen monk who was zealously cleaning the temple, sweeping and dusting everywhere was asked by his teacher what he was doing? The student replied: ‘I am sweeping away the dust of delusion in order to reveal the Buddha’s shining face.’ The teacher said: ‘Please don’t forget the dust is also Buddha.’

‘… by the wayside spreading its sweet scent.’

When we have wholeheartedly given ourselves away, then there is ‘no-I’ and the sweeping is quite free from my intentions and ideations. In the same way the perfume of the lotus is spread unintentionally.

Once a selfish giant visited his beautiful garden and found it filled with playing children. In great anger, he ordered them to leave and never return. He erected a high fence to keep them out. As soon as the children left all the flowers died. The leaves fell from the trees and the birds flew away. However, one morning the giant looked out of his window and saw the sun was shining. Flowers and trees were blooming. Once more the children were playing happily in the garden. A hole had worn away in the fence and they had crept back in.

The playing children represent the energy of the Buddha nature. The fence symbolises the barrier of ‘me’. When it is broken down the energy flows quite naturally. Everything starts to bloom spontaneously.

As Basho wrote:

‘Sitting silently

Doing nothing

Spring comes

And the grass grows by itself.’

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