Why would Dogen Genji devote an entire fascicle of the Shobogenzo to praising a flower, a flower that some people say is mythical and does not exist? Others say it does exist but it only blooms every 3,000 years, to herald the arrival of another Buddha, an enlightened being. |
In modern times there are stories and photograps from Asia, of thousands of tiny white blossoms called udumbara flowers, mysteriously appearing on bricks, on buildings, on monuments, on grasses, and under a nun's laundry tub. Biologists say no, these are not miraculous apparitions, they are simply the ordinary eggs of of lacewing insects. Botanists counter that the udumbara is a ficus, a fig tree, different from ficus religiosa, [the bodhi tree] under which the Buddha was awakened. This particular fig tree bears fruit very close to the trunk [of its branches]. They also say that it actually blooms all the time, but the flowers are hidden inside the fruit. In the Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji puts the udumbara flower in the hand of Shakyamuni Buddha, where it has the power to produce an enlightened being, smashing eyeballs and curving lips into a smile.
Each of these varied descriptions offer clues as to what the udumbara flower is. Is it nonexistent, rare, or common? Does it flower continuously, hidden from our eyes, or does it bloom openly, for all to see, once in three millennia? These accounts of udumbara flowers seem contradictory, but in Zen we are intrigued, we are drawn in by contradictions and paradoxes, a world of delusion and enlightenment, of the impermanent and the deathless, of sacred and mundane, of the Unity and Diversity. Dogen Zenji is at home in this world of apparent opposites. He is a mountain goat at play in the mountain range of paradox, happily leaping from peak to peak, jumping across huge chasms of apparent contradictions.
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