Offering Flowers to the Buddha

In temple culture in Asia, as in church culture in the West, we sometimes receive flower-offerings for the temple. Someone makes a donation — a one-time donation, or an ongoing donation — which we then use in part to purchase fresh flowers at the local farmer’s market. The flowers are carefully cut and arranged. In temples, an entire art-form has been born from this tradition of good people supporting temple-work by making donations which can appear as offerings on the altar.

Every Saturday morning is the “farmer’s market” located in an old square, the Kornmarkt, a few meters from the front door of the Zen Center Regensburg. We secure these really, really fresh wild grasses and edible flowers and aromatic wild leaves which provide unbelievable salads for the rest of the week. By doing this, we support local farmers, sustainable agriculture, local economies of scale, limit our CO2 footprint, and enjoy really really clean super-fresh hearty veggies that can steam our practice forward with clear mind and clean bodies.

If we receive a “flower offering” donation, we prepare an arrangement of flowers that is picked out at the market to brighten our Dharma Room. Then, when guests come for practice during the coming week, they are greeted in the Dharma Room after a hard day of work and so much existential suffering with bright colours, and a scent which is beyond Asia’s holiest incenses!

While I was pruning the flowers, one of the residents asked, “How can we make flower offerings? Our altar doesn’t even have a Buddha on it? What are we offering to?” This is a very interesting question.

We say “flower offering” not because the flowers are “given” to something, like a “god” or a Buddha. Rather, in the moment that a person enters the Dharma Room and sees the flowers, or smells them — BOOM! — in that moment, these flowers have reflected off their Buddha-nature. That is the way a Buddha is offered flowers — BOOM!, in that instant, inside and outside become one. Perceiver and perceived are revealed as continuous reality, not separate states or objects or “things.” At the surface of the mirror, when the viewer perceives the scent or absorbs the experience of these unnameable colours, at that micro-thin layer of perception “happening,” Buddha is revealed. Buddha-nature “receives” the scent, receives the color. The tired, hectic mind might rest, if even for a nano-second, from its cares. Buddha receives the offering, and is happy.

This weekend, I cut and prepared the offering. It was nice to pare and prune each stem of flowers. An intimacy grows when we hand-pick and hand-prepare living things. The thumb-fingernail gets greened from severing excess leaves off with s sharp finger-pinch. The finger-skin is scented deeply. The gentle nature of the flower penetrates the soul, and something comes alive. Unbloomed baby-buds are given a space to earn their blossom without being crowded or choked out by the already-bursting blooms.

During the preparation, in the kitchen, Ioannis and Y put away our groceries while I sat with the flower-offering. We had Dharma discussions. They asked questions about how to convey certain teachings to beginners and friends. A buzzing bee was trying to leave the room through a glass window. Buzz-buzz-buzz-buzz-buzzzzzzz, buzz-buzz-buzz-buzz-buzz-buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. It could see clearly the blue Bavarian sky, with the sun arcing up over the tile grooves across the Gasse. But it could not reach its home through a glass-concept that it could not understand. Buzzing-bouncing off the invisible glass, it wanted so much to get out through pure effort alone. But it did not have the wisdom of a 5 year-old: it cannot open the window. It does not know that this invisible-seeming glass is, in fact, an impenetrable hindrance. It will die buzzing against that glass and never make it one single new centimetre forward.

Such is our own minds. The buzzing-bee, attracted by the color and scent of these late-September flowers, came into the room, and could not return to its home. It could see infinite freedom right through that glass, but it could not get through.

Flowers are ready. We three carry the vases to the Dharma Room. We arrange them on the altar, and in front of the standing Bodhisattvas who oversee our efforts to look inside. Lighting a stick of incense, we three all step back and bow on the bare floor three times. Our Dharma Room is very happy. No-Buddha Altar is happy, too, and it bows to our Buddha-nature and says, “Thank you very much!” Our Buddha-nature says to No-Buddha Altar, “You’re welcome, Me! Have a wonderful Moment!”

[[ Photos by Do Tzong // Y. Bang ]]

If anyone wishes to make a donation for our Saturday Flower Offering, please contact the Zen Center for details: zen.center.regensburg@gmail.com. We will make an offering in your name, and the name of your family. Any monies left over will benefit the Zen Center Regensburg’s weekly salad-fund.