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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
The Heart Sutra: a Timeless Dialogue on Emptiness
I just encountered this translation of “The Heart Sutra” by Professor Robert Thurman. It is the same matter as the one we chant in our Zen Center, but is extrapolated out from the pithy, tight chant that we do twice a day, giving a more fine-grained insight into the dynamic of this epic conversation.
I share it here because it can “fill in the blanks” for people about what is “going on” in the sutra that we chant twice daily: It is an elegant dialogue with Sariputra and Kwan Seum Bosal, as the Bodhisattva (called Avalokitesvara) comes out of a meditation period, and clearly expresses the true nature of reality: devoid of self-existent substance or separate objectness.
Heart Sutra Translation by Robert A.F. Thurman
In Sanskrit: Bhagavatī Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya-sūtra
In Tibetan: Chomden Dayma Sherab Parchin Nyingpo’i DoeIn
In English: Blessed Lady Buddha Transcendent Wisdom Heart Sūtra
Thus did I hear on a singular occasion. The Blessed Lord was dwelling on the Vulture Peak at Rājagṛha, together with great communities of mendicants and bodhisattvas. At that time, the Blessed Lord entranced himself in the teaching samadhi called “Illumination of the Profound.”
Just then, the noble bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the great hero, was realizing the profound transcendence of wisdom; and he realized that his five (bodymind) processes are void of any intrinsic reality.
Thereupon, moved by the Buddha’s power, Venerable Shāriputra addressed the noble bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the great hero, thus: “When a noble son wants to engage in learning the profound transcendence of wisdom, how should he practice?”
Then the noble bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the great hero, addressed Venerable Shāradvatiputra thus: “Shāriputra When any noble son or noble daughter wishes to engage in the practice of the profound transcendence of wisdom, he (or she) should realize it in this way: these five bodymind processes should be truly realized to be void of any intrinsic reality. Matter is voidness. Voidness is matter. Voidness is not other than matter; neither is matter other than voidness. Likewise, sensations, conceptions, mental functions, and consciousnesses are also void.
Shāriputra! Thus all things are voidness; signless, uncreated, unceased, stainless, impeccable, undecreased, and unincreased. Shāriputra! Thus, in voidness there are no matter, no sensation, no conception, no mental function, no consciousness, no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mentality, no form, no sound, no scent, no taste, no texture, no idea. There are no sense-media, from eye- to mentality-[sense-medium]; and there are no [consciousness-]media from the visual- to the mental-consciousness-medium either. There are no ignorance and no cessation of ignorance, and so on up to no old age and death and no cessation of old age and death either. Likewise there are no suffering, no origination, no cessation, no path, no intuitive wisdom, no attainment, and no non-attainment either.
Therefore, Shāriputra, because the bodhisattva is without attainment, she lives in reliance on transcendent wisdom; his spirit is unobscured and free of fear. Passing far beyond all confusion, she ultimately succeeds in nirvana. And all the buddhas who live in past, present, and future rely on transcendent wisdom to reach manifestly perfect buddhahood in unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.
Such being so, there is the mantra of transcendent wisdom, the mantra of great science, the unexcelled mantra, the uniquely universal mantra, the mantra that ends all suffering. It is not false and to be known as truth—the transcendent wisdom mantra—as follows (tadyathā):
[OṀ] GATEY GATEY PARAGATEY PARASAṂGATEYBODHISVĀHĀ // 3x
“Shāriputra! Thus should the bodhisattva, the great hero, learn the profound transcendence of wisdom!”
Thereupon, the Blessed Lord arose from that samadhi and applauded the noble bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the great hero; “Excellent! Excellent! Noble son! So it is! So it is! One should practice the profound transcendence of wisdom in just the way you have taught it, and even the transcendent buddhas will joyfully congratulate you!”
When the Blessed Lord had spoken thus, the Venerable Shāradvatiputra, the noble bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the great hero, and everyone in that audience and the whole world, with its gods, humans, titans, and fairies, rejoiced, and all applauded what the Buddha said.
Translation 2020, By Robert A.F. Thurman via the on-going Online Menla Yogic Sciences Teacher Training manual, All Rights Reserved.