Saturday, April 10, 2021


I make so many assumptions. If another monk instead of Kashyapa had smiled, would he have become Buddha’s successor? If Kashyapa had done something besides a faint smile would he still have become Buddha’s successor? I’ve heard that there is a book that explains all the koans. Yet, I’ve been also told that if you gave the “answer” to a teacher they would know that you didn’t get it yet. It seems the way I contend with situations is by making a vast array of assumptions. Suppose I add nothing to what I know: that Buddha picked up a flower and that Kashyapa smiled. Because these events were sequential I believe one caused the other. Even that may be a story. Whoa!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Bike Story

65 years ago my bike tire got caught in a crack in the middle of the paved alley in Chicago. I came home with skinned knees. My mom explained that the reason for my accident was because I wanted attention since all the attention had been on my cousin Noel who died in an accident 6 months earlier. How is it that we look at what happened and are confused until we make up a story like my mom always did? Is it ever so simple as the story suggests? Buddha holds up a flower and Kashyapa smiles. Usually when one is giving a talk to 80000 monks they would say something. When there are no words, one makes up a story. Our minds resist resting in not knowing, so we come up with one explanation after another. But is anything that simple? Is it possible to really know? Freud believed that there was a method to our madness. I wonder if his method came from an insecurity he had with not knowing. But that’s my story.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Did the flower smile? (

What do you say when there is nothing to say. A tragedy strikes your friend when her loved one passes on. Whatever you want to say won’t bring them back and won’t comfort. And yet if you say nothing you worry that they’ll think you didn’t care. You bring them a flower. Your eyes meet. Then they glance at the flower and you discern a faint smile. Did they smile at the flower? Or was it a smile at your gesture? Or was it simply a smile at the connection? Did Kashyapa really smile at the flower? The flower didn’t need a smile. But your friend did. Perhaps the smile was a meta smile, from millions of miles away, a smile recognizing what would take more words than the sands of the Ganges to express.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Buddha’s decision to hold up a flower was entirely spontaneous, as was a brush stroke by Picasso or a note played by Pablo Casals. Buddha wasn’t a newbie. He had paid his dues. For 500 lifetimes he’d been the attendant for previous Buddhas. He knew his way around the block. When Ananda stuck a blade of grass in the ground, Buddha saw that now there was a temple. There doesn’t seem to be in Zen a correlation between the time spend in deliberation and the quality of the action. Holding up the flower was a masterful stroke of genius, and yet, it was the result of genuine flow rather from racking one’s discursive brain to come up with the perfect testing instrument. “May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, March 26, 2021

He talks with his glove...

Buddha holds up a flower or did he become the flower? The flower was not a conceptual idea, but rather an extension of his own compassion and love. The 80,000 monks minus one didn’t digest the flower into their inner beings. Rather, their small grasping minds were confused. They wanted to be chosen by Buddha to be his successor. They studied everything so that they’d be prepared. And yet what they had learned was quicksand. The harder they tried to “figure it out” the deeper they were buried. Kashyapa also learned the dharma, but was able to hold it very gingerly. Seeing the flower, he saw both its exquisite present form, what it had been in previous lives, and what it would become as it turned to dust and went back into the earth. I don’t think he was smiling at Buddha’s gesture. That would suggest he wasn’t touched by the flower itself. If words could have taken the place of the flower, Buddha could have simple said, “beautiful flower.” But for the hand to hand transmission to take place, there had to be more. There had to be a flower representing life itself, rather than a description of life. In an article about a young baseball player I read, “He doesn’t talk with his mouth, …he talks with his glove and his bat...” And Buddha talked with the flower. As did Kashyapa.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Kashyapa smiled faintly, broadly, or not only smiled but laughed when Buddha held up the flower and winked. Many memories here. Was this an enlightenment moment for Kashyapa? Was his reaction purely spontaneous to the white flower? Did thoughts race through his head as he heard or imagined the other monks dissecting the flower with their well-trained discursive minds? Did he have any ambition to be Buddha’s successor? How does one prepare for a special moment when they need to just “get it”? How is it that Buddha taught for 45 years and yet chose the student with the smile rather than the one with the brilliant discourse?