Flowers for Buddhas

Offerings to Ornament the Sky

Flowers offered to the sky

© Can Stock Photo / sadakko

この心 Kono kokoro Together with this [bodhi]-mind,
天つ空にも amatsu sora ni mo [I] embellish the heavenly sky
花そなふ hana sonau with these flowers.
三世の仏に miyo no hotoke ni I respectfully offer them to all the buddhas
奉らなむ tatematsura namu in the three times.

“I embellish the heavenly sky with these flowers.” This sentence refers to a story of a bodhisattva in one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s past lives that appears in the Chinese Vinaya text.

When Dipamkara Buddha was in this world, there was a bodhisattva (the future Shakyamuni Buddha) who lived as a hermit. When he heard Dipamkara Buddha was coming, he wanted to offer flowers. He bought five stalks of lotus flower, spending all the money he had. When he threw the flowers to the Buddha as an offering, they stayed in the sky and were transformed into a flower canopy which covered the Buddha. The canopy continued to cover the Buddha wherever he went.

In Shobogenzo Hotsumujoshin (Arousing Unsurpassable Mind), Dogen refers to this offering of the five stalks of lotus flowers:

Taking it up in this way, we sit a buddha and we make a buddha; this is called arousing bodhi-mind. In general, as the causes and conditions of arousing bodhi-mind, we don’t take it up from somewhere else, rather we take up bodhi-mind itself to arouse this mind. Taking up bodhi-mind means that we hold a single stalk of grass and make it into a Buddha; we hold the rootless tree and making it into a sutra. We offer a handful of sand to a buddha and offer a bowl of drink to a buddha. We offer one ball of food to living beings and offer five stalks of [lotus] flowers to a tathagata.1

This mind (kokoro) refers to bodhi-mind. As bodhisattvas — people who have aroused bodhi-mind — we exchange all of our personal possessions for the lotus (dharma) flowers and throw them into the sky (emptiness) to offer them to the Buddha. Then our offerings stay in the sky as ornaments of the world of Buddha dharma. They don’t fall down to the earth, the ground of human desire.

Ryokan (1758 – 1831) was inspired by this waka of Dogen and composed his own:

鉢の子に Hachinoko ni In my begging bowl,
菫たむぽぽ sumire tampopo putting violets and dandelions
こき混ぜて kokimazete mixing together,
三世の仏に miyo no hotokeni Let’s respectfully offer them
奉りてな tatematsuri tena to all the buddhas in the three times.

While Ryokan was begging (takuhatsu) in a spring day, some children in the village wanted to play with him as usual. Ryokan started to pick violets and dandelions in the spring field with the children. He put the flowers in his begging bowl and told the children, “Let’s offer these pretty flowers to the buddhas.

Possibly on the same occasion, Ryokan composed another waka,

飯乞うと Ii kou to
わが来しかども waga koshi kadomo Although I came [to practice] begging for food,
春の野に haru no no ni I spent the whole day
すみれ摘みつつ sumire tsumitsutsu in a spring field,
時を経にけり toki o henikeri picking violets.

Even though they have no market value, violets and dandelions are pretty flowers in the field. Ryokan and the children picked them and put them in the begging bowl and made them offerings to the buddhas. The begging bowl is made receive offerings from people, but Ryokan used it to make offering to the buddhas. His practice of begging and playing with children were also his offering.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

1 Shōhaku Okumura’s unpublished translation.

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

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