Once in ancient times, when the World Honored One was at Vulture Peak to give a sermon, he held up a flower, twirled it and showed it to the assembly.
At this, all remained silent. Only the venerable Kashyapa smiled.
The World Honored One said: “I have the eye treasury of the true dharma, the marvelous mind of nirvana, the true form of no-form, the subtle gate of the Dharma. It does not depend on letters, being transmitted outside the teachings. Now I entrust Mahakasyapa with this.”
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 6
I find the process by which I develop these weekly notes, not surprisingly, tracks closely with how I work on koans in general. Perhaps, gentle reader, it is so for you, as well. First a koan comes to me: it might be through a linear progression in a collection like The Gateless Barrier, or it may dynamically find me: a line from a poem pops up, a sound or a smell reminds me of something. At first, the koan and I don’t necessarily feel all that close. So we visit, often politely sitting quietly together, which has on occasion, devolved into a wrestling match.
With the above koan, one translation ~ Buddha “shows” a flower ~ sent me toward a sweet flower memory of some decades ago when I was explaining meditation to my brother. I said something kind of strange to him: “You know, Zen is like how a flower grows”, and raised my hand above my head, showing him. Kind of mysteriously, at that moment, I understood how a flower grows. It was a nice memory, but for a note on this koan, perhaps, it did feel immediate enough.
Then, I read a second translation, and rather than “show”, the Buddha “twirled” a flower. Oh my gosh, I thought, for the past week, my mind has been twisting and twirling a lot as I sat, for reasons unclear: was it the flu coming on, the stock market crash, the new drought, or the daily political outrage? Why the twirling? By now I felt I was tumbling through space like George Clooney in the movie Gravity (2013; by the way visually stunning; Rotten Tomatoes 96%). Sandra Bullock, won’t you help me?
And then I simply returned to the koan, which brought me back to the mother ship. As the koan slipped into my body, I did not need to find a meaning outside of this very moment and this very place. So, after not so long, quite naturally, the koan began to feel closer, and with the greatest ease I could show and twirl a flower.