“In ancient times, when the World Honored One was at Mt Grdhrakuta, he twirled a flower before his assembled disciples. All were silent. Only Mahakasyapa broke into a smile.”
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 6
Sometimes a very small action or change can have a very large impact on our lives. In the above koan, the Buddha Shakyamuni, does a very small thing: he twirls a flower. But in seeing that flower twirling, his student and eventual successor, Mahakasyapa, smiles. Traditionally, this small exchange is said to have been the first teacher-to-student transmission in the Zen school. This mind-to-mind transmission, outside of the scriptures, has been a hallmark of the school since its beginning, and has taken place thousands of times. So small actions can have large consequences.
Several years ago, when our then-teenage daughters got their driver’s license, one morning they got in their gray Jetta and drove off to school alone. It was a surreal moment for me, standing in in the driveway, waving goodbye to my two babies, who were now on their own. Things went well for about four months, and then I got a phone call: one of the daughters had run a red light and T-boned a car crossing the intersection. Fortunately, no one was hurt. A few months later, another call: on the way to school, that same daughter had merged right, and hit a car merging left at about 20 miles per hour on a crowded freeway. Another trip to Chilton Auto Body. All was fine, for about another six months, but then I got a very disturbing call: the same daughter was crossing the Bay Bridge, tried to merge right, but a motorcyclist, riding inter-lane, was coming up quickly at about 50 miles an hour, became startled and laid his bike down. Fortunately, he was not seriously hurt. But I drew a line through my daughter’s three dots, and was terrified of the trend: at least two of these incidents could have caused bodily harm or death to any number of people, all of which would have been a nightmare we would gave revisited every day for the rest our lives. So I forbade my daughter from driving on the freeway until she took remedial driving lessons and until we took a California Highway Patrol safety class together.
My daughter and I went to the class of about two dozen kids, mostly sent by courts who had convicted them of egregious moving violations, like driving 65 mph in a 25 mph zone. The CHP officer showed us a couple of bloody videos, talked to us a little bit, and concluded. Sitting before him was a captive audience of those whom the courts had found to be the serious young traffic law offenders and threats to safety. He could have told them anything, like “Don’t speed again!”, or “Don’t text and drive!” Instead, he said carefully and clearly twice: “There is only one thing I want to ask you. Wherever you are going, just drive five miles an hour slower.” The officer, who had probably seen dozens of fatal accidents in his career, realized by merely twirling a flower, making a small change, like driving five miles an hour slower, these kids could have a large impact on their lives.