A father asked a teacher, ‘How is it when the lotus flower has not yet emerged from the water?’ The teacher said, ‘A lotus flower’ The father then asked, ‘What about after it has emerged from the water?’ The teacher said, ‘Lotus leaves.’

~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 21

Before and after. The above case is sometimes considered a reference to Zen awakening: what is it like before and after enlightenment? Before, it’s a flower, and after, it’s leaves. Emptiness and form: same but different. Enlightenment, of course, is just another word for life, and my own recent ‘before and after’ story has been the departure to college for my twin daughters.

I know, I know. The only thing worse than your children leaving home would be if they never left at all. And it is not like we haven’t prepared for ‘the day’ for months, even years. The schools and the pundits have tried to be helpful. ‘If you are feeling sad’, one school psychologist advised, ‘do not go into your children’s empty room to cry’. And just like previous milestone books, like What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Goodnight Moon, college advisers are recommending titles like Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money and The Naked Roommate. But they are my lotus flowers; how could they possibly develop leaves?

The girls’ actual departure was very sweet. The four of us, parents and kids, all hugged with tears in our eyes. And then they left. The tears soon dried. On our first outgoing call we were scolded and told to text first. Ah yes, I think I need to develop new, outside interests…

I love this verse on the case by Hsueh Tou, compiler of the Blue Cliff Record, and considered one of his finest:

Lotus flowers, lotus leaves, I make it known to you.

Out of the water and before leaving the water ~

Is there any difference between them?

North of the River, south of the River, ask old Wang;

One fox-doubt is followed by another.