Buddha flower

by Dharmapala, The Buddhist Channel, August 2, 2017

Penang, Malaysia -- There is this beautiful image of the Buddha embedded on a sunflower which is seen on social media once in a while. Every time I look at it, it never fails to give a little uplift.

The serene smile of the Blessed One, wrapped around by nature's ingenuity, engenders what is called "enlightened art". The composite, while wholly man made, was spot on in inducing "saddha", faith in the holy Dharma. I was later informed that the piece of work was called "Buddha nature". How apt.

But did I mention "Buddha's face embedded on a sunflower?" From the realms of social media pages that I have been to, I don't recall reading any letters complaining about such "uncharacteristic" use of the holy image of the Buddha. Or have I missed reading them?

Sometime ago, there was this Buddha bikini issue. I remember the uproar of Buddhist reactions calling for the boycott of Victoria Secrets because of the demeaning manner how Buddha images were used on bras and skimpy swim wears.

And of course there is the famous Buddha Bar. Not forgetting, meditating postures of Buddha cats (and dogs) still get some people riled up.

Talking about Buddha cat and Buddha dog images, they  reminded me of a story my first Dharma teacher taught when I was still a kid. He said, "When you see a frog, bow to it. When you see a lizard, go to sleep."

Why bow to a frog? "Because even when it seems to be half dozing, it can still sense a fly whizzing by and then snapping it up in a second. It is an example of how to cultivate mindfulness without falling asleep," he advised.

But why go to sleep when you see a lizard? "Because it's up there on the ceiling, looking down at you," he joked.

I have been to many, many Dharma talks, attended numerous meditation retreats guided by experienced monks and yogis, and served many theras as their kapiya (attendants). Of all the teachings that I have received, nothing stuck deeper than that pointer about frogs and lizards.

How so? Because this Dharma teacher always emphasized the cultivation of loving kindness to all beings - to frogs and lizards particularly - because innately, as he teaches, all beings have in them the "Buddha nature".

Getting back to Buddha Bars, cats and dogs, I've uncovered exchanges posted on Buddhist forums complaining about the "disrespect" shown by non-Buddhists. While they complain about "other people"  insulting "our" religion, many never really got down to explain "why" we are insulted.

I would understand such kind of response if Buddhism was some form of theocracy, where this "us" versus "them" kind of divide would naturally produce reactions to those who deem to have an agenda against "our faith."

But Buddhism is not a theocracy. And even though it teaches emptiness and non-attachment, it does not condone an attidue that begets indifference. Some people just brush off these "disrespectful non-Buddhists" away as harmless nuisance, imploring us to ignore them while focusing on what matters, that is looking at our own impurities within.

The danger of this approach is that we may be showing the Buddhist novice how to close an eye to problems. As long as the issue doesn't really touches us, we should just proceed to meditate and radiate metta to the milk man. And that is why many Buddhists continue to sit in blissful states while society is engulfed with corruption, anger and hate.

What Buddhist "emptiness" teaches us is that we are mere aggregates of various energies bounded by karma as we go through life. Our physical body, as that of the frog and the lizard, are all involved in this endless cycle.

As we engage ourselves with an external object, we are taught to note the arising consciousness that comes with it. However, when some of us sees that image of the Buddha flower, our eye consciousness gave rise to an appealing, acceptable feeling. Therefore, while it was an uncharacteristic use of the Buddha icon, nevertheless we deemed it as all right. On the other hand, when we see the Buddha cat and dog, we regard it as beneath the dignity of the Enlightened one.

When we behave like this, aren't we not in the clutches of the eight winds?

It is imperative that we do not wrap our understanding of Buddhist teachings with prejudicial and biased views. Doing so merely attaches us to Buddhism as "our religion", and any slights by others on "our faith" (perceived or otherwise) draws out our inner fires from within.

Confronting our own prejudicial ingrates can a be a scary thing, because many of us refuse to face our own ugliness. But if we do not do this, we miss the chance to purify our impurities. We will be better off if we learn how to stare down our own ugly selves.

When we do this effectively, our embrace of Buddha Dharma will be spiritual and humanistic, rather than religious dogma. This embracement is way more potent and sustainable to educate others about the transformative powers of Buddhism, and about what we hold as sacred.

Therefore, the Buddha cat and Buddha dog are merely reminders that when we are moved by forms, we must return to our core understanding: That all external forms are innately empty. It is only in our minds - the interactive consciousness of our senses and the external objects - that moves us.

We neither assume an indifferent attitude by brushing such matters aside as trivial and insignficant, explaining issues away using Dharma centric "emptiness" or "non-self" philosophy, or on the other hand, get caught up with our own prejudices and personal biases.

When we bow to the Buddha flower, the frog and the lizard, we do so because they have taught us to break away from such extremes, not because we like or dislikes something.

Once we assume such an attitude, we are ready to face the world with true compassion and loving kindness. We can face ugly behaviour, anger and hatred without fear. We act because we are moved by the need to help another overcome suffering.

We are not bogged down by rituals and labels, and mistreatment of these things by others will not rile us. Instead of sitting down and looking away, we confront these unease with the calm demeanor of a samurai walking straight into a violent battlefield.

And so ....

What other types of Buddha flowers have you seen? Care to share?

Dharmapala is a yogi who practices Vipasanna full time. He lives in Penang, Malaysia.