Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"A Flower Does Not Talk"

One of our orchids.
I had a great idea (or so I egotistically thought) for a justice/politically-minded post that would have pleased many of you, but I decided “what the world needs now,” as the song goes, is Zen! Today and next Wednesday I am revisiting two posts that are Zen-like in orientation, one from 2018 and the second from 2016. I pray they bring peace to our troubled souls!

The whole world today, both East and West, seems to be going through a period of convulsion, a time of travail, as it seeks to give birth to a new culture. There cannot be one simple cause for the tensions in so many parts of the world, but one of the major factors may be that while remarkable progress has been made in the use of new scientific knowledge, we human beings have not developed sufficiently spiritually and ethically to meet the new conditions.

It is most urgently required, therefore, that we must work to create a new human culture by striving for a truer understanding of humanity and a higher level of spirituality.

This seems to echo the observations of Teilhard de Chardin, writing just after World War II, and speaks to our own time nearly two decades into the 21st century. But it comes from a book written in 1970 by Zenkei Shibayama, a Zen master and then abbot of Nazenji Monastery in Kyoto, Japan. The book is titled, A Flower Does Not Talk: Zen Essays, and was translated into English by one of the author’s disciples, Miss Sumoko Kudo.

I took this from my bookshelves very early morning of the Saturday I write this, a little more than a week before leading a contemplative retreat, which I should continue preparing for, but I prefer to write this post, to be published a week after the retreat. The title possibly appealed to me because I am a little anxious about my impending leadership. In her helpful book, Be Still: Designing and Leading Contemplative Retreats, Jane E. Vennard writes that the best way to lead contemplation is to be a contemplative. A flower that does not talk seems a good role model.

As I read Shibayama’s preface and Daisetz T. Suzuki’s introduction, I wondered how I had never read this book that has sat alongside my books of Eastern wisdom for at least three decades. I was moved to find that the introduction was the famous D. T. Suzuki’s last writing, having completed it the day before he took sick, dying the day after that at the age of 95.

Only when I sat down to write this post did I see “Culbertson” handwritten on the title page and realize that this was either a loan or a gift from my friend, Linda Culbertson, recent executive of the Presbytery of the Pacific.

Suzuki evokes a smile with his very first sentence, “Zen claims to be ‘a specific transmission outside the scripture and to be altogether independent of verbalism,’ but it is Zen Masters who are most talkative and most addicted to writings of all sorts.” As a would-be contemplative who obviously loves words, I find this comforting.

He then writes how Zen Masters enjoy bringing their readers “to bewilderment with their apparently irrational and often irrelevant utterances.” I underlined “bewilderment” because yesterday I used a fanciful version of the word preparing a guided meditation for the retreat, writing, “We will flee from the familiar to the wild-ness and bewilder-ness of the wilderness.” Suzuki asserts that their purpose is to lift students to “the higher way of observing things.”

“Zen tells us to change or reverse our usual way of understanding,” he writes. “Zen always aspires to make us directly see into Reality itself, that is, be Reality itself, so that we can say along with Meister Eckhart that ‘Christ is born every minute in my soul,’ or that ‘God’s Isness is my Isness.’”

Yet the author, Abbot Zenkei Shibayama, cautions in his preface, “We should not too easily conclude that there is just one Truth, and that East and West are after all the same.”


The book’s title is that of the author’s poem:

A Flower Does Not Talk

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
            the whole of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

I think I’ve found my personal reading for the retreat.

I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

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  1. Good morning Chris,
    So many pieces of your blog resonate with or pique my interest today. The flower doesn't talk...hmmmmm....I'm trying to imagine what flower I would be....a small almost invisible flower? a bright flashy one? one that needs lots of attention to survive? or a hardy one than can weather most any weather with little attention? Lots to reflect on there.
    You said you are a would be contemplative, but you love words and communicationg through them (I know that is not a quote) and I can truly relate to that. What words we use and how we say it is such a thing with me. If we phrase our thoughts and ideas in words that are kind, even to ourselves, I believe our world would be a healthier, holier place.
    My challenge is to know when to be simply a flower.
    My thanks to you once again, Chris for your food for thought,

  2. Thank you, Chris, for these wise words. Though if you are trying to rely on words less and wordless contemplation more (as I am), praising your words may not be always helpful! A secular blessing on you, Charlene