Every Bloom a Blessing

Each month, we explore a theme through weekly MythBlasts, curated works, quotations, etc. This month's theme is Blooming.

Close-up of multiple flowers at Carlsbad flower fields. Creative Commons.

Once, a very long time ago, the Buddha preached a sermon to his followers by saying nothing at all. Instead of speaking, he held up a single flower. Only one listener, a monk named Mahakasyapa, heard what that flower had to say and smiled with joy. (Joseph Campbell. The Masks of God, Vol. II: Oriental Mythology, 608) Everyone else seems to have missed the point of what has since come to be called the Flower Sermon, no doubt returning to their chores and meditation with some chagrin. Because, come on—a flower? What could Mahakasyapa possibly have seen in a single blossom? Or heard? Or…whatever?

The question is still worth asking today. One possibility is that he perceived something related to the intricate Buddhist teaching of the Flower Garland, which Campbell summarizes succinctly: “one is all and all are one” (679). In other words, we are inseparable from each other; and I do mean “we” in the broadest possible sense. The Flower Garland goes far beyond the platitude “we are all connected.” This teaching asserts that we all arise from and remain one with a single, indivisible continuity. All existence—meaning all energy, all matter, all beings, all consciousness—is defined by inseparability, which is another way of saying we are defined by our unity, and there is no such thing as a separate self. In other words, “I” don’t exist without “you,” and neither of “us” exists without the All that gives rise to our experience of illusory and temporary separateness. Beneath what we normally think of as our “selves” exists the vibrant, continuous All, an energy field that imagines us up the same way it imagines up a flower out of stems, leaves, seeds, soil, and all the lives that fed that churning loam throughout the ages, leading up to that singe bloom. 

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On the other hand, maybe Mahakasyapa saw an archetypal Blossom, meaning the larger-than-life “force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as the poet Dylan Thomas calls it. Maybe the Buddha’s flower became transparent to the divine Flowering that moves through us all, that power beyond our own that can make us smile no matter what in spite of ourselves. That Smile, like Mahakasyapa’s, brings us directly to the lotus throne of the goddess who Campbell calls “the most prominent single figure in the ornamentation of all the early Buddhist monuments,” Lakshmi, whose imagery of beauty and wealth overflows with lotus flowers. (Oriental Mythology, 415) Lakshmi is, in effect, the great Bloom: she is the soul of the lotus, the love of blooming, the ability to blossom. She brightens, lightens, en-lightens. She is the consciousness of flowering, and she is the flowering of consciousness. Lakshmi is the flowers that fountain around her. She is the profligate abundance of the universe, dispensing glories of many kinds. Hearkening back to the teaching of the Flower Garland, Lakshmi reminds us of our own lotus-essence, because if we really are all one, then our consciousness is inseparable from hers. Perhaps when the Buddha held her aloft for all to see, she smiled directly into and through Mahakasyapa.

Beyond mythic images and religious teachings, isn’t every bloom a blessing in and of itself? A flower is a gift, a grace, a healing. A blossom is an epiphanic reminder of beauty’s inevitability. Simultaneously tiny and profound, each flower holds a revelation. Before that flower, its blossom was impossible to imagine. But when those petals unfurled, the world changed. Where there had been nothing, now exists a rose, or an orchid, or a lotus, or new hope. Maybe Mahakasyapa marveled: how could this miracle exist? And yet it so manifestly is, how could it not exist? Then the flower’s presence could have opened his heart by collapsing the binaries of being and non-being, reminding him of his own miraculous presence and the presence of all things. 

Goddess Lakshmi, by Raja Ravi Varma, 1896. Public Domain.

Flowers tend to appear in the moments when our hearts are most full: first dates, apologies, weddings, hospital rooms, springtime. Flowers might not speak, but they most certainly proclaim. They herald spring’s return to a frozen landscape, peace to the battlefield, beauty to bleakness, healing to illness and injury. Flowers trumpet the news of the soul’s open heart, the world’s open heart, and the open heart of the cosmos itself. A single flower changed Mahakasyapa’s consciousness, and then, the consciousness of the entire tradition of Buddhism, and therefore the world. Like Lakshmi, his flower consciousness blossomed out of the mud and into the flamboyant generosity of nectar and fragrance that draws pollinators from miles around, and then, like Lakshmi’s, his smile became the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth.

Joanna Gardner, PhD is a writer, mythologist, and magical realist. She is a founder of the Fates and Graces Mythologium, a conference for mythologists and friends of myth. Joanna serves as Senior Editor on the Educational Task Force of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, and as a thought leader with the think tank iRewild, where she works on the Healing Stories initiative. She completed her doctoral degree at Pacifica Graduate Institute in mythological studies with an emphasis in depth psychology. Joanna’s fiction, poetry, and nonfiction appear in a variety of venues, available at joannagardner.com/stories.


Weekly Quote

Indeed, the first and most essential service of a mythology is this one, of opening the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being. And the second service, then is cosmological: of representing the universe and the whole spectacle of nature, both as known to the mind and as beheld by the eye, as an epiphany of such kind that when lightning flashes, or a setting sun ignites the sky, or a deer is seen standing alerted, the exclamation ‘Ah!’ may be uttered as a recognition of divinity.

Featured Work

The Masks of God 2: Oriental Mythology

In the second volume of the Masks of God series, Campbell offers an explanation of Eastern mythology as it developed into the distinctive religions of Egypt, India, China, and Japan.

“The myth of eternal return, which is still basic to Oriental life, displays an order of fixed forms that appear and disappear through all time.”

– Joseph Campbell

Book Club

“In Old Path, White Clouds, we find ourselves moving through Buddha’s eminent journey towards Nirvana. We shall find our conscientious being during the voyage, breathing new life into our hearts and minds…

– Prabarna Ganguly, Ph.D.
Editorial Advisory Group
Joseph Campbell Foundation

Monthly Gift

Freud Jung & Kundalini Yoga Part 1 (Audio: Lecture II.4.1)

Our gift to you this month is audio lecture. Access this download for free until the end of the month.

“One can take anything – this watch – draw a ring around it. Forget that you know how to use it. What is it? The mystery of the being of this object is exactly the same as the mystery of the being of the universe.” — Joseph Campbell

In part 1 of this 3 part lecture, Joseph Campbell brings together the fundamentals of Kundalini Yoga and modern depth psychologists. He lays the foundation of the chakras and other major eastern perspectives before delving into western perspectives in part 2.

This lecture was recorded at the Esalen Institute in 1966.

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