“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”

Thanks to Viv for bringing this one to my attention in a comment on another Fake Buddha Quote.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.

It’s from page 112 of Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” in which Jack “distilled and adapted an ancient teaching for the needs of contemporary life.” This is a common pattern: if a book is called “The Teaching of Buddha” or “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book” then people jump to the conclusion that any quote from it is the teaching of the Buddha or one of the Buddha’s instructions. It’s not the fault of the author, of course…

As I said to Viv, how I can tell (usually) that a quote is a Fake Buddha Quote is that it may resonate with the teachings, but the language and idiom is all to heck.

The Buddha, to the best of my recollection, didn’t talk in terms of miracles in this metaphorical way (although he talked about literal miracles, such as psychic powers). And he was more inclined to talk about paying attention to the five clinging aggregates and recognizing that they were anatta — not your self — than paying attention to flowers.

He used flower metaphors, but I don’t think he ever suggested looking at flowers (or at least it’s not recorded that he did, which is all that’s important when you’re talking about quotes).

The language in this quote is more like something Thich Nhat Hanh would say. It’s nice, but it’s too sentimental for the Pali canon.

See also: “If we could understand a single flower we could understand the whole universe.”

11 thoughts on ““If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.””

  1. It comes from the flower sermon at a moment when the Buddha uses a flower as a teaching in which one of his disciples is instantly realized by even just viewing the Buddha hold it up. There’s a short Wikipedia explanation of the Flower sermon and more reference to it in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Old Path White Clouds – in that book he references lots of sutras. That whole book is authentically linked with sutras. I think it’s interesting you say that the Buddha didn’t say this but you don’t know who did. I think that’s a tricky assertion to make unless you have really gone through all the sutras and not find this in all of those works. Maybe you have done that in other instances, I cannot say, but unless you already know clearly that someone else stated something and was the first person credited with such a saying, I think being able to say outright that what someone claims the Buddha or anyone said or not (if they are being attributed a quote) is a bit of a preemptive assertion so I would just call on us all to have a little bit of caution and good research before saying that we’re sure about something one way or another.
    Appreciate your efforts and the various quotes and perspectives you’ve gathered here though.
    Best wishes.

    1. Hi, Tilly. The Flower Sermon is not a canonical teaching, and was composed in China some 1,500 years after the Buddha. In its entirety it reads:

      When Shakyamuni Buddha was at Mount Grdhrakuta, he held out a flower to his listeners.
      Everyone was silent.
      Only Mahakashyapa broke into a broad smile.
      The Buddha said, “I have the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma Gate, independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine. This I have entrusted to Mahakashyapa.”

      As you’ll note, the quote in question is nowhere to be found in this very short parable.

    1. Do you have a reference to where this quote can be found in the Avatamsaka Sutra, or are you just offering up another example of where a sutra has some kind of general reference to flowers?

  2. I wonder if it really matters. On the one had, it is right to be accurate (I used to get irritated with ‘quotations’ whom I knew weren’t from the source ascribed)… It’s right to be truthful, specific in this case…
    But now I care a bit less. Does it matter that much. It is wisdom – let us go with that, but whichever single being it ‘came’ from doesn’t matter in so far as Life just is, and wise things just come through and spout forth from beings in an Egoless fashion…
    Interesting (and slightly irritating) how you used the word ‘sentimental’ re what the Buddha never would say. I would suggest that these things, such a the beautiful Thich Naht Hahn would say, are childlike- simple and Rich, the essence of spirituality after all, which is more than can be said -for most of us at least, for the Canons, unless, perhaps, they are understood in all their depth, which is why many tell me that Buddhism is ‘too dry’ for them…

    1. I’m glad we agree that it’s good to be accurate and truthful. It seems that in so many spheres of life these days — especially the political — the only virtue is to have an effect, and truthfulness is an irrelevance.

    2. It matters in many ways.

      First, many of us in the West are only exposed to these modern Western takes on Buddhism – and then Buddhism seems so fresh, so relevant, so meaningful, compared to scripture used in Christianity or Judaism. We wonder why our culture’s spiritual traditions are so irrelevant to our lives, “dry” as you say, in comparison. But that comparison isn’t fair to our Western heritage, as we are not comparing the same things.

      Second, by attributing the wisdom of a modern Buddhist to the Buddha, we discount the value of that modern teacher – he or she doesn’t get credit for the teaching.

      Third, by attributing the wisdom of a modern Buddhist to the Buddha, we discount the value of the Buddha’s actual teachings. When we actually read a sutra, we wonder why it doesn’t sound like the Buddha’s teachings we read on a Facebook placard, and maybe give up before we’ve even really started.

  3. Thank you for an interesting post and discussion. The original quote reminds me of a similar theme from William Blake, the poet and visionary – To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower.

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