“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.”

27 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.

  4. The truth of Buddhism isn’t the words themselves.
    The truth is handed from teacher to student, and the words may always be fresh. The truth is what the student realises, words may or may not help much.
    By all means, preserve accurately the words of the Buddha, but don’t think that just because you’ve got the words that you’ve got the truth.

    1. I don’t think anyone has been making the argument that “just because you’ve got the words you’ve got the truth,” Robert.

  5. Buddha isn’t just one single historical being; there have been and will be many Buddhas. It is our ultimate nature. We are all potential Buddhas.

    To say a quote is ‘fake’ goes too far if the person who said the quote knew the truth and was expressing the truth of their authentic understanding through their own words.

    They may not be the words of the particular Buddha (Shakyamuni) who happens to be the one most people think of.. that doesn’t mean that the quote isn’t true, misattributed maybe, but to say a quote is ‘fake’ is to denigrate it and strongly suggests it is untrue… and maybe it’s not untrue.

    1. To say a quote is “fake” means (in the context of this site) that it’s wrongly attributed to the historical Buddha, Gotama. It says nothing about whether the quote is true or untrue, helpful or unhelpful.

      That we are all “potential Buddhas” is simply a red herring. If a quote is attributed to “the Buddha” then it’s being attributed to the historical Buddha, Gotama.

  6. I don’t think things are as obvious as you assume. Clearly I didn’t read it as you intended, and so might others.
    I’ve practiced Tibetan Buddhism for 20 years, and we certainly don’t just think of ‘the’ Buddha. Even in the Pali Suttas, there are a number of named Buddha’s and many realised Arhants.
    It’s not a red herring for practicing Buddhists.

    1. If a quote is attributed to “the Buddha” (without further context, such as “the Buddha Vipassi” or “the Buddha Vairocana”) then it’s being attributed to the historical Buddha, Gotama.

      There are indeed references to mythic Buddha figures in the Pali Suttas, but if you’re going to quote them, then quote them by name, as I did above. Also, Arahants are never referred to as Buddhas. In terms of the early tradition, a Buddha is one who has rediscovered the path to awakening after it’s been lost, while an Arahant is one who attains Sammasambuddha having received instruction from another person.

      Are you presenting your 20 years of experience of Tibetan Buddhism to support the case you’re making? I’m sure on some level you realize that that would be a logical fallacy. A person could practice the Dharma for 80 years and still get things wrong.

      1. I’m saying being involved in Buddhism for 20 years is a matter of having that experience of being around Buddhists, talking to Buddhists, hearing the sort of language they use. My own teachers in the Karma Kagyu tradition don’t just refer to Shakyamuni when talking about Buddha or Buddha’s… that might not be your experience, no problem… but you are extrapolating your experience to everybody else.
        You can’t just make bold assertions as to everybody’s use of the word Buddha and what that means.
        The Other Buddhas mentioned in the Pali Suttas are not ‘mythic’ they are directly taught about by Buddha Gotama… unless you are also going to call all his other teachings mythic too?

        1. Of course your teachers don’t refer just to Gotama when talking about Buddhas. But if a quote is attributed to “the Buddha” it refers (in the absence of any qualification to the contrary) to Gotama Buddha.

          1. In your experience, or according to what you believe should be the case…

            … but I have had different experience.

            Possibly the world is not quite as you say it should be?

          2. I am of course speaking normatively. I actually doubt that you have, as you claim, seen people quoting Buddhas other than Gotama and attributing them to “the Buddha.” Perhaps you can show me examples — there are literally thousands of books on Buddhism, so if you’re correct it shouldn’t be hard to find them. But even if some people have done this, they’d be incorrect. “The Buddha” refers to Gotama.

  7. I didn’t say books, I said teachers.
    It’s not a discussion about correctness, it’s a discussion about usage.

    1. Teachers write books. So in the case of this particular usage, it would seem odd that if they thought it was correct and appropriate, they didn’t put it in writing.

  8. Most teachers don’t write books.
    There is only so much you can get from a book. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are some specifics of teachings that are never written in books.
    Book language is also likely to be a bit more formal, edited and ‘correct’ or ‘standardised’.. In speech, things are a not so predictable and the teacher may well want to break up and challenge any firmly held opinions.
    I heard a talk by Ajahn Amaro once, he said there were actually 5 Maras! One of these was to do with believing our own opinions, attaching to a point of view, even if the point of view is correct. Something I’m not immune from, lol.

    1. So, it seems that other teachers and I are in agreement that the correct usage would be not to attribute quotes to “the Buddha” unless they’re from the historical Buddha.

      Yes, it’s all too easy for us to cling to our opinions. I’m no exception to that.

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