“You throw thorns—falling in my silence they become flowers.”


The graphic on this page is from The Quote Factory, which seems rather ironic. I wonder if they realize how many of their quotes are manufactured?

This particular one is all over the net, attributed to the Buddha. It’s actually by Osho, the “Guru Formerly Known as Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh,” who was famous for his numerous Rolls Royces, the wild sex he encouraged among his disciples, and the 1984 bioterror attack that his Oregon Commune launched on 751 citizens of The Dalles, Oregon, in an attempt to sway the outcome of an election so that their own candidates could win the county elections.

The quote is actually Rajneesh giving his interpretation of what the Buddha said, rather than an actual quote from the scriptures. It’s found in his Book of the Books – Volume 2 (1983). Rajneesh’s words start by being a reasonable paraphrase, but by the time they get to “intrinsic nature” (a concept alien to the early Buddhist texts) they are very far removed from anything the Buddha said.

Buddha said, “Somebody can throw a burning torch into the river. It will remain alight until it falls into the river. The moment it falls into the river, all fire is gone—the river cools it. You throw abuses at me—they are fire when you throw them, but the moment they reach me, in my coolness their fire is lost. They no longer hurt. You throw thorns—falling in my silence they become flowers. I act out of my own intrinsic nature.

Here’s the Buddha using the analogy of throwing a torch into a river. You’ll notice it’s not very pithy. The Buddha wasn’t much into sound-bites:

“Suppose, monks, a person were to come holding a burning grass-torch, and he were to say: ‘With this burning grass-torch I shall set fire to and scorch this river Ganges.’ What do you think, monks, could that person set fire to and scorch the river Ganges with a grass-torch?”

“No, indeed not, most venerable sir.”

“And why not?”

“Because, most venerable sir, the river Ganges is deep and without measure. It is not possible to set fire to and scorch the river Ganges with a burning grass-torch. On the contrary, that person will only reap weariness and frustration.”

“In the same way, monks, others may use these five modes of speech when speaking to you — speech that is timely or untimely, true or false, gentle or harsh, with a good or a harmful motive, and with a loving heart or hostility. In this way, monks, you should train yourselves: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to that very person, making him as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love — thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.’ It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves.”

The image of thorns (well, of something) being thrown and turning to flowers is from the Buddhist tradition, but not from the words of the Buddha. In post-canonical biographies of the Buddha, an incident where Shakyamuni is said to have been attacked by the armies of Mara (the personification of doubt) is dramatized, with Mara’s hordes hurling weapons at the Buddha. The weapons turn to flowers and fall harmlessly around him.

Here, for example, is an extract from Chapter 13 of Ashvaghosha’s Buddhacarita:

41. One [of Mara’s horde], rising up like the sun in full splendour, rained down from the sky a great shower of live embers, as at the end of an aeon blazing Meru showers down the pulverised scoriae of the golden valleys.

42. But that shower of embers full of sparks, when scattered at the foot of the Bodhi tree, became a shower of red lotus-petals through the operation of the great saint’s boundless charity.

43. But with all these various scorching assaults on his body and his mind, and all these missiles showered down upon him, the Śākya saint did not in the least degree move from his posture, clasping firmly his resolution as a kinsman.

44. Then others spat out serpents from their mouths as from old decayed trunks of trees; but, as if held fast by a charm, near him they neither breathed nor discharged venom nor moved.

45. Others, having become great clouds, emitting lightning and uttering the fierce roar of thunderbolts, poured a shower of stones upon that tree, — but it turned to a pleasant shower of flowers.

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