Lotus Blossoms and Leaves

A monk asked Chimon, "Before the lotus blossom has emerged from the water, what is it?" Chimon said, "A lotus blossom." The monk pursued, "After it has come out of the water, what is it?" Chimon replied, "Lotus leaves."

Chimon belonged to the Unmon school of Zen, which is harder for laymen to understand than other Zen schools. The monk who asked this question was well advanced in Zen. His question concerns the relationship of the absolute and its manifestations, the relationship of reality and phenomena. The koan could be variously rephrased as: "Who am I before I am born?" "Pefore the world appeared, what was it?" "Before the universe came to be, what was it?" Chimon's answers run counter to what we actually see. But from the point of view of the absolute, the lotus blossom under water is still a lotus blossom. After it has emerged into view, it may as well be called lotus leaves because it has leaves as well. It does not matter what name it goes by in the phenomenal world. Whether water, ice, or steam, the essence is the same. White man, black man, brown man are all "man" from the point of view of humanity. If one attaches to the particulars of the phenomenal world, universality will be overlooked.


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