In ancient times, when the World Honored One was at Mt Grdhrakuta, he twirled a flower before his assembled disciples. All were silent. Only Mahakasyapa broke into a smile.

Gateless Barrier, Case 6

Sometimes a very small action or change can have a very large impact on our lives. In the above koan, the Buddha Shakyamuni, does a very small thing: he twirls a flower. But in seeing that flower twirling, his student and eventual successor, Mahakasyapa, smiles. Traditionally, this small exchange is said to be the first teacher-to-student transmission in the Zen school. This mind-to-mind transmission, outside of the scriptures, has been a hallmark of the school since its beginning, and has taken place thousands of times. So small actions can have large consequences.

Several years ago, my daughter got into three increasingly serious car accidents in the space of about a year – I insisted we take a California Highway Patrol safety class together.

The last day of the class, the CHP instructor repeated, carefully and clearly twice: “There is only one thing I want to ask of you. Wherever you are going, just drive five miles an hour slower.” The officer realized that by twirling a flower, making a small change, these kids could register a large impact on their lives.


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