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Lotuses and Lilies

CLARK STRAND walks the common ground of two great traditions.

Clark Strand

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On the central wall of the Guest House at the monastery where I lived during the 1980s, there was a mural painted by the Japanese Jesuit priest Father Maxima depicting a scene from Buddhist legend. Once when Shakyamuni’s disciples had gathered on Vulture Peak to hear a sermon, he simply stood in their midst and, holding a single flower aloft so all could see, twirled it between his thumb and forefinger. At this, all were puzzled. Mahakashyapa alone, among all the disciples, broke into a smile, indicating that he had understood the final truth of Buddhism. Father Maxima’s mural was a faithful depiction of all this. At the center stood Buddha holding up a lotus blossom. About him were the various monks and animals, bodhisattvas, devas, and other heavenly beings normally to be found when Shakyamuni delivered a sermon. But Mahakasyapa wasn’t smiling—at least not like any smile I’d ever seen. Rather, he wore an expression approaching horror.

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