the rock and the flower

There is an old Buddhist saying that goes, …”bringing Buddhism to a new culture is like bringing a flower and a rock together.” When I first heard this saying my imagination was completely captured by the metaphor of a rock and a flower together. This metaphor seemed to me to be a clear and poignant representation of the process of spiritual growth. As I began to contemplate this metaphor, I remembered seeing flowers growing on lava rocks along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Although at that time I wasn’t aware of the great paradox I was viewing, nor the possibility of great insight. There on the shore of Lake Superior, jetting out into one of the greatest fresh water lakes in the world, were lava, rocks sheathes, millions of years old, and in the crevices of those ancient rocks, small flowers (I believe some kind of violet) were growing.

The rocks are solid, inflexible, and enduring. The flowers are subtle, adaptable, and temporary. Each seems to be the direct antithesis of the other; yet, there on the North Shore their lives converge and they live in perfect harmony; one providing the space and nutrients for the other’s life, while the other aiding in the expansion of the parameters of the former’s life. Each, although seemingly in direct opposition, did not resist this relationship, nor did they resist the relationship of the inner play of the elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Their willingness to relate fostered the changes necessary to create the environment for the flower to grow and the rock to expand its fundamental nature.

How does this metaphor relate to our spiritual growth and development? The rock represents us as we now appear: separate, solid, narrow. The flower represents us as a possibility for spiritual development: subtle, adaptable, expansive. If we want the flower to take root and grow atop the solidity of our rock like belief system, we must soften up our hardened hearts, minds, and lives so as to create the right conditions for growth. In doing so, we create an environment conducive for the spirit to live, grow, and have its being.

The softening of our hardened self-concepts is not an easy task. In order for it to take place we must exert an enormous concentration of effort over a long period of time. The task is to penetrate our reinforced, rock like self exterior by the practice of acceptance and use of wisdom. If our determination is strong enough, we can make progress and eventually succeed just as the subtle flower created its life upon the stubborn rock.

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