when is a flower not a flower?

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Being, non-being and interbeing.

I am so fascinated by this notion of Buddhist wisdom, which teaches us that there can be a flower only because there is everything that is not a flower!

What the heck, you may ask! Take heart. I will give some illustrations. They are not original to me but have been retold many times. Understand them and you will be fascinated too, and maybe you’ll think on it some more. Eventually, you may have a glimmer, as I do, of the brilliance of this ancient path.

Suppose I strike a match on its box, causing it to burst into flame. Where did the flame come from? Was it nothing before I performed my act of striking the match? And when I blow it out, will it go back to being nothing again? No. A scientist will tell you that, for fire to happen, there must necessarily be the correct combination of elements, which were all present when I struck the match. I simply helped bring together the conditions for the flame to manifest as such.

Consider a thing, an object. Think of a piece of paper. Was it once nothing and then suddenly became? When did it come to be something? Was it at the paper mill, when the pulp from a tree was run through the paper-making processes? No, there was still something. The tree, that gave its fiber for the pulp, was something, as was the seed from which the tree grew. Were it not for the mill and the workers – and of course the tree – the paper would not be possible. It needed the right conditions to manifest as paper. And were it not for sun and water and soil and air, the tree would not be possible. So, when we hold a piece of paper in our hands, we are holding the mill and the workers and the sunshine and all the rest. There was never nothing.

So, for the flame and the piece of paper and the flower to manifest, there must exist all the necessary conditions. Take away the sunshine and there is no tree, no flower, no paper. Take away any one of the conditions necessary and there is no tree or flame or flower or paper. So the Buddhists say that a flower is made of non-flower elements. You cannot have a flower unless you have all the elements. Fascinating, don’t you think? This is inter-being.

Once we begin to understand inter-being, we see that everything is dependent on everything else. We are all inter-being. You yourself were never nothing. You are composed entirely of non-you elements. Take away any of it — oxygen, your ancestors, sun and water and trees – and you cannot be. Which makes it so easy to understand why we must be careful with the air and the water and the trees and each other! We all inter-are.

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