“Once, Buddha gathered all his disciples to give them a lesson. He showed them a lotus flower, the symbol of purity as it grows immaculate in the wetlands.
– I want you to tell me what I have in my hands -, said Buddha.
The first disciple made a treatise on the importance of flowers.
The second composed a beautiful poem dedicated to its petals.
The third created a very original story using the flower as an example.
Then came the turn of Mahakashyao. He approached Buddha, sniffed the flower and stroked his face with one of the petals.
– It’s a lotus flower -, said Mahakashyao. – Simple and beautiful -.
Buddha smiled and said,
– You were the only one who saw what I have in my hands -.”
This simple story resumes one of the fundamental concepts of Buddhism: the need to get rid of words, opinions, and thoughts to focus on reality, such and what it is like. At that moment occurs a small/great miracle.
An exercise to empty a word of its meaning
This idea also permeated Western philosophy. In his book “101 Experiences of Daily Philosophy”, Roger-Pol Droit offers a very interesting and perhaps disconcerting exercise. I suggest you devote a few minutes to empty a word of its meaning.
It’s about taking any object you have at your fingertips, it can be a pencil, a flower, a glass, a wallet or anything else. It has to be a simple everyday object, familiar to you. After taking it in your hand, place it in front of your eyes and repeat its name aloud.
Repeat its name while looking at the object. Gradually you will realize that something is changing and, finally, the word that designates that object completely disengages until it has any meaning. The word that was so familiar until then is emptied of content and became “hard”. It’s as if those sounds were odd or even foolish.
At that precise moment the object appears in a new perspective, simply because you are focusing your attention on its properties and characteristics, not on the symbol you have of it. The object acquires greater consistency, it is as if it were suddenly itself.
The interesting thing about this exercise is that it takes very little time to destroy our world and realize that the security of words and concepts we use daily is not only fragile but also illusory.
Children know this doubling of things. In fact, when they walk in the street and point to a tree or a dog, it is because they have been able to see their uniqueness. Meanwhile, adults just simply name them, including them in a macro category that has nothing special.
This philosophical experience can change everything without changing anything, because when we want, we can turn our perspective and stop thinking in terms of concepts to learn how to really touch life.
3 benefits of this change of perspective
1. It helps us to simplify life. We begin to be aware that we do not need much to live and we realize that we are the ones who complicate our lives.
2. It helps us put things into perspective. As we begin to practice this splitting exercise, we realize that many of the words we use every day and that we include in our goals in reality are empty of meaning. At that moment, we can radically change our goals.
3. It helps us appreciate much more the small details. Stopping to react to the images and concepts of our mind and engaging more in the real world, we learn to capture all the details we previously neglected, and this will allow us enjoy much more of the things.
Droit, R. (2001) 101 experiencias de filosofía cotidiana. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica.