64/68 Udonge



The Udumbara Flower

Udonge means the flower of a type of fig tree called udumbara in Sanskrit. The udumbara tree (Ficus glomerata) is a large tropical tree of the mulberry family (Moraceae). Its flowers grow around the fruit, so they look like peel rather than flowers. Because of this, people in ancient India considered the udumbara to be flowerless. Consequently, they used the udumbara flower as a symbol of something that rarely happens; for example, the realization of the Buddhist truth. In a Buddhist sutra called Daibonten-o-monbutsu-ketsugi-kyo (The Sutra of Questions and Answers between Mahabrahman and the Buddha) there is a story that one day Gautama Buddha showed an udumbara flower to an audience. No-one could understand the meaning of Gautama Buddha’s suggestion other than Master Mahakasyapa, who smiled. In Chinese Buddhism this story symbolized the transmission of the truth. So Master Dogen used udumbara flowers to explain the meaning of the transmission. Because Daibonten-o-monbutsu-ketsugi-kyo was said to have been written in China, it was criticized by some Buddhists as not expressing Gautama Buddha’s true intention. Master Dogen, however, insisted in Shobogenzo, chapter 74, Tenborin, that even if a Buddhist sutra was produced in China, after its words have been discussed by Buddhist masters it becomes a Buddhist sutra which expresses the true intention of Gautama Buddha; we need not worry whether or not it was written in India.