From “Flowers in the Sky” [‘Kūge’ 空 ( くう)] , in the Shōbōgenzō, by Eihei Dōgen (a talk on 10th March 1243)

Monet’s water lilies (painted while Monet suffered from cataracts, the same condition alluded to in the expression くう (“flowers in the sky”)

“Sakyamuni Buddha said:

It is  as if a  person who  has  clouded eyes
Sees flowers in  space;
After  the sickness in  their  clouded eyes  is cured
The flowers in  space  vanish.

No scholars have clearly  understood  what was being  said here.  Because they do not know what  space  is, they  do  not know what flowers  in  space are. And  because they  do not know what  flowers  in  space  are,  they  do not know who has clouded  eyes, they  cannot  decide  who  has clouded eyes, they have not  met someone with clouded eyes,  and they have never experienced  clouded eyes themselves. On  meeting  a person who has clouded eyes, we can come  to know what flowers  in space  are, and  then we can  see  flowers  in space. 

Once we have  seen  flowers in  space, we  can  also  see  how flowers  in space vanish. The idea that  once flowers  in space vanish they will never reappear  is  a  small belief.  But  if  we  don’t  see flowers  in space,  what  is there to see?  If you only know flowers  in  space  as something to get  rid of, then you will  never come to  know the profound matter that  follows from flowers  in space, or the process by  which they germinate, blossom,  and fall free. 

Among the scholars of  the  day, most think of space  as  the sky – the place  where  yang-energy resides,  and  a  void in  which  the sun,  moon  and stars are suspended.  For example, they probably  think that  flowers in  space refers  to  colourful shapes floating  along  in a  clear  sky like  clouds; like floating blossoms being blown here  and  there by the  wind. They  do  not realise that  the constituents of  all  created things  and the things created by them, all that  is  known in  the Universe:  our original  state of balance, our original  nature,  and so  on,  are  all  flowers in  space.

Furthermore,  they do not know that  the constituents of  all  created things exist because of  those things,  and they do not  know that  the material  world exists stably because of the existence of  the real  things  in  it. They only think that  real  things exist because of  the  material  world they are  in. They  understand  that flowers in  space  exist only when  eyes  are clouded,  and  do not see the truth that  it  is flowers in  space that  cause clouded eyes  to exist. 

Remember, as long  as  you  are  following  the Buddha’s way,  when your  eyes  are  clouded,  you realise  your  original nature, you realise something  subtle, you  are  a buddha,  a person of  the three worlds, transcending  the state of buddha.  We should  not be  as  stupid  as to  believe that  clouded  eyes  are  to  be  avoided  and  that reality  is  to be found somewhere else. That is  a restricted view. If clouded  eyes  and  flowers were delusions, the person attaching  to  that wrong view must also  be a delusion,  and  the attachment must be  a  delusion. If  all is  delusion,  we can never establish anything  true. If  we  cannot establish  what is  true, there is no way that  we can assert  that  clouded eyes and  flowers are delusions.

When our realisation  is  clouded,  all of the constituents of  our realisation  are decorated  with clouds.  And when our delusions  are clouded,  all  the constituents of  our  delusions are decorated with clouds. For now,  let  us  say that when clouded eyes are  balanced, flowers  in space are balanced,  and when  clouded  eyes do  not appear, then flowers in space do not appear. When  all things show themselves as they are, then  clouds and  flowers  show themselves as they  are. This is not  in the same dimension as time  passing from  past  to  present to future, and is not a situation that  has  a beginning, middle,  and end.  It  is  not  like  a  situation that  arises  and passes; it  is  the very cause of the  arising and passing  – flowers  arising in  space  and passing in  space,  arising  in  clouded eyes  and passing in  clouded eyes, arising in  flowers and  passing  in flowers.  All other times  and places  are  also like  this.


There may be  many  different ways of  seeing  flowers  in space.  There is  seeing  with clouded eyes, seeing  with  clear eyes, seeing with buddhist eyes, seeing  with the eyes  of our  ancestors,  seeing  with eyes of  the  truth, and  seeing  with blind eyes. There  is  seeing with the eyes of  three thousand  years,  seeing  with the eyes  of  eight hundred years, seeing  with the eyes  of hundreds of  eons,  and  seeing  with the eyes  of numberless eons. Although  these  are  all ways  of seeing  flowers  in space,  there  are  also many kinds of space,  and many  kinds of flowers.


When we hear that space  is originally without flowers, if we understand  it  to mean  that  the flowers that  now exist in space were  not there originally,  our  viewpoint  is  narrow and  limited. We  should  move forward  and take  a more profound  view.  An ancestor said  “What  appears are never  flowers.” And the real meaning of  his  words is  that  flowers have never appeared, that  flowers have  never  disappeared,  that  the word “flowers” never captures  flowers,  and the word  “space” never captures space.  And  we  should not  play  around  with discussions of whether flowers exist  in space  or whether flowers  do not exist in space,  mixing up before flowering  and  after flowering  at random.


“all things  in  the Universe  are  showing their real  form. All things  in the  Universe  show  their  flower-form,  and  all things, those we know and others beyond  our  imagination, are  flowers in  space  and their fruits.  And experience  shows us that  those flowers  are tangible, just like the blossoms  of  apricot, willow, peach and plum  trees are tangible.


Maybe  we could  also  say  “As soon  as  you  recognise  that  the  flowers in  space are actually  in  your  eyes, all  the  clouds  instantly fall to the  ground,”  and  “If space  had its own eye,  all  the  clouds  would instantly fall  to  the  ground.”  This being so, the  word  clouded,  the word  eyes, and the word  space  all  describe Zenki [‘total activity’, or ‘workings of the universe’]. And  the phrase  instantly fall to the  ground  suggests the thousand eyes that  make up the body of  Bodhisatttva  Avalokitesvara. In  sum, whenever  and wherever  eyes exist, there we will find  flowers  in  space, and  flowers  in our  eyes, but we say  that these flowers in  our  eyes  are  in space.


Zen Master  Sekimon Etetsu lived  in  Great Sung  dynasty China in  a temple on  Ryozan  Mountain. One day  a  monk asked  him,  “What is  ‘the jewel in  the mountain’?”  What  he  is  actually  asking  here  is  “What  is buddha?” or  “What  is  the truth?” The  Master  replies,  “Flowers in  space unfold on  the  ground. Throughout  the  whole  of this land, there is no  gate  to our search for the  truth.”  Other  descriptions  of flowers in  space can never match up to this.


All events happen  on the  ground;  that is where  they unfold.  Just at this very  moment  there is  a vast  ground  on which  everything  is  unfolding; everything opens on this  vast ground.  The words  “Throughout  the whole  of this land, there  is no  gate to  our search for  the  truth”  don’t mean  that, since   there is no gate we are unable to look  for the truth; they mean  that  when we look  for  the truth, there is no barrier. Flowers in  space open on  the ground,  and this vast  ground itself  depends on the opening of  flowers.  The principle that  we need to recognise  is that  both the ground  and space  are  flowers  in space  unfolding.”

From “Flowers in the Sky” [‘Kūge’ 空 ( くう)] , in the Shōbōgenzō, by Eihei Dōgen (a talk on 10th March 1243)

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