Buddha in his youth. Odilon Redon. 1904. Private Collection.
Prophecies at the birth of Prince Siddhārtha foretold his becoming either a great king or a great holy man. Throughout his childhood and even until he was a young adult, his father successfully sheltered him from all knowledge of the suffering of the world. However, at the age of twenty-nine, a pivotal encounter changed the course of his life. Siddhārtha went out to meet with his subjects and although his father usually barred the sick, aged and suffering from these audiences, on this occasion Prince Siddhārtha beheld the face of an old man for the first time. This was the beginning of his consciousness of old age, illness and death. It was also the beginning of a personal pilgrimage which eventually led to his enlightenment at the age of thirty-five.
THE TEACHING OF THE FLOWER
If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.
Siddhārtha Buddha (circa 563 BCE to 400 BCE), spiritual teacher, founder of Buddhism
The Buddha was on a mountain teaching when he picked a flower and held it up silently. All the disciples watched with bewilderment until one, Mahākāśyapa, began smiling. Then the Buddha said,
I have the true Dharma eye, the mind of Nirvana, the true form of no-form, and the flawless Dharma gate of the teaching. It is not established upon words and phrases. It is a special transmission outside tradition. I now entrust this to Mahākāśyapa.
In this famous teaching of the flower, the Buddha teaches that enlightenment is beyond theories and teachings, and is possible through the immediate experience of Life.