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Buddha With A Black Nose

A famous story about a Zen nun is: She had a beautiful golden Buddha, a very artistic, aesthetic statue of Buddha, made of pure gold. And the nun used to carry the Buddha wherever she would go. Buddhist monks and nuns have to go on moving for eight months in the year, except the four months of rain. So from one temple, from one monastery to another….

She was staying in one of the temples of China — she had gone to travel to Chinese temples and monasteries and that temple has ten thousand statues of Buddha. It is a unique temple in the whole world. Ten thousand statues… almost the whole mountain has been cut into statues and made into a temple; perhaps it has taken centuries to build it. She was staying there.

And this had been her constant worry: Every morning when she worships her golden Buddha, she puts flowers, sweets, burns incense — but you cannot depend upon the wind, upon the breeze. The fragrance arising out of the burning incense may not reach the golden Buddha’s nose, it may move in any direction.

In that temple there were ten thousand other Buddhas, and the fragrance was going to other Buddhas’ noses. And this was intolerable; this was too much. She was feeling very hurt, that her own poor Buddha is not getting any incense, and all these vagabonds…”And my Buddha is golden and they are just stones. And after all my Buddha is MY Buddha.”

This is how the mind functions: it is so possessive, it cannot even see that they are all statues of the same man. Which nose is getting the incense does not matter — it is reaching the Buddha. But “MY Buddha” — the old possessive mind continues.

So she devised a small method: she brought a bamboo, a hollow bamboo, and cut it into a small piece. She will burn the incense, and put the bamboo on top of it. One side will take the incense smoke in, and the other side she will put on the nose of her golden Buddha — almost like making him smoke! But that created a problem: her Buddha’s nose became black. That disturbed her even more.

She asked the high priest of the temple, “What should I do? My poor Buddha’s nose has become black.”

He said, “But how did it happen?”

She said, “I feel very embarrassed to say, it is my own doing.” And then she explained the whole thing.

The priest laughed.

He said, “All these are Buddhas here. One Buddha, ten thousand Buddhas — to whom it reaches does not matter. You should not be so miserly, so possessive. Buddha cannot be yours and cannot be mine. The nose of the Buddha has become black because of your possessiveness.”

And the priest said to her, “We are making each others’ faces black because of our possessiveness. If we could give without even thinking to whom it reaches…. Because to whomever it reaches, is part of the same existence as we are part of — it reaches to us.”

Osho – “The Hidden Splendor”

What Is the Spiritual Moral / Message of the “Buddha With A Black Nose” Story?

At its core lies the profound lesson of letting go, illustrated through the nun's possessive attachment to her golden Buddha. This spiritual moral invites us to reflect on the weight of possessiveness in our own lives and the liberation that comes from embracing the interconnectedness of all beings.

The first spiritual moral woven into the fabric of the story is the illusion of ownership. The nun, with her golden Buddha, grapples with the possessiveness of the mind — a possessiveness that blinds her to the shared essence of existence. The golden Buddha, a symbol of enlightenment, becomes a casualty of her attachment. This challenges us to examine the illusions of possession in our own lives and question the barriers we create when we cling to the idea of ‘mine' and ‘yours.'

The second spiritual moral unfolds as the nun attempts to manipulate the flow of incense to favor her golden Buddha. In her endeavor to control the direction of fragrance, she inadvertently blackens her Buddha's nose. Here, the story reveals the consequences of manipulation and control, urging us to relinquish the need to micromanage our surroundings. The blackened nose becomes a metaphor for the unintended outcomes that arise from the desire to dominate and control our experiences.

The third spiritual moral delves into the essence of unity and interconnectedness. The high priest, with his laughter, imparts a timeless wisdom: all Buddhas are one. The fragrance, the incense, and the Buddhas themselves are interconnected aspects of existence. This prompts us to question our own tendency to create divisions, distinctions, and separations. The laughter of the high priest echoes through the corridors of our consciousness, inviting us to embrace the oneness that transcends the boundaries of possessiveness.

The story unfurls its fourth spiritual moral as the high priest challenges the nun's possessiveness by stating, “Buddha cannot be yours and cannot be mine.” This statement echoes the universal truth that the essence of enlightenment, symbolized by the Buddha, is not confined to individual ownership. The possessiveness that tarnishes the golden Buddha's nose becomes a metaphor for the ways in which our egoic attachments can obscure the universal truths that unite us all.

The fifth spiritual moral illuminates the collective nature of existence. The high priest points out that in our possessiveness, we are collectively making each other's faces black. This mirrors the collective consequences of a world entangled in possessiveness, division, and ego-driven pursuits. The story invites us to recognize our shared responsibility in co-creating a reality that is either colored by unity or marred by possessiveness.

As we navigate the spiritual landscape of this story, the sixth spiritual moral emerges: the transformative power of self-awareness. The nun's realization that her possessiveness led to the blackening of her Buddha's nose serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of self-reflection. It beckons us to embark on an inner journey, uncovering the ways in which our attachments, desires, and possessiveness may be inadvertently darkening the light of our own spiritual path.

In conclusion, the story of the Zen nun and her golden Buddha offers profound insights into the intricacies of possessiveness, control, interconnectedness, unity, egoic attachments, and self-awareness. As we absorb the spiritual morals embedded in this narrative, we are guided toward a path of liberation — a path where the golden essence of enlightenment shines brightly, unobscured by the shadows of possessiveness, and where the fragrance of unity permeates the interconnected tapestry of existence.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflect on the symbolism of the golden Buddha in the story. How might this artistic, aesthetic statue represent spiritual enlightenment, and how does the nun's possessiveness towards it reflect our own tendencies to cling to symbolic aspects of our spiritual journey?
  2. Explore the theme of impermanence in the nun's constant movement from one temple to another. How does the impermanence of her physical surroundings mirror the transient nature of life, and in what ways might this impermanence influence her relationship with the golden Buddha?
  3. Consider the unique temple with ten thousand statues of Buddha. How does the sheer abundance of Buddhas in the temple convey the universality of spiritual presence? How might this abundance challenge our own notions of uniqueness and exclusivity in spiritual experiences?
  4. Reflect on the ritual of morning worship described in the story. How does the act of offering flowers, sweets, and burning incense reflect common practices in various spiritual traditions? In what ways do these rituals connect us to a deeper sense of reverence and connection?
  5. Delve into the nun's possessiveness and the priest's response to it. How does possessiveness hinder spiritual growth, and what insights can we gain from the priest's laughter and wisdom about the universality of spiritual experience?
  6. Explore the metaphor of the incense smoke and the bamboo contraption. How does the nun's attempt to control the direction of the fragrance symbolize our human tendency to manipulate and control spiritual experiences? In what ways might surrendering control lead to a more authentic connection with the divine?
  7. Reflect on the consequences of possessiveness as seen in the blackened nose of the golden Buddha. How might this blackened nose serve as a metaphor for the tarnishing of our spiritual journey when clouded by possessive attachments and distinctions?
  8. Consider the priest's perspective on giving without thinking to whom it reaches. How does this notion challenge our societal conditioning around possessiveness and exclusivity? In what ways might embracing a mindset of selfless giving enhance our spiritual experiences?
  9. Explore the priest's analogy of making each other's faces black due to possessiveness. How does this metaphor extend beyond the specific incident in the story to reflect the collective impact of possessiveness on our shared spiritual journey? How might releasing possessive attitudes contribute to collective spiritual growth?
  10. Reflect on the priest's profound statement that Buddha cannot be yours or mine. How does this insight challenge our ego-driven need for ownership and exclusivity in matters of spirituality? In what ways might recognizing the shared essence of existence open doors to a more inclusive and interconnected spiritual understanding?