拈華微笑 [ねんげみしょう] – heart-to-heart communication

If you’ve known me, or have been reading this website, for any length of time, you probably know that I love 四字熟語, or four-character idiomatic compounds.  Sometimes, they poetically express meaning that may not be obvious on the surface.  Sometimes, they make references to history or spirituality.  Today’s phrase covers all the aforementioned bases.

The story goes that 釈迦 Gautama Siddartha (Shakyamuni), the founder of Buddhism, was explaining Buddhism to his disciples by silently twirling a lotus blossom.   Only one of his students, having grasped the inner meaning of Gautama’s teaching, smiled.  Thus, the phrase 拈華微笑 means “twirling a flower and subtly smiling.”

There are a number of other four-character compounds that also have similar meanings:

  • 以心伝心 – direct communication from one heart to another
  • 維摩一黙 – there is more value in silence than in eloquence
  • 拈華瞬目 – twirling a flower and winking
  • 笑拈梅花 – smiling while twirling a plum blossom
  • 不立文字 – enlightenment cannot be reached through words
  • 黙契秘旨 – a secret principle, taught silently

A Duke Ellington quote comes to mind: “The artist must say it without saying it.”

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  • Lotus

    Beautiful – Thank you

    We are Lotus currently a trio of musians consisting of Voice, Santur & Cello
    The music came and the name lotus was such a strong resonnance in all of us.
    We would would very much like to share your post with the lovely people that enjoy our music. If you would like you are welcome to listen at

    Soft kisses
    Lotus Love

  • Ryannesaddler

    Happy to discover your bog as the result of my search for an image of a lotus blossom.  Thank you for the story and the lesson.  Perfect timing, because I was meditating on subtle beauty.