In 1951, Dr. George Harding, with the National Capital Parks in Washington, looked in amazement at a lotus sprout. The lotus seed that had just come to life was a “relic of one of the early crops of lotus cultivated by Buddhists” at an ancient dry lakebed at Pulantien (Laoning Province, China) after the introduction of Buddhism to the region.
This particular lotus seed had been collected by a Japanese scientist named Ichiro Ohga and had been carbon-dated to be approximately 1300 years old, thus holding the seed-germination longevity record.
Had we been standing next to Dr. Harding, marveling at the showy, dish-like leaves and the beautiful pink of the lotus corolla rising gracefully above the surface of the water, we might have thought: “How is it possible for a living thing to remain itself, unaffected amidst the mud of its circumstance, for such a long, long time?”
It is exactly this question of identity that preoccupied Chandrakirti, the seventh-century Buddhist thinker who happened to die around the very time Dr. Harding’s lotus seed was born. Indeed, what is identity? What is essence? What is purity? What is self? Or are these questions just different ways of looking at the same issue?