This is a book of epigrams, epigrams that encapsulate
the teaching the Buddha first transmitted 2,400 years ago when he held up a flower and Kashyapa smiled. They're that simple. The Chinese call them ming. Like the epigrams of ancient Greece, they consist of couplets that can stand alone or be linked together. And like their Mediterranean counterparts, they were inscribed, rather than spoken or sung. They were embroidered, carved, or written on all sorts of things: doorways, tombstones, ritual bronzes, even items of daily use like washbasins and writing brushes. Their salient feature was a few pithy phrases conveying something worth keeping in mind, and they usually rhymed. For example, taxes in ancient China were paid in silk, and this epigram was embroidered on robes: 'The silkworms suffered / the weaving women weren't pleased / any new taxes / we're all sure to freeze.' Ezra Pound took his motto from one inscribed on the washbasin of a king who lived 4,000 years ago: 'Make it new / new every day / and make it new again.'