Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #6
Buddha Holds Up a Flower
Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #6
Buddha Holds Up a Flower
- BUDDHA Shakyamuni (480-400 BCE)
- KASYAPA, "more exactly Mahakasyapa, was one of the ten greatest disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Born as a Brahman, he became the only successor of the Buddha according to the Zen tradition. After Shakyamuni’s death he became the top of the Buddhist community. He is considered to be the first Patriarch, famous for his personal, life-long and extremely strict ascetism." (Sato's note.) He is recognized in all Buddhist traditions as a main disciple of Gautama Buddha who convened and directed the First Buddhist council. The case tells the story of the first dharma transmission. The tale was created by Chinese Chán Buddhists and the earliest known version appeared in 1036. Date guess: ca. 403 BCE
Case (Sato, Yamada)
Once in ancient times, when the World-Honored One was at Mt. Grdhrakûta, he held up a flower, twirled it, and showed it to the assemblage.Mt. Grdhrakûta, or Vulture Peak, where Shakyamuni Buddha preached, is located near the capital of Magada in ancient India. (Yamada's note.)
At this, they all remained silent. Only the venerable Kashyapa broke into a smile.
The World-Honored One said: “I have the eye treasury of the true Dharma, the marvelous mind of nirvana, the true form of no-form, the subtle gate of the Dharma. It does not depend on letters, being specially transmitted outside all teachings. Now I entrust Mahakashyapa with this.”
 Aitken: I have the eye treasury of right Dharma, the subtle mind of nirvana, the true form of no-form, and the flawless gate of the teaching. It is not established upon words and phrases. It is a special transmission outside tradition.
Cleary: I have the treasury of the eye of truth, the ineffable mind of nirvana, the most subtle of teachings on the formlessness of the form of reality. It is not defined in words, but is specially transmitted outside of doctrine.
Gu: I have the treasury of the true dharma eye, the wondrous mind of nirvana, the true form of no-form, the subtle and wondrous gate to the dharma, the special transmission outside of scriptural teachings not established on words and language.
Hinton: I possess the perfect dharma of the eye's treasure-house, the nirvana of mind's mysterious depths, the true form of formlessness, the subtle mystery of the dharma-gate. Not relying on words and texts, outside teaching and beyond doctrine --
Low: I have the all-pervading True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, exquisite teaching of formless form, The Subtle Dharma Gate. It is not dependent on letters and is transmitted outside the scriptures.
Sekida: I have the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma Gate, independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine.
Senzaki: I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the true aspect of non-form, and the ineffable gate of Dharma. It is not expressed in words, but is transmitted beyond the teachings.
Shibayama: I have the all-pervading True Dharma, incomparable Nirvana, exquisite teaching of formless form. It does not rely on letters and is transmitted outside scriptures.
Wumen's Comment (Sato, Yamada)
The golden-faced Gautama insolently suppressed noble people and made them lowly. He sells dog's flesh under the label of sheep's head. I thought there should be something of particular merit in it. If at that time, however, all those attending had smiled, how would the eye treasury of the true Dharma have been transmitted? Or if Kashyapa had not smiled, how would he have been entrusted with it?Hinton: His face yellow, color of earth, Shakyamuni treated people like they were nothing. He made the wondrous appear worthless, hung dog meat out for sale as fine lamb. He might have thought it the most marvelous of things, but what if the whole sangha had smiled? How could he have handed down that perfect dharma of the eye's treasure-house? And supposing Mahakashyapa hadn't smiled? How could he have handed it down then? If you claim that perfect dharma of the eye's treasure-house can be handed down using the ten thousand things of Presence, that yellow-faced Lao Tzu's just a hawker swindling people at the gates of a market village. And if you claim it can only be handed down using Absence, how could he acknowledge its transmission to Mahakashyapa alone?
If you say that the eye treasury of the true Dharma can be transmitted, then that is as if the golden-faced old man is swindling country people at the town gate. If you say it cannot be transmitted, then why did Buddha say he entrusted only Kashyapa with it?
Wumen's Verse (Sato)
In handling a flower, Aitken: Twirling a flower, the snake shows its tail.
The tail of the snake already manifested itself.
Kashyapa breaks into a smile,
Nobody on earth or in heaven knows what to do.
Cleary: When he picked up the flower, The tail was already showing;
Gu: Holding up the flower -- The fox's tail is already revealed.
Hinton: Holding a flower out, raising it up: it's the final insight fully revealed,
Low: Holding up a flower, The secret is revealed.
Sekida: Holding out a flower, The Buddha betrayed his curly tail.
Senzaki: At the twirling of a flower His disguise was exposed.
Shibayama: A flower is held up, And the secret has been revealed.
 Aitken: Mahakasyapa breaks into a smile, and people and devas are confounded.
Cleary: Kashyapa broke into a smile, Peope and spirits were at a loss.
Gu: Kasyapa's smile -- Humans and devas are all bewildered!
Hinton: Mahakashyapa's smile-creased face baffling all heaven and earth alike.
Low: Kasho smiles. Who else knows what to do?
Sekida: Heaven and earth were bewildered At Mahakashyapa's smile.
Senzaki: No one in heaven or on earth can surpass Mahakashyapa's crinkled face.
Shibayama: Kasho breaks into a smile; The whole assemblage is at a loss.
The fable of the Buddha twirling a flower filled a great need for connection with the founder, and it was picked up immediately and repeated like gospel. The "Four Principles" attributed to Bodhidharma were also formulated during the Song period [960-1279], some six hundred years after Bodhidharma's time, using some of the same language attributed to the Buddha: "A special transmission outside tradition -- not established on words or letters." The Song teachers were making important points with their myths.Songxian's Comment (Cleary)
True religious practice is grounded in the nonhistorical fact of essential nature. "The World-Honored One Twirls a Flower," "Baizhang's Fox," and all the other fabulous cases of Zen lieteratur are your stories and mine intimate accounts of our own personal nature and experience.
The presentational mode of communication is very mportant in Zen Buddhist teaching. In Philosophy in a New Key, Susanne Langer distinguishes between "Presentational" and "Discursive" communication. The presentational might be in words, but it might also be a laugh, a cry, a blow, or any other kind of communicative action. It is poetical and nonexplanatory -- the expression of Zen. The discursive, by contrast, is prosaic and explanatory.
The question is: "Suppose you were Mahakasyapa there, smiling in the crowd. What might you be saying under your breath?"
What is transmission, after all? Certainly it is not a heavenly decree. Transmission is not identifiabe by any set of fixed criteria. The Buddha himself cannot be distinguished by any particular features or qualities. Nonetheless, something happened there at Mount Grdhrakuta -- and that something continues to happen in upright Zen programs everywhere.
The realization experience is itself a kind of transmission. This story of the Buddha twirling a flower is an archetype for the unity of these two kinds of transmission: first the message of the fower and second the acknowledgment of the Buddha. The flower is one of the myriad things that advance from nowhere and confirm the self. Confirmation by a sense experience of the world, confirmation by the master, and, finally, confirmation by the Buddha Sangha -- these are the three transmissions. All three are transformational experiences, and no one can teach unless each of them is in place.
One's garbled words disturb the crowd, another took up the empty and accepted the false. Both of them were seeing ghosts in front of their skulls. Too bad none of them at the meeting were robust; as a result the chase still goes on.Songhua's Comment (Cleary)
When Buddha held up the flower, he was "so concerned for his children that he was unconscious of being unseemly." When Kashyapa smiled, he "stuck his brains in a bowl of glue."A Zen Proverb (Cleary)
This is It, but as soon as you recognize it explicitly, then it's not It anymore.Cleary's Comment
The Lotus Scripture, and this Zen koan, are about what Indian Buddhists call tathata, which means "thusness" or "suchness," meaning the way things are in objective reality, without subjective distortion This experience of reality is also called yathabhuta, which means "being-as-is," reality as it is perceived after the mind is freed from the limitations of its own conceptual attachments. In practical terms, the scripture and the story are about realization of the identity of samsara and nirvana.Daido Loori's Comment
The good news is that the union of samsara and nirvana is accessible, in the direct experience of suchness. The bad news is that an immature understanding of the principle leads right back into a quagmire of attachment to thoughts and things, although now with the empty grace of imagining this state to be ultimate reality.
The teachings on the unity of samsara and nirvana are elixir for those who can digest them, poison for those who cannot digest them.
Buddha originally spoke of nirvana as ultimate peace to induce people to leave their vexing and harrying mundane preoccupations aside; only after they had done this were they given to realize that this nirvana was just an expedient, designed to liberate them from the confines of subjective imagination to the infinity of the real world outside.
The point is to keep the mind open to the infinity of reality, not to congratulate yourself at having found the nose on your face.
In one sense there is no transmission of any direct knowledge or understanding from one person to another, because the teaching is reality itself and the direct knowledge and understanding of suchness must be first hand. In anoterh sense there is transmission, in that conscious participation in reality is not a subjective experience, but is by nature shared in common with anyone who has the same objective experience. Kashyapa was already enlightened when he met Buddha; he recognized Buddha's enlightenment, and Buddha recognized his enlightenment.
The treasury of the true dharma eye has never been given to others and has never been received by another. Why, then, was Kashyapa singled out from among the thousands gathered? If you think the truth of this koan lies in holding up a flower, twirling, or smiling, then you have missed the eye treasury of the true dharma by a thousand miles. Roots and branches are fleeting moments of the one reality.Gu's Comment
Twenty-eight generations later, Bodhidharma continued the teachings, thus becoming the father of the Chan tradition in China, which maintains this "wordless" dharma -- embodied by the Buddha's holding up a flower -- as its fountainhead teachings.Low's Comment
It was not the smile that the Buddha was acknowledging. It was the natural expression of Mahakasyapa's wisdom.
What is it that is being transmitted? The awakening mind? This is not good enough because it is just an idea learned from books or other people.
If you say it cannot be transmitted, then you're wrong. Why did Buddha approve Mahakasyapa's response then? If you say it can be transmitted, you're also wrong.
If everyone already has it, what is the point of transmission? Is it something that only a small cluster of Buddha's close disciples have? Is there something special or marvelous about it?
Is the true, intrinsic nature of human beings to have vexations, to generate emotional afflications like anguish, jealousy, hatred, arrogance, and to cause suffering for oneself and others? No! Our true nature is compassion, which is the function of wisdom.
To be able to see things as they are, to have the eye that perceives all, free from vexations, is to practice and realize the dharma. What makes the dharma eye "true" is to perceive without getting in the way, without filtering and processing through gaining or losing, benefit or harm -- things as they are, as empty of self.
Everything and everyone -- instant by instant -- already possesses the treasury of the true dharma eye, etc. The Buddha was merely pointing out the obvious. You naturally have the beautiful smile of Mahakasyapa. All you have to do is smile.
If you are still seeking after water while holding a bottle of it in your hand, or are trying to get rid of things in your life yet unwilling to let go of of the grasping hand, then please take up this case and ask yourself, "Where is my treasury of the true dharma eye?"
If you want to see into this koan you must see into Mahakashyapa's smile. The only way to do this to to become Mahakashyapa. So for the coming week I want you to let Mahakashyapa's smile appear on your lips and in your hearts. I am not askingyou to carry a "Pepsodent" smile around. What smile did Mahakashyapa have?Dogen's Comment (Low)
It is through the smile that the light of love, the One, shines through. With Mahakashyapa the light was not reflected; it emanated straight from the source. If we can smile with Mahakashyapa, we smile as Mahakashyapa, we do not smaile at or because of anything. It is nonobstruction that is transmitted from heart to heart. The marvelous mind of Nirvana, the exquisite teaching of formless form, the subtle dharma gate are all in the smile.
Every country has the true flower: beautiful, undefiled truth. Even though this truth abounds with peace and tranquility, the ordinary person cannot understand it. The true flower shows the truth simultaneously with the truth showing the true flower.Sekida's Comment
Shakyamuni, holding out a flower, is demonstrating his state of samadhi. "Samadhi" is usually interpreted as the state of total involvement of the whole personality with whatever it is that the person is doing. But there are many different kinds of samadhi. Absolute samadhi is a total involvement and integration, with no object and no activity. Positive samadhi is a total involvement with some object or activity. Thus a painter, as he picks up zir brush, will become completely concentrated in zir involvement with painting. This is involuntary. Voluntary samadhi can be attained first through absolute samadhi, which constitutes the essential foundation for all samadhi Being well practiced in absolute samadhi, you can enter positive samadhi at will. Truly, it is a delightful thing! Fixing your eyes upon a blade of grass or a stone, it begins to shine with the beauty of its essential nature. You are in the closest intimacy with the object. Buddha was demonstrating his positive samadhi: his oneness, his closest intimacy, with the flower and through it the universe.Senzaki's Comment
Mahakashyapa fully understood the Buddha's samadhi, and he involuntarily expressed himself in a smile.
Mahakashyapa understood directly from his own experience the truth that the Buddha was demonstrating. This attainment ot the truth is beyond doctrine. Doctrine only follows as a conceptual paraphrase of the experience itself.
Buddha suddenly showed his Zen, twirling a flower that someone had offered him. He usually mentioned flowers in metaphor. On this occasion, it was entirely different. Buddha expressed his own enlightenment in such a simple manner -- twirling a flower before his listeners. Each was bewildered by thoughts about what the teacher meant.Hakuin's Comment (Shibayama)
Mahakashyapa entered into the inner realm the Buddha's realm. He smiled innocently, like a happy child.
What sort of eye could it have been which was transmitted from the Buddha to Kashyapa and which made the latter comprehend something incomprehensible in the flower in the Buddha's hand?
Everybody, male or female, without exception, has the True Dharma. Still, Shakyamuni expressly declared that he had handed it to Kasho alone. He is certainly deceiving people. Yet I won't say that there was no transmission taking place. I now hold up my hossu like this, the truth of which no dull ordinary monks can ever grasp. Kasho grasped it, so he smiled. There will not be too many who can fully appreciate the real significance of this smile. When one gets it, there is the true transmission.Shibayama's Comment
Zen points to the fundamental realization from which ethics and other human virtues originate.An Old Zen Master (Shibayama)
Zen transmission is aways based on the actual experience of each individual, and at that same time the experience of a disciple and that of his teaher are to be one and the same. This is why Zen, while insisting on the absolute necessity of standing on one's own experience, attaches much importance to teacher-disciple transmission and takes it most seriously.
"Teacher-disciple transmission" in Zen is "teacher-disciple identification" where the experience of the teacher and that of his disciple are in complete accord with each other. They fundamentally originate in one and the same Truth.
In Kasho's smile the wonder of the teacher-disciple identification was accomplished.
I am a flower. The whole universe is a flower. If a thought of consciousness moves, it is gone altogether. Those who know will immediately know it. Those who cn see will at once see it.
The talk on Mt. Grhrakuta is vividly taking place now, right before us.
"True Dharma" is the Dharma of as-it-isness, where not even a thought of consciousness is working. It is "it," or the Truth that transcends space and time. Therefore just as it is, "it" is here right now. If you truly cast yourself away, True Dharma is ever luminous here and now.
Apart from the fact experienced and testified to by each one of us there can be no true Zen tradition, no active Zen transmission.
As I see it with my mind of no-mindAnother Old Zen Master (Shibayama)
It is I-myself, this flower held up!
The rain ast night scattered the flowers;Yamada's Comment
Fragrant is the castle surrounded by running waters.
The very life of Zen is build on this fact: Buddha's religious experience is transmitted from an enlightened master to a disciple. The most important thing a Zen student can do is to make sure he or she is studying under an authentic teacher. In the Buddha's handling a flower, we must recognize the world of the empty-infinite. It cannot be grasped mentally, and if you think you might have understood this world of the empty-infinite, that understanding has nothing to do with Zen. The essential nature of our own self and the essential substance of the whole universe is one. The fact of this essential nature cannot be transmitted by thoughts or explanations. No words, no matter how clearly we may understand them, will bring us to a realization of this essential nature. Once you have experienced enlightenment, all of these expressions will become as clear as a jewel in the palm of your hand. You will come to see that each of them is nothing but another name for our own essential nature.Daido's Verse
Appearing without form,Hotetsu's Verse
Responding in accord with the imperative.
The fragrance of the flower held up
Fills the universe existing right here now.
If you are genuine,
like a running brook, like a crow,
Or like that weed in Buddha's hand,
Then the treasury is transmitted to you
Every time you smile, and
Every time you don't.
If you ask, "how can I become genuine?" then you are lost.
Sit down, shut up, and see
That you have never not been.
Illustration by Mark Morse