website design software

The World Honored One Twirls a Flower: Mumonkan Case 6

Once, in ancient times, when the World-Honored One was at Mount Grdhrakata, he twirled a flower before his assembled disciples. All were silent. Only Mahakasyapa broke into a smile.

The World-Honored One said, "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. I now entrust this to Mahakasyapa."

Wu-men's Comment

Gold-faced Gautama insolently degrades noble people to commoners. He sells dog flesh under the sign of mutton and thinks it is quite commendable.

Suppose that all the monks had smiled - how would the eye treasury have been transmitted? Or suppose that Mahakasyapa had not smiled Ð how could he have been entrusted with it?

If you say that the eye treasury can be transmitted, that would be as if the gold-faced old fellow were swindling people in a loud voice at the town gate. If you say the eye treasury cannot be transmitted, then why did the Buddha say that he entrusted it to Mahakasyapa?

Wu-men's Verse

Twirling a flower, The snake shows its tail. Mahakasyapa breaks into a smile, And people and devas are confounded.

This case tells the legend of the first transmission of the Dharma - a story that for centuries has served as the model of master - disciple intimacy. One day, Buddha's disciple gathered around, expecting him to deliver his usual teisho. Buddha's teishos fill volumes Ð he had nothing against extended philosophical explications of the Dharma. But on this occasion, he said nothing. Silently, he held up a flower. Of all the disciples, only Mahakasyapa, recognized that this simple gesture was the teisho, and that with the Buddha had fully revealed the Dharma. A flower, a smile. Student and teacher share One Mind.

Only then did Buddha speak. "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. I now entrust this to Mahakasyapa."

What did he possess? What did he entrust? Mumon is scathing. "He sells dog flesh under the sign of mutton." Can anyone possess this moment? Can anyone entrust it to another? If you think the teacher has something you don't, what is it? The teacher's job isn't to show you what he has, but what you have. At the same time, Mumon insists, "If you say that the eye treasury cannot be transmitted, why did the Buddha say he entrusted it to Mahakasyapa?"

Dharma transmission isn't a matter of giving and getting, but an acknowledgement of intimacy, an acknowledgement of One Mind, Buddha smiling at Buddha. After all these years, what did I get from my teacher, Joko? Simply a shared understanding of the nature and responsibility of practice. When I first started studying with her, I was intrigued by her novel way of practicing and was eager to hear her every word and to soak up this new approach. But as the years went by, I found myself no longer wondering, "What would Joko say?" but simply began to answer my own - others' - questions for myself. Nothing dramatic. Just no experience of any gap between my understanding and hers. It was like the old parable that compares practice to a long walk on a foggy day. The mist is so fine that at first you hardly notice it at all, but by the end of your day's hike, you're soaked through and through. How thoroughly you're soaked through and through is the measure of your understanding, not how far you've hiked. "It is not established upon words or phrases." There's no "curriculum" to complete, no set course of koans whose completion entitles you to your Zen diploma.

"The snake shows it tail" - the secret is revealed - everyday by our every little gesture, our every little response. How do we respond when we know a secret? A simple smile - or a self-conscious "knowing" smirk?

We end every day's sitting chanting that "Life as it is - the only Teacher". How do we receive transmission from that Teacher? That is the Dharma transmission that really matters, isn't it? "Dharma" means not only the Buddha's teaching, but each moment of experience itself. Each moment of our lives, Life holds up a flower. Each moment gives us the opportunity us to accept or reject that flower, to smile or to turn away in ignorance of the moment's teaching. How will you respond?