Once, when the World-Honored One was at Mount Grdhrakuta, he twirled a flower before his assembled disciples. Everyone was silent; only Mahakashyapa broke into a smile.
The World-Honored One said, “I have the all-pervading true Dharma, the subtle mind of nirvana, and the flawless teaching of no-form. This does not depend on language and is a special transmission outside the scriptures. I now entrust it to Mahakashyapa.”
Once...Once upon a time... Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away... Start a story like that and its a dead giveaway. Though we have stepped out of history, the story compells us: Take note! You don't want to miss this! Here is the story of one of Buddha's sermon on Vutture Peak where he "transmits" the dharma to his successor, Mahakashyapa.. Though this story is indisputably mythic in origin, it is too good not to be true. But, be careful! The paradox of this and perhaps all truth is that if you try to tie it down it slips your grasp. The action is pretty clear and simple, the Buddha twirled a flower and Mahakashyapa smiled.
What is this smile? Have you ever been stopped by a flower? That is, stopped in your tracks. Or have you ever looked into a baby's eyes to see the universe looking back? One day Xiangyan was out sweeping the temple grounds. A stone hits a stalk of bamboo -- Tock! That was enough for Xiangyan, who says at the sound "I forgot all that I knew." A flower, a smile, a tock sound of stone on bamboo. What happens at the sound, at the sight? The whole universe opens up. We become ignorant of what we thought we knew about things, to immediatly experience the world as it comes to us.. It is as if we have been walking around blind thinking we really see, to have our eyes opened as the previous blindness reveals itself. And we literally forget:what worried us, what obsessed us, what consumed our energy, time, life. Our life, never distant, is experienced here and now. Scales fall from our eyes as we find ourselves.
Mahakashyapa sees the flower in the Buddha's hand, breaking into a smile. The Buddha, then begins to speak gibberish, something about subtle mind and flawless teaching. So precious is the Buddha's speech that those who hear just might make something of it, something they think they need, something they think they can depend on. And this special transmission to Mahakashyapa, what is that? Whatever has been transmitted?
Wumen, the compiler of the Gateless Gate gives it to us straight:
Twirling a flower,
the snake shows its tail.
Mahakashyapa breaks into a smile,
and neither humans nor gods know what to do.
Let's meditate together this Wednesday. Then we can share our lives as reflected in this koan.