Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Chop Down That Flag!

So remember Mahakasyapa? The one who smiled? The one who received the golden embroidered winter robe from the Buddha himself and along with it the true Dharma eye treasury and wondrous mind of nirvana? What did he do with this transmission that he received?

Well, it turns out that he, in turn, passed it on to Ananda. Ananda was Buddha's cousin and personal attendant, a constant companion to the Buddha throughout the World Honored One's life. Ananda was born on the morning that the Buddha realized his enlightenment and was subsequently present at every one of the Buddha's discourses and had a memory so prodigious that after the Buddha passed away, Ananda was able to recall every lecture and every discourse spoken over the Buddha's long career.

But knowing and even understanding the teachings of the Buddha is not the same as realizing them, and although it might seem natural for the first teacher-to-student transmission to have been from the Buddha to the ever-faithful Ananda, it was actually to that old ascetic Mahakasyapa. After the Buddha's final nirvana, Ananda subsequently attended to Mahakasyapa for 20 years.

One day, Ananda asked Mahakasyapa, "My elder brother in the Dharma, when the World Honored One transmitted his golden embroidered winter robe to you did he pass on anything else?"

Mahakasyapa called out, "Ananda," and when Ananda acknowledged him, Mahakasyapa said, "Chop down the flag pole in front of your temple gate!"

Upon hearing those words, Ananda awakened to his true self and received the true Dharma eye treasury and wondrous mind of nirvana. Legend has it that Mahakasyapa kept the golden embroidered winter robe and resides to this day in the Himalaya, waiting to present the robe to the future Buddha Maitreya.

As previously noted, Ananda knew all of the Buddha's teachings better than any of the other disciples, and had them all memorized. The other disciples had praised Ananda to Mahakasyapa, saying, "As the Buddha's attendant, Ananda heard more of what the Buddha said than any other and has thoroughly retained it. It is as if it were water that has been poured from one vessel into another without a drop being spilled."

But realization does not depend on mere knowledge and learning. Even if one is sharp of mind and keen of ear, able to hear, comprehend and retain all manner of books and sacred teachings, but is unable to penetrate their own true self, one will not realize true enlightenment.

The "flag pole" in front of Ananda's temple gate was his ego-self, or more precisely, his conception that he existed as an ego-self separate from the rest of the universe. Although he had a complete understanding and knowledge of the Buddha's teaching, he still felt that there was an "Ananda" who somehow "possessed" this knowledge and understanding. This delusion kept him from fully grasping the meaning of the Buddha's truth. It was only until Mahakasyapa, sensing that the moment was right, surprised him with the command to cut down the flag in front of his temple's gate that he finally was able to directly see his own true self nature.

Do not rest on mere understanding. Do not "get" this story.

- Posted by Shokai, who still waves a flag in front of his temple gate.

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