Transmission of the Lamp

1. Mahakasyapa

One day, the World-honoured One offered up a flower with a twinkle in His eye; Makakashō’s face broke out in a smile. The World-honoured One said, “I have the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW, the wondrous HEART of nirvana, which I Transmit to Makakashō.”

Makakashō (Mahakasyapa) belonged to the Brahman caste; his Indian name was Kāśyapa which means ‘He of the Tortoise or of the Black-toothed Clan’ whilst here in our country he is known as ‘The Victorious and Esteemed Drinker of Light’. When he was born, a golden light filled the room, its rays pouring into Makakashō’s mouth, hence the epithet, ‘The Drinker of Light’. His body possessed a golden hue and had thirty of the fortunate marks, lacking only the fleshly protuberance (S. uṣṇīṣa) upon the crown of his head and the tuft of white hairs between his eyebrows; he first met the World-honoured One in front of the Shrine of Many Sons. No sooner had the World-honoured One addressed him, saying, “Welcome, mendicant monk,” than Makakashō’s hair and beard were forthwith removed and a kesa was draped about his body; he was then entrusted with the Eye and Treasury of the True Law. He practised the twelve austerities so as to control worldly desires and let the Mind of Truth show itself, not spending a moment of the twenty-four hours of a day in vain pursuits. The assembly was startled and had misgivings when they saw how terribly emaciated his body had become and how coarse and shabby his robes looked and, as a result, on each occasion when Shakyamuni preached the Dharma, He had Makakashō share His teaching seat with Him. From that time he was the most senior monk in the assemblies however, he was not only the senior monk in Shakyamuni Buddha’s community, he had also been the non-regressing senior monk in the communities of all the past Buddhas as well. You should know that he is spoken of as an ancient and revered Ancestor so do not group him amongst all those disciples who only pursued the Buddha’s words.

At the time when, on Vulture Peak (J. Ryōjusen; S. Gṛdrakūṭa-giri), before an assembly of eighty thousand, the World-honoured One offered up a flower with a twinkle in His eye, none grasped His frame of mind and all remained silent except for Makakashō who alone broke out in a smile. The World-honoured One said, “I have the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW, the wondrous HEART of nirvana, the perfectly pure and bright DHARMA-GATE that has no signs of restriction. I have Transmitted IT completely to Makakashō.”

The ‘offering up of a flower’ on that occasion has been passed on from Ancestor to Ancestor; those outside the Ancestral line are never allowed to know about it without good cause. It is not a matter for Scriptural scholars and teachers of philosophical debate, nor is it something for many teachers of meditation to be concerned with for, indeed, the Ancestors knew that such persons do not understand wherein the TRUTH of it lies. Be that as it may, most of today’s Transmission case histories do not speak of THAT which occurred at the assembly atop Vulture Peak but rather present the words spoken at the Transmission before the Shrine of Many Sons for what is recorded in such works as The Record of the Transmission of the Lamp and The Record of the Universal Lamp, regarding what was said before the assembly on Vulture Peak, is in error. In the first place, when the Buddha Dharma was Transmitted to Makakashō there was this ceremonial, the offering up of the flower, therefore, if you are not an Ancestor or Master who Transmits the Buddha-Mind Seal, you will not understand what is happening on these occasions of ‘offering up the flower’, nor will you have clarified for yourselves what this ‘offering up of the flower’ means. You who know the merits of meditation should meditate deeply upon this and scrutinize the matter carefully until you personally know that Makakashō is Makakashō and have clarified for yourselves that Shakyamuni is Shakyamuni, then individually Transmit, person to person, the profound, perfectly pure and bright WAY.

Let us put aside for the moment the ‘offering up of the flower’ to clarify what this ‘twinkling in the eye’ is. There is not a hairbreadth of difference between an ordinary, everyday raising of your eyebrows and winking and Gautama’s offering up the flower with a twinkle in His eye, nor is there in anyway a hairbreadth of difference between your speaking with a smile and Makakashō’s face breaking into a smile however, if you have not clarified for yourself what IT is that ‘raised His eyebrows and blinked His eyes’, then Shakyamuni and Makakashō remain in India whilst your skin, flesh, bones and marrow remain within your own minds like so many flowers beclouding your eyes and so much dust floating about! Untold aeons will have come and gone but you will still not be liberated so, for aeons to come, you will be swamped by the waves of unceasing births and deaths. Once you become conscious of the LORD OF THE HOUSE then, to be sure, Makakashō will be able to wriggle his toes in your sandals. Do you not know that Gautama completely vanished at the very moment when ‘Gautama raised His eyebrows and blinked His eyes’ and that Makakashō realized his TRUE SELF at the very moment when ‘Makakashō’s face broke out in a smile’? This is not the delusion of a personal substantive self! To the contrary, the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW has been completely entrusted to you yourself; therefore, whatever name you give IT, do not call IT Makakashō’s or Shakyamuni’s.

There is no Dharma to impart to another nor any to receive from another—this is what I call the TRUE DHARMA. To express this Shakyamuni held the flower aloft to let it be known that IT was, is and will be immutable and indestructible whilst Makakashō broke into a smile to let it be known that IT was, is and will be beyond beginning or end; in this way Master and disciple met face to face and their life-lines flowed into each other. Their perfectly pure, bright, full understanding has nothing to do with ‘thinking in the mind’.

Beyond doubt, Makakashō, through meditation, severed the roots of mentation and entered Cock’s-Foot Mountain (J. Keisokusan; S. Kukkuṭapāda-giri),where he was, is and will be waiting for the distant coming of Miroku (S. Maitreya), the Compassionate Sage, which is why Makakashō has not yet entered nirvana.

O monks, if you devote yourselves to studying the Way by meditating deeply and training hard, you will find that not only is Makakashō not dead but Shakyamuni, too, continues on unending. Hence, before any of you were born, the TRUTH was, is and will be Transmitted from person to person by a direct pointing to ORIGINAL NATURE and, from the distant past to the very present IT was, is and will be reverberating throughout the universe striking a resonant chord in all trainees wherever they may be. Therefore, O monks, do not yearn for the ancient days of two thousand years ago; if you are prompt to practise the Way right now, Makakashō will not enter Cock’s-Foot Mountain but can come forth into the world and actually reside herein the Land of the Red Hibiscus; Shakyamuni’s fleshly body will still be warm today and Makakashō will smile anew.

If you can reach this state, then you will all be heirs to Makakashō and he will receive the Transmission from you for not only does the VERY TRUTH come down to you from the Seven Buddhas but you can discover that you were, are and will be the Ancestors and Masters to the Seven Buddhas. Here, without beginning or end, beyond past, present and future IT will reside, ever Transmitting the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW to all.

Accordingly, Shakyamuni likewise received the Transmission from Makakashō who now resides in the Tushita Heaven just as you, too, reside immutable within the assembly atop Vulture Peak. Have you not read the verse in the Lotus Scripture which says:

“Ever do I abide on Vulture Peak
As well as in my other dwelling places;
Come the time when sentient beings see the aeon spent
And great fires consume the world,
This land of Mine will be safe and peaceful,
Filled with heavenly beings and humans.”

Vulture Peak is not His only dwelling place, as He said, so how could India, China and our land possibly be left out? The Tathagata’s TRUE DHARMA has flowed out through Transmission and not even a single bit of it has ever been lost. Since this is so, this community of ours must be the assembly on Vulture Peak and Vulture Peak must be this community. The Buddhas will appear or disappear in accordance with whether you are diligent or not. Today as well, if you persist in your practice of the Way, thoroughly penetrating into It, the venerable Shakyamuni will forthwith make an appearance. Shakyamuni entered nirvana in the distant past simply because you were not clear about your TRUE SELF. You are already His disciples, children of the Buddha, so why do you kill Buddha? Quickly practise the Way and immediately come face to face with your COMPASSIONATE ONE.

As always, the VENERABLE ONE SHAKYAMUNI and you walk, stand, sit and lie down together; HE talks and visits with you without the two of you ever being separated even for an instant. If in this lifetime you do not lay eyes on this VENERABLE ONE, then you will all be thoroughly undutiful beings. Already you were, are and will be children of Buddha so, should you be undutiful, not even the hands of a thousand Buddhas will be able to assist you.

Today, as a descendant of the Mahayana tradition of Daijō Monastery, I again have some humble words that try to point out the principle in this story. Do you all wish to hear them?

Know that hidden deep within
the cloud-enshrouded valley
There still remains the SACRED PINE
enduring through the chill of time.

(from The DENKOROKU: The Record of the Transmission of the Light by Zen Master Keizan Jokin. Translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, Shasta Abbey Press, 2001.)