Ananda asked Makakashō, “My elder brother in the Dharma, when the World-honoured One Transmitted the kesa of gold brocade to you did He pass on anything else?” Makakashō called out, “Ananda!” When Ananda acknowledged the call, Makakashō said, “Chop down the flag pole in front of your temple gate!” and Ananda awakened to his TRUE SELF.
Ananda was a member of the caste of warrior-nobles in the city of Rajagriha; his father was Lord Kokuhan (S. Droṇo-dana, ‘He Who Is as a Valley Stream’). Ananda was, in fact, the World-honoured One’s cousin and his name (S. Ānanda) means ‘He Who Is a Delight’ or ‘He Who Is a Joy’; he was born on the night that the Tathagata realized enlightenment. His classically handsome form and face were without equal in any of the sixteen nations of India and everyone who saw him was filled with joy and delight, whence his name. He was unsurpassed in learning as well as quick in memory and bright, to say nothing of being highly esteemed for his broad learning. For twenty years he was the Buddha’s attendant; there was nothing that the Buddha had preached which he could not repeat for he had constantly studied how the Buddha deported Himself. At the same time that Shakyamuni Transmitted the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW to Makakashō, He also entrusted (but did not Transmit) IT to Ananda, saying,“Please assist him in his Transmission of IT.” Because of this, Ananda attended on Makakashō for the following twenty years and it was never said of him that he failed to communicate the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW completely and in every way possible.
It should be evident that the Way of the Ancestors and Masters is different from the other Buddhist traditions. Ananda was already the one who had heard most of what the Buddha had taught, had broad learning and was quite erudite; many were the times when the Buddha personally expressed His approval of him even though He had not yet Transmitted the TRUE LAW to him since he had not clarified what the foundation of his mind was. At the time when Makakashō was assembling the Buddha’s legacy of teachings for the benefit of the conclave meeting at Hippara Cave (S. Pipphali, ‘Pepper’, Makakashō’s childhood nickname), Ananda was denied entrance to Makakashō’s quarters as he had not yet realized for certain. Reflecting upon this in private, Ananda suddenly realized the fruits of arhanthood. When he then sought to enter, Makakashō said, “If you have now realized for certain, you should be able to enter through a display of your spiritual powers.” Ananda made himself very small so that he might enter by the keyhole, that is, his display of genuine humility served as the ‘key’ to unlock the door for him, and he thus entered Hippara Cave after all.
The disciples said to Makakashō, “As the Buddha’s attendant, Ananda heard more of what the Buddha said than any other and has thoroughly retained it; it is just as if it were water that has been poured from one vessel into another without a drop being spilt. We pray that you will invite Ananda to repeat what the Buddha preached.” Makakashō told Ananda, “As the community has chosen you, please ascend the Dharma seat and once again proclaim what He preached.” Ananda, keeping to himself that he had received the Tathagata’s entrustment, rose upon this request from Makakashō, bowed at the feet of the community, ascended the Dharma seat and proclaimed the Teaching, beginning, “Thus have I heard: once when the Buddha was residing at….” After he had repeated all the Sacred Teachings from the Buddha’s lifetime, Makakashō asked the disciples whether any of these differed from what the Tathagata had preached; the disciples answered that they did not differ from what the Tathagata had taught even by as much as a single word. All these disciples were great arhants who had the three forms of clarity, namely, recollection of previous lives, ability to see future births and recognition of the extinction of defilements, and the six spiritual powers, that is, the preceding three plus clairvoyance, clairaudience and knowledge of the thoughts and intentions of others, and did not miss a word of what was said. They were all in agreement that they could not tell whether it was the Tathagata come back again or Ananda preaching; they personally praised him, saying, “The waters of the great ocean of the Buddha Dharma have flowed into you.” What Ananda proclaimed is, even now, the flowing forth and passing on of what the Tathagata had preached.
We know for a fact that this Way of ours does not depend on how much you have heard or on having realized for certain, as this instance should make evident. Ananda attended on Makakashō for twenty years but did not have a great awakening to his TRUE SELF until the occasion cited in the opening story. Since he had been born on the night when the Tathagata realized enlightenment, he had not heard the preaching of such Scriptures as the Avatamsaka Scripture; even so, once he had entered the samadhi that a Buddha awakens to, he could relate even what he had not heard directly. His earlier lack of success in entering the Way of the Ancestors and Masters is not one bit different from our own failure to enter it.
Long before in the remote past, Ananda had given rise to the heart of true and perfect enlightenment to the TRUTH (S. anuttara-samyak-sambodhi) at the same time as Shakyamuni Buddha had when He was known as the Lord of the Period of Cosmic Emptiness, but Ananda, through being partial to accumulating knowledge, had not yet realized perfect, TRUE ENLIGHTENMENT whereas Shakyamuni Buddha, having devoted himself to training, realized PERFECT ENLIGHTENMENT. You must really understand that pursuit of learning, as evinced here, is an obstacle on the path to enlightenment, which is why it says in the Avatamsaka Scripture, “Pursuit of erudition, by analogy, is like a greedy pauper who keeps counting up the treasures of others whilst having not a halfpenny of his own.” If you intend to settle the matter of enlightenment point-blank, do not be partial to the pursuit of erudition but forthwith be daring, brave and persistent in your training.
Ananda was so certain that something besides the kesa must have been Transmitted to Makakashō that he asked, “My elder brother in the Dharma, when the World-honoured One Transmitted the kesa of gold brocade to you did He pass on anything else?” Makakashō recognized that the critical moment had been reached and called out, “Ananda!” When Ananda acknowledged this, Makakashō, in response, said, “Chop down the flag pole in front of your temple gate!” Responding to his voice, Ananda awakened to his TRUE SELF and the Buddha’s Kesa descended naturally onto Ananda’s head. That golden Kesa is, beyond any doubt, the Kesa that was, is and will be Transmitted by the Seven Buddhas.
The EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW was not Transmitted to both monks; it was Makakashō alone who received Transmission from the Tathagata. Ananda attended on Makakashō for twenty years, although he had been entrusted by the Tathagata, before he was given charge of the TRUE LAW and thus Transmitted; as a result, you must understand that our tradition has a Transmission outside of, and apart from, doctrinal teachings, however, in recent times the two have been foolishly considered to be identical. Were Transmission and doctrinal teachings identical, why would Ananda, as an arhant with the three forms of clarity and the six spiritual powers, have received the Tathagata’s entrustment (not His Transmission) and be called the Second (not the First) Ancestor? Could anyone now possibly outdo Ananda in desiring to comprehend Scriptural doctrine? Were there someone who surpassed Ananda, we should have to admit that the comprehended essence of doctrinal teachings is identical with that of our tradition, however, if we should say that the two are simply one and the same, then why would Ananda have bothered to be Makakashō’s jisha (Abbot’s attendant) for twenty years and then have the great matter clarified upon hearing the phrase, ‘Chop down your temple flag pole’? We must recognize that the comprehended essence of both Scriptures and doctrinal teachings, from the outset, is not to be considered the same as the WAY OF THE ANCESTORS AND MASTERS. It is not that the Buddha was not a true Buddha. Although Ananda served the Buddha as His attendant he had not pierced through to his BUDDHA NATURE, so how could he have Transmitted the MIND-SEAL?
You must grasp that realization does not depend on erudition and broad learning. Because you are sharp of mind and keen of ear, you may be able to hear, comprehend and retain all manner of books and sacred teachings without leaving out even a single word but, if you fail to penetrate to their ESSENCE, you are like the one who vainly counts his neighbour’s treasures. It is not that this ESSENCE does not exist in Scriptures and doctrinal teachings but, regretfully, Ananda had not yet penetrated to IT. How much more do people in China and Japan try to unlock meaning by depending on the words and fail to get to the ESSENCE of Scriptures!
You should be well aware that the Buddha Way is not to be treated lightly; Ananda, being thoroughly well-versed in the Buddha’s lifetime of sacred teachings, proclaimed them as the Buddha’s disciple so who would not go along with what he said? Nevertheless, you should know that, only after he had attended on Makakashō as his follower and had his great awakening, did he once again proclaim the teachings and it was just like fire uniting with fire! Clearly, if you want to participate in the true Way, discard your false view of self as well as your old emotions, pride and arrogance and turn the naïve mind you had as a child to meeting with the Buddha’s WISDOM.
As to what is happening in today’s story, Ananda had long cherished the notion that there was nothing beyond Makakashō’s receiving the gold brocade kesa and being the Buddha’s disciple however, after having been Makakashō’s follower and his most intimate attendant, he realized that something more had been communicated. Makakashō, recognizing that the time was ripe, called out, “Ananda!” and, just as an echo follows a cry in a valley, Ananda responded; it was like a spark flying off from a flint. Although Makakashō had called out, “Ananda!” he was not calling Ananda and Ananda’s responding was not an answer.
The matter of ‘chopping down the flag pole in front of the temple gate’ is as follows. In India the custom was that, when the Buddha’s disciples entered into a debate with non-Buddhists, both sides would raise a flag. When one side was bested, their flag was taken down; the defeat was thereby signalled without recourse to sounding drums and bells. In today’s story, too, it is as though Makakashō and Ananda had raised flags in debate. At this point, were Ananda to emerge victorious, Makakashō would have to lower and roll up his flag for, when the one comes forth, the other disappears. In the present story, however, this was not what happened. ‘Makakashō’ is one flag pole and ‘Ananda’ is another. As long as both are ‘temple flag poles’, the UNDERLYING PRINCIPLE will not manifest ITSELF. When one flag pole was, is and will be chopped down, the temple’s FLAG POLE will manifest.
When Makakashō instructed Ananda to chop down the flagpole before his temple gate, Ananda had a great awakening to his TRUE SELF because master and disciple had merged in the Way. After this great awakening, ‘Makakashō’ was also chopped down and ‘the mountains and rivers’ all disintegrated; as a result, the Buddha’s Kesa descended naturally onto Ananda’s head. Based on what is happening in this story, however, do not be content with this glob of red flesh rising like a wall ten thousand feet high; do not get stuck with being pure and clean! Go on further and know what the ECHO is; all the Buddhas, one after the other, have emerged in the world as Ancestors and Masters and have pointed to IT generation after generation. This is all that matters, IT being Transmitted by IT; ultimately, it is not what people think it is.
Although the globs of red flesh which have manifested as Makakashō and Ananda have appeared in the world both as one face and as two faces of THAT PERSON, do not consider that just Makakashō and Ananda are of THAT PERSON. Each and everyone of you here now is a wall soaring up eight thousand feet, one of the thousand changes and ten thousand transformations of THAT PERSON. If you become conscious of THAT PERSON, you will all, in a twinkling, completely disappear from view so do not seek outside yourselves for a flag pole to chop down.
Today, this Japanese descendant of the Mahayana tradition of Daijō Monastery wishes once again to append his words. Would you all like to hear them?
When the vines have withered,
the trees have fallen
and the mountains have crumbled away,
The valley stream, in cascades,
will gush beyond its banks
and the very rock will pour forth fire.
(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.)