Buddhas always offer complete teachings. They’re never partial, never conventional, never provisional—they go to the heart of the matter and encompass everything that needs to be related. It is said that Master Yunmen’s teachings, for example, always contained three phrases. First, they cut off the stream of thoughts. They allow for the mind to stop moving—blocking, disassembling, derailing the usual way of approaching reality. Two, they follow the waves, are appropriate to the questioner and the circumstances. And third, they cover heaven and earth. Nothing is excluded. The flower is a complete teaching—you cannot find a gap. Every bit of time and space is contained in the Buddha’s response.

Shakyamuni Buddha is not interested in dealing with conditional teachings that cease to be relevant after the assembly goes its own way. This is Vulture Peak because the teachings are complete, because they are inclusive. This is the time of Shakyamuni’s discourse. The teachings worked in 500 B.C., they work now, and they are universally applicable, true, and immediately relevant to each one of us.

The completeness of the teachings relates directly to their secrecy. A flower is held up, and the secret of the mind-to-mind transmission—of true communication, of a human life, of this moment—is revealed. Being a true secret, it is a secret that cannot be known by anybody, not even Shakyamuni Buddha, not even Mahakashyapa. And because it is a complete and true secret, nothing is concealed. That is the nature of the best secret, isn’t it? The secret is so utterly self evident that we continuously miss it. Everything is completely concealed, everything is completely exposed, and the more you see, the more mystery there is.

This koan of Shakyamuni’s flower plays a central role in the chapter, “Mitsugo,” or “Secret Teaching,” from Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. In “Mitsugo,” Dogen implies that Shakyamuni does not understand his own teachings and Mahakashyapa does not understand his own understanding. Their exchange is not something anticipated or planned. It’s like two dancers who’ve been doing a dance so long that they no longer know who is leading. It is one body reality in that great mystery.

Dogen quotes an incident between an official and Master Yunju Daoying. The official visited Yunju’s monastery, and after making an appropriate donation was allowed to ask a question. He said, “Shakyamuni possessed the sacred teachings but Mahakashyapa did not conceal it.” What was the sacred teaching of the Buddha? Yunju said, “Minister Sho.” “Yes,” replied the official. Yunju said, “Do you understand?” “No,” said the official. Yunju said, “If you don’t understand, that is Shakyamuni’s sacred teaching. If you do understand it, that is Mahakashyapa not concealing it.” What was the sacred teaching of Shakyamuni?

How many times today has Shakyamuni Buddha Tathagata’s manifestation called your name in its myriad of pronunciations? The pronunciation of the feeling of the floor on the sole of your foot? The cool breeze wafting across your face? The third bell at the beginning of a zazen period?

There is a secret teaching, and it is not concealed. This is an exchange between every teacher and student, one that teaches us about the nature of these teachings and the availability of the Tathagata and his endless sermons. This secret is the basis of the true mind-to-mind transmission. Dogen writes: