When there is intimate language, Mahakashyapa does not conceal it. Since there are hundreds and thousands of World-honored ones, there are hundreds and thousands of Mahakashyapas. You should study this point without fail, as if cutting through what is impossible to cut through. Investigate it in detail little by little, hundreds and thousands of times, instead of trying to understand it all at once.
We must enter into this koan through the appreciation of our completeness and acknowledgment that there are millions of Shakyamuni Buddhas and therefore millions of Mahakashyapas. We enter into this koan through the diligent practice of coming back to the breath for the millionth time, studying that one simple thing which is the center of our lives. This is not completeness as a vague, vacuous space. It is completeness as sharp and clear as that flower that consumes everything, completeness that is based on 10,000 years of practice and complete mystery. It’s your completeness, your Treasury of the True Dharma Eye—and that is the uniqueness of the Buddha’s teachings—an incomparable, exquisite way of continuously returning everything back to us. What was that secret teaching?
Everything returns to us after we recognize that we have had it all along. And so it was at that moment when Buddha announced to the audience at Vulture Peak that he would give a dharma talk. Maybe the announcement was, “Tonight, 7 pm, Shakyamuni Buddha on: What is Reality?” The expectations were clearly high, as they should be. As a matter of fact, think about the fanfare before we gather here for a talk. We prepare for a dharma talk, we prepare to receive and maintain the Tathagata’s true meaning. How do we prepare for the dharma, for receiving a talk on the nature of reality? What do we do to our bodies, to our minds? We offer specific instructions: sit in a particular way, open your body through zazen, keep your eyes open, maintain a clear mind. Watch the thoughts, watch the distractions, watch the mind drifting away, allow the mystery to pass through. The Gatha on Opening the Sutra says:
The dharma incomparably profound and infinitely subtle
is rarely encountered even in millions of ages.
Now we see it, hear it, receive and maintain it.
May we completely realize the Tathagata’s true meaning.
What happened in that audience on Vulture Peak? What was the mind of each person? To what degree did people take responsibility for being open to what was being presented? Maybe there were no announcements, just the silence, and the anticipation of the crowd. In the midst of that, Shakyamuni simply lifts up the flower. I suspect by that point in his life he knew how to work a crowd.
There’s that story about Thich Nhat Han giving a talk, either in Carnegie or Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. Thousands of people showed up for this talk about the dharma—maybe it was about the nature of reality as seen through Zen Buddhism. And the crowd was abuzz, filled with energy. You can imagine a New York crowd at a Thich Nhat Han talk. Then, he very quietly walked onstage, arranged himself on a zabuton, sat down, and started doing zazen, and the chatter just kept on going, until somebody noticed he was there. Lo! There he is . . . no introductions, no nothing, and quietly, ever so slowly, with that sense of self-importance draining from the room, things became still, and stiller, and quieter, and nothing was happening. And then, finally, there was just a riveting stretch of silence, and he bowed and walked off the stage.