What does it mean to take up the green vegetable leaf and turn it into a sixteen-foot golden body? The sixteen-foot golden body is the body of the Buddha, the golden body of the Tathagatha, the golden body of suchness.
It includes the heavens and encompasses the earth; it transcends both sacred and mundane. On the tips of a hundred thousand weeds, the marvelous mind of nirvana.
Weeds are images for defilement and delusion. So, on the tips of hundreds of thousands of weeds, of delusions, can be found the marvelous mind of nirvana. It is the marvelous mind of nirvana that was transmitted by the Buddha to Mahakashyapa on Vulture Peak, 2,500 years ago.
At that time, the Buddha took up a flower and came out to address an assembly of thousands. He held up the flower and twirled it. Only Mahakashyapa smiled and blinked his eyes. The Buddha said, “I have the marvelous mind of nirvana, the exquisite teaching of formless form. I now hand it over to Mahakashyapa.” What was the Buddha’s intent? What is it that Mahakashyapa saw that no one else saw? What is it that was transmitted, and what is it that was received? Master Dogen takes up the green vegetable leaf in the same way as Buddha took up the flower.
In Zen, we say that there is nothing to transmit and nothing to receive. And yet, somehow, Buddha singled out Mahakashyapa as the only one in the assembly who understood what he was teaching. If you say that the Dharma cannot be transmitted, then why did Buddha say that he “now gives it to Mahakashyapa?” Was he ripping off all the other people there? What if everyone had smiled and blinked their eyes—would he have transmitted to two thousand people? On the other hand, what if nobody had smiled and blinked their eyes—would the Dharma have just disappeared from the face of the earth?
You should understand the essential matter of this holding up of the flower and the smile of Mahakashyapa. If you can understand that, you can understand what Master Dogen is asking here. You will understand the line, “On the tips of a hundred thousand weeds, the marvelous mind of nirvana.” You will understand how it transcends both the sacred and the mundane.
From deep within the forest of brambles, the one bright pearl illuminates the ten thousand things. The forest of brambles is the forest of barriers, of difficulties, of pain and suffering, delusion and ignorance; it is samsara itself. And from deep within that forest of brambles, one bright pearl illuminates the ten thousand things; its radiance touches everything, sacred and mundane, heaven and earth alike.