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Chapter 10: The Master of Silence

Try to understand this story. Buddha came one morning, and as usual a crowd had gathered, many people were waiting to listen to him. But one thing was unusual: he was carrying a flower in his hand. Never before had he carried anything in his hand. People thought that somebody may have presented it to him. Buddha came, he sat under the tree. The crowd waited and waited and waited and he would not speak. He wouldn’t even look at them, he just went on looking at the flower. Minutes passed, then hours, and the people became very restless.

It is said that Mahakashyapa couldn’t contain himself; he laughed loudly. Buddha called him, gave him the flower and said to the gathered crowd, “Whatsoever can be said through words I have said to you, and that which cannot be said through words I give to Mahakashyapa. The key cannot be communicated verbally. I hand over the key to Mahakashyapa.”

This is what Zen masters call transference of the key without scripture - beyond scripture, beyond words, beyond mind. He gave the flower to Mahakashyapa. Nobody could understand what had happened. Neither Mahakashyapa nor Buddha ever commented upon it again. The whole chapter was closed. Since then, in China, in Tibet, in Thailand, in Burma, in Japan, in Ceylon - everywhere Buddhists have been asking for these twenty-five centuries, “What was given to Mahakashyapa? What was the key?”

The whole story seems to be very esoteric. Buddha is not secretive; this is the only incident.. Buddha is a very rational being. He talks rationally, he is not a mad ecstatic. He argues rationally, and his argument, his logic is perfect - you cannot find a loophole in it. This is the only incident where he behaved illogically, where he did something which is mysterious. He is not a mysterious man at all. You cannot find another master who is less mysterious.

Jesus is very mysterious, Lao Tzu is absolutely mysterious. Buddha is plain, transparent; no mystery around him, no smoke is allowed. His flame burns clear and bright, clear and absolutely transparent, smokeless. This is the only thing that seems mysterious; hence many Buddhist scriptures never relate this anecdote, they have simply dropped it. It seems as if someone has invented it. It doesn’t make any sense with Buddha’s life and attitude.

But for Zen this is the origin. Mahakashyapa became the first holder of the key. Then six holders in succession existed in India, up to Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was the sixth holder of the key, and then he searched and searched all over India but he couldn’t find a man of the capability of Mahakashyapa - a man who could understand silence. He had to leave India just in search of a man to whom the key could be given; otherwise the key would be lost.

Buddhism entered China with Bodhidharma in search of a man to whom the key could be given, a man who could understand silence, who could talk heart to heart without being obsessed in the mind, who had no head. A man with no head was difficult to find in India, because India is a country of pundits, scholars, and they have the biggest heads possible. A pundit by and by forgets everything about the heart and he becomes the head. His whole personality becomes lopsided as if only the head exists, and the whole body shrinks and disappears.

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