At this moment Mahakashyapa, who had been there for thirty years with Buddha, suddenly burst out laughing. The whole gathering of ten thousand monks could not believe it: this man had never spoken a word to anybody, not even to Buddha. He had never come even to touch his feet or to say hello. He remained sitting far away under his tree. He had monopolized the tree and nobody else could sit there. What had happened that he suddenly started laughing so loudly? Maulingaputta said, “What is the matter?”
Buddha said, “You can ask him yourself.”
Mahakashyapa said, “The matter is simple. This man, Gautam Buddha, is cheating you. He cheated me; he told me also to remain silent for two years. Now thirty years have passed, and the question does not arise. My silence has deepened. Now I know who I am. I know the very height of my consciousness. Not that I have found any answer – there is no question and no answer, just a pure clear silence.
“So if you want to ask him, we will all enjoy. You can ask, but this is the time to ask. Don’t wait for two years. That’s why I laughed: again he is back to his tricks. There are many here who came with the same desire” – Sariputra and Moggalayan and other great philosophers of that time had come with the same desire to discuss – “but this barrier of two years’ silence is very dangerous. If you want to ask anything now, right now is the time. That’s why I laughed.”
Maulingaputta had brought a beautiful lotus flower as a gift for Gautam Buddha. Buddha called Mahakashyapa and gave the lotus flower to him. This is called in the Zen tradition “the first transmission.” Nothing has been said, but everything has been heard. Mahakashyapa’s silence and his childlike laughter were enough to prove he had found it. The giving of the lotus flower to Mahakashyapa is a certificate.
In this way Mahakashyapa became the first patriarch of the Zen tradition. After him there have been six others. Again and again from master to disciple the flame has been transferred in silence. The sixth was a woman, and Bodhidharma was her disciple. Those were the golden days – when a woman, particularly in the East, was not thought to be inferior to man. She could become the master. She transferred her understanding to Bodhidharma and told him, “Your work is to pass over the Himalayas and go to China.”
It is a difficult task, first, to go by foot across the Himalayas. It took three years for poor Bodhidharma to reach China. And then the greatest barrier was that he knew nothing of Chinese – it would be difficult even if you knew Chinese – but he managed. He was surrounded slowly, slowly by people who were really thirsty.
All that was happening was that he would sit silently facing the wall. He sat for nine years continuously, and those who wanted to sit would come and sit around him. Just sitting around him without any language, without any communication, some energy started moving. Something started happening to people. Their lifestyles changed, their lives became a grace and a beauty.
After fourteen years Bodhidharma left China and went back to disappear into the Himalayas. He was too old now. You cannot find a better place to disappear than the Himalayas – utter silence, eternal snows which have never melted, thousands of places where nobody has ever reached.