Gautam Buddha said, “Nothing has to be done. Just sit silently by my side for two years. Many people will come and go, and ask – you don’t bother about anything. Your work is simply to watch and be silent. Not a single word for two years.”
At this moment Mahakashyapa, sitting under a tree, started laughing hysterically, could not manage…The whole assembly was shocked – they had never heard him even speak, he did not speak to anybody. You might say something, he would not answer; he would not take note of anybody. People had accepted him as a strange fellow. But what happened? Suddenly, out of nowhere…And he laughed, such beautiful laughter, resounding in that silence of the assembly.
Maulingaputta said, “Why is your disciple laughing?”
Buddha said, “You can ask him yourself.”
This is the only mention of Mahakashyapa.
Mahakashyapa said, “I am laughing because this fellow is tricky. He tricked me also, in the same way he is trying it on you. But now he has become old, so he is saying only two years; I had to remain silent for twenty years. If you really want to ask the questions, ask now. After two years it will be too late.”
This is the only mention.
And when Prasenjita offered flowers, Buddha called Mahakashyapa and gave those flowers to him. And he said, “What could be said through words, I have said to everybody. What could not be said through words, but only through silence, I have imparted to Mahakashyapa.”
This made him the first Zen master. But besides this, there is no other mention of him. Perhaps silence remained his method. Many must have become enlightened sitting by his side, but nothing was said. He was a silent master. So there is no record left.
Then the second great departure – there have been many others – but the second great departure from the past is Bodhidharma. He was even more strange than Mahakashyapa. He is the sixth in the line of Zen patriarchs.
After Bodhidharma, Nansen is a new point of departure. He opens Zen to a wider variety, he gives Zen more dimensions. It is no more a small stream, but becomes an ocean.
Today we are starting a series on Nansen. A little biographical introduction:
Nansen, also known as Nan-ch’uan, was born in North China in 748.
Beginning his study of meditation when a young boy, Nansen became a Buddhist priest at thirty and traveled to various well-known monasteries.
On arriving at Chiang-si and meeting with Ma Tzu, Nansen immediately became one of Ma Tzu’s foremost disciples.