Daido Roshi


Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi
True Dharma Eye, Case 36

Deshan’s “Assembly on Vulture Peak”

Featured in Mountain Record 26.3, Spring 2008

 The Main Case

Deshan Dehai was once asked by a monastic, “Who was able to hear Shakyamuni Buddha at the assembly on Vulture Peak?”
Deshan said, “The acarya heard it.”
The monastic said, “I wonder what was spoken at the assembly on Vulture Peak?”
Deshan said, “The acarya understands it.”

The Commentary

The meeting at Vulture Peak still resounds throughout the whole universe. Yet, this monastic is stumbling about trying to understand it. Deshan doesn’t hold back and reveals the family secret without hesitation. Still, the monastic is unable to see it. Do you see it?

If you wish to understand the truth of this dialogue then you must first see into the word “acarya.” Is this Kashyapa, Deshan, the monastic, or is it you? The treasury of the eye of truth is always given and received by one self. There has never been anything given to another; there has never been anything received from another. This is called the truth of the Buddhadharma. This being the case, how can the meeting on Vulture Peak be anywhere but here? But say, what is the family secret revealed by Deshan?

The Capping Verse

The spiritual potential of the thousand sages
                is not easily attained.
Dragon daughters and sons, do not be irresolute—
               ten thousand miles of pure wind,
               only you can know it.

The strength of the mind-to-mind transmission in the Zen tradition lies in the fact that it is not based on intellectual knowledge or institutional bureaucracy. It is a face-to-face, mind-to-mind acknowledgment of the realization of our inherent nature—an intimate communication between teacher and student.

The first occasion of that mind-to-mind transmission took place on Vulture Peak 2,500 years ago. Shakyamuni Buddha had already been teaching for a number of years and had a large following. It is said that among the assembly of thousands were Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and attendant, and Mahakashyapa, who became his first disciple. The Buddha took his seat facing the crowd, but instead of offering a lecture, he remained silent. After a while he simply held up a flower, twirled it, and blinked his eyes. Of all those gathered there that day, only Mahakashyapa responded: he smiled. Seeing this, the Buddha exclaimed, “I have the all-pervading dharma, the incomparable nirvana, the exquisite teachings of formless form. It does not rely on letters and is transmitted outside the scriptures. I now hand it over to Mahakashyapa.” That was the first mind-to-mind transmission of the dharma. That is what has been handed down for countless generations to the present day. So what was it that the Buddha transmitted? What did Kashyapa realize?