Words, No Words

Dharma Discourse by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj Sensei
Gateless Gate, Case 6
Shakyamuni Holds Up a Flower

Featured in Mountain Record 28.2, Summer 2010

The Main Case

Long ago when the World-Honored One was at Mount Grdhrakuta to give a talk, he held up a flower before the assembly. At this all remained silent. The Venerable Kasho alone broke into a smile. The World-Honored One said, “I have the all-pervading True Dharma, incomparable Nirvana, exquisite teaching of formless form. It does not rely on letters and is transmitted outside scriptures. I now hand it to Maha Kasho.”


Wumen's Commentary

Yellow-faced Gotama is certainly outrageous. He turns the noble into the lowly, sells dog-flesh advertised as sheep’s head. I thought there was something interesting in it. However, at that time if everyone in the assembly had smiled, to whom would the True Dharma have been handed? Or again, if Kasho had not smiled, would the True Dharma have been transmitted? If you say that the True Dharma can be transmitted, the yellow-faced old man with his loud voice deceived simple villagers. If you say it cannot be transmitted, then why was Kasho alone approved?


Wumen's Poem

A flower is held up,
And the secret has been revealed.
Kasho breaks into a smile;
The whole assembly is at a loss.

Mount Grdhrakuta is another name for Vulture Peak, the mountain near Rajagaha where much of Shakyamuni’s teaching took place in the last two or three decades of his life. Yet, this is also Vulture Peak. This is time zero. It is the assembly of the buddhas, the only time and place where the true meaning of the Tathagata’s teaching can be revealed. This is the time and place that holds the secret—and of absolutely nothing being hidden.

In order to enter these teachings, we need to realize that Wumen is challenging us in his commentary to recognize that the time when the flower is being offered as the discourse, as the Tathagata’s true meaning, is here. And that we’re all responsible for what will happen—what is happening—with this dharma.