Green Koans Case 55: Kashyapa's Preaching Sign

Clark Strand

Green Koans 55

CASE #55:    Kashyapa’s Preaching Sign

Ananda asked Kashyapa: “Buddha gave you the robe of succession. What else did he give you?
Kashyapa said: “Ananda.”
Ananda answered: “Yes, brother.”
Said Kashyapa: “Now you can take down my preaching sign and put up your own.”

   Shakyamuni’s nephew, Ananda joined the community at age 12 and became the Buddha’s personal attendant. He was gifted with perfect recall and thus became the custodian of the teachings. Traditionally, every sutra begins with the words, “Thus have I heard.” The “I” refers to Ananda, who recited the sutras for the other monks following Shakyamuni’s death so that they, too, could memorize them. In Sanskrit, his name means “Bliss.”

Kashyapa     The monk to whom Shakyamuni passed responsibility for the order upon his death. He convened the First Council of monks and was considered “Foremost in Ascetic Practices” among Shakyamuni’s disciples. In Buddhist art he is often depicted along with Ananda standing beside the Buddha.

Robe of succession     Along with his begging bowl, a teacher’s robe was considered a sign that a disciple had been formally endorsed as his successor.

Preaching sign     This was a flag or banner that indicated that a Buddhist teacher would be offering a sermon that day.

What else did he give you? It’s like asking, “What does the robe symbolize?” or “What spiritual teaching did you get from Shakyamuni?” Or maybe the meaning is really, “And what makes you so special?”

A lot of foolishness goes into the traditional answer, which leads down a path where no one should go. Kashyapa says, “Ananda!” and it’s supposed to be like some kind Zen telegram that goes quick as a lightning bolt to Ananda’s reptilian core, giving his awareness a jolt.

Kashyapa’s answer is much simpler, much gentler. “What did Shakyamuni give you?” The answer is, “Ananda.” We do not live alone. We do not live for ourselves. We do not even have any existence apart from the Other.

Our present ecological crisis has its root here and only here—in the belief that we can (or should) exist alone.

The secret teaching
Belongs to one who shares it
Like a pot of tea:
First I pour a cup for you,
Then you pour a cup for me.

Find all the Green Koans here.


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Jim Spencer's picture

I liked reading the additional line here that isn't found in the Mumonkan where Ananda is told to put up a flag of his own. To me, it says to quit studying about stuff and get out there and do it.

In a green sense, it would be to stop intellectualizing about everything being connected and start living in a way that acknowledges this truth.

ClarkStrand's picture

Yeah, Jim, I also noticed that Reps & Senzaki (in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, from which I have adapted this koan) have a line that doesn't appear in most other versions. Wonder where they got it...

sharmila2's picture

The commentary includes several points contradictory to the Pali canon; the Buddha specifically refused to appoint a successor or heir to lead the Sangha after his death, instead instructing his monks to take the Dharma as their leader. The two disciples traditionally depicted at the side of the Buddha are his chief disciples, Sarioutra and Mogallana, not Kashyapa & Ananda. Since they had passed away before him, Ananda is often depicted in deathbed scenes, whosoever Kashyapa was en route and not physically present at the Buddha's death.
I understand that the author is using a Mahayanist perspective, but I'm interested in what source material was used for these statements?

ClarkStrand's picture

Hi, Sharmila. I should have noted that this particular case also appears in the Mumonkan, or "Gateless Gate," as Case 22. So it is indeed a Zen source. You will, however, find among these Green Koans a number of cases taken from the Theravada tradition. As regards death scenes, chief disciples, and so forth--the Zen tradition claims Kashyapa was Shakyamuni's successor and Ananda was (at least nominally) Kashyapa's successor, and so you find depictions of these two figures with Shakyamuni in Mahayana-inspired art. It's their story, and they're sticking to it last time I checked.

But this is all very specialist-sounding, isn't it? I would be more interested in what you think about the point of the koan. Is the teaching sound Buddhism in your opinion, and sound ecology?