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Buddhadharma : Fall 2018
78 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY after Buddha’s death, that he is not dead but is sitting in samadhi in Kukkutapada (Chicken Foot) Mountain, where lights still swoop in the sky at night to celebrate his presence. If you are a Mahayana Buddhist, you might also know that Mahakasyapa speaks the par- able of the prodigal son in the Lotus Sutra and is promised eventual buddhahood. But if you are a Zen student, the main thing you know about Mahakasyapa is that he smiled when he saw the Buddha hold up that flower. If you are in the Caodong (Soto) tradition, your teacher will use kong-ans illustratively in her teaching and encourage you to contemplate them deeply. And if you are in any of the several traditions stemming from the great ninth-century Chinese master Linji Yixuan, your Zen teacher might ask you—yes, you—to answer, right now and on the spot, in a private interview, questions about kong-ans: “Buddha held up a flower, what does this mean?” “Is Mahakasyapa’s smile correct or not?” Even the questions get called kong-ans, though if we are going to be pedantic about it, they are not. (I should mention that this Caodong/Linji split is far from hard and fast and historically is somewhat debatable, but it’s a starting point.) This brings us to Fact #1: kong-ans carry the Zen tradition. There is the original copious collection, Transmission of the Lamp, sto- ries about teachers and students going back several Buddhas before Shakyamuni, recorded by Shi Daoyuan during the Song dynasty (and only partially translated into English). There are the semi- contemporary records of individual teachers (the Linji Record, the Yunmen Record, and so on). Much of the Platform Sutra of Hui Neng (not a proper sutra, since it took place over a thousand years after the time of the Buddha) belongs to this literature. There are the classic kong-an collections (The Gateless Gate, The Blue Cliff Record, and The Book of Equanimity), which pick and choose from