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.”
Ananda 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.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.