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Mahākāśyapa (Sanskrit; Pali: Mahākassapa; Japanese: 摩訶迦葉 Maha Kasho or Makakasho) or Kāśyapa was one of the principal disciples of Gautama Buddha and convened and directed the First Buddhist council. He came from the kingdom of Magadha.
In early Buddhism
Mahākāśyapa is one of the most revered of the Buddha's early disciples, foremost in ascetic practices. He is often depicted in statuary together with Ananda, each standing to one side of the Buddha.
In the Lotus Sutra
In Zen Buddhism
According to Zen tradition, Mahākāśyapa was the first to receive Dharma transmission from Gautama Buddha. Zen purports to lead its adherents to insights akin to that mentioned by Śākyamuni Buddha in his Flower Sermon in which he held up a white flower and just admired it in his hand. All the other disciples just looked on without knowing how to react, but Mahākāśyapa smiled faintly, and Śākyamuni Buddha picked him as one who truly understood him and the worthy one to be his successor. (This can be explained thus: Mahākāśyapa's spiritual attainment had reached the point where he could understand the hidden meanings conveyed by the Buddha's act, as two people who have gone through the same experiences understand each other completely.)
The words of the Śākyamuni Buddha addressed to Mahākāśyapa are described below:
I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.
Thus, a way within Buddhism developed which concentrated on direct experience rather than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures. Zen is a method of meditative religion which seeks to enlighten people in the manner that Mahākāśyapa experienced.
In the Song of Enlightenment (證道歌 Zhèngdào gē) of Yongjia Xuanjue (665-713)—one of the chief disciples of Huìnéng, the 6th patriarch of Chan Buddhism—it is written that Bodhidharma was the 28th patriarch in a line of descent from Mahākāśyapa, a disciple of Śākyamuni Buddha, and the first patriarch of Chan Buddhism:
- Mahākāśyapa was the first, leading the line of transmission;
- Twenty-eight Fathers followed him in the West;
- The Lamp was then brought over the sea to this country;
- And Bodhidharma became the First Father here:
- His mantle, as we all know, passed over six Fathers,
- And by them many minds came to see the Light.
In Chinese culture
Mahakasyapa's entire body was enshrined underneath the mountain Kukkutapada where it is said to remain until the appearance of Maitreya. Pali sources say that beings in Maitreya's time will be much bigger than during the time of Sakyamuni. In one prophecy his disciples are contemptuous of Mahakasyapa, whose head is no larger than an insect to them. Buddhas robe is barely covers two fingers making them wonder how tiny Buddha was. Mahakasyapa, is said to be small enough in comparison to cremate in the palm of Maitreya's hand. Mahakasyapa wears the pamsukula robe. 
- Suzuki, Daisetz (1961). Essays in Zen Buddhism. Grove Press. p. 60. ISBN 0802151183.
- "Dharma Transmission". Sweeping Zen. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
- Some oral lore traditions state it was a rare Udumbara flower of the Lotus Sutra.
- Great religions of the world. Center for Distance Learning. Tarrant County College District
- Zen Buddhism: A History (India & China) By Heinrich Dumoulin. Translated by James W. Heisig, Paul F. Knitter. Contributor John McRae. Published 2005. World Wisdom, Inc. Religion / World. Religions. 387 pages. ISBN 0-941532-89-5. page 9
- Chang, Chung-Yuan (1967). "Ch'an Buddhism: Logical and Illogical".
- Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1948). Manual Of Zen Buddhism, 50.
- John S. Strong (2007). Relics of the Buddha. p. 45-46.
- John S. Strong (2007). Relics of the Buddha. p. 220.
- Strong 2007, p. 227.
- Mahā Kassapa (subtitle) Father of the Sangha, Hellmuth Hecker, biography based on the Pali Canon, revised and enlarged translation from Wissen und Wandel volume XXI number 6, 1975, (German) by Nyanaponika Thera, The Wheel Publication No. 345, ISBN 955-24-0026-0
- Entry on Maha Kassapa Thera in the Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names
Beginning of the lineage
|Lineage of Buddhist patriarchs
(According to the Zen schools of China and Japan)