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The Flower Sermon is a story of the origin of Zen Buddhism in which Śākyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) transmits direct prajñā (wisdom) to the disciple Mahākāśyapa. In the original Chinese, the story is Niān huá wéi xiào (拈華微笑, literally "Pick up flower, subtle smile").
In the story, Śākyamuni gives a wordless sermon to his disciples (sangha) by holding up a white flower. No one in the audience understands the Flower Sermon except Mahākāśyapa, who smiles. Within Zen, the Flower Sermon communicates the ineffable nature of tathātā (suchness) and Mahākāśyapa's smile signifies the direct transmission of wisdom without words. Śākyamuni affirmed this by saying:
I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle [D]harma [G]ate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.
- Welter, Albert. 2000. Mahākāśyapa’s Smile: Silent Transmission and the Kung-an (Kōan) Tradition. In The Kōan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism, edited by Steven Heine & Dale S. Wright. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 75–109.