Mahakashyap: Silence within, Laughter without

Osho on Enlightened Buddhist Master Mahakashyap

Mahakashyap was one of the principal enlightened disciples of Gautama Buddha. Mahakashyap was the first — not Gautam Buddha — to initiate the process which culminated in Zen, because it was his disciple, Bodhidharma, who took the message to China. And perhaps Gautam Buddha would not agree with everything Zen consists of, because the real master of Zen and its origin is Mahakashyap, who has a totally different personality from Gautam Buddha — less serious, with a sense of humor, with no idea of holier-than-thou. Nobody could have conceived that small stream arising in a silent man like Mahakashyap would become the world’s most purified and essential religiousness.

Osho says “Mahakashyap was a rare being in his own right; there is every possibility that even without Buddha he would have become a Buddha. It would have taken a little longer, maybe he would have taken a little more time, but it seems almost certain that he would have become a Buddha even without Buddha.”

Osho explains a rare moment happened between an enlightened master and an enlightened disciple and saysBuddha died in Mahakashyap’s lap; his head was in Mahakashyap’s lap. That was a rare phenomenon, because Buddha had ten thousand disciples present at that moment. Amongst those ten thousand at least one hundred were enlightened. Why was Mahakashyap chosen? The question went around, “Why has Mahakashyap been chosen?” Sariputta, another enlightened disciple of Gautam Buddha, said, “He is the only one who has become a master but has not left his discipleship. The remaining ninety-nine have become masters and forgotten about discipleship. He is richer; he is a disciple and he is a master. He has much more than anybody else present here.” And it is not surprising that Mahakashyap became the source of one of the greatest traditions, which is still alive — Zen, which has given to the world more enlightened people than anything else.”




To all teachings, not only for a Buddha but for all masters — Jesus, Mahavira, Lao Tzu — the key cannot be given through verbal communication, the key cannot be delivered through the mind. Nothing can be said about it. The more you say the more difficult it becomes to deliver, because a Buddha and you live in such different dimensions — not only different but diametrically opposite — that whatsoever a Buddha says will be misunderstood…The physical ear is okay, the spiritual ear is missing. A Buddha can talk only to another Buddha, this is the problem, and with another Buddha there is no need to talk. Buddha has to talk with those who are not enlightened…Only one enlightened person and one unenlightened person can have a meaningful communication, because one knows and the other is yet in ignorance. A meaningful communication, I said. I don’t say that the truth can be conveyed, but some hints, some indications, some gestures can, so that the other becomes ready to take the jump. The truth cannot be conveyed, but the thirst can be given. No teaching worth the name can give the key through words…

This story is one of the most significant ones, because from this was passed the tradition of Zen. Buddha was the source, and Mahakashyap was the first, the original master of Zen. Buddha was the source, Mahakashyap was the first master, and this story is the source from where the whole tradition — one of the most beautiful and alive that exists on earth, the tradition of Zen — started. Try to understand this story. Buddha came one morning, and as usual a crowd had gathered, many people were waiting to listen to him. But one thing was unusual — he was carrying a flower in his hand. Never before had he carried anything in his hand. People thought that someone must have presented it to him. Buddha came, he sat under the tree. The crowd waited and waited and he would not speak. He wouldn’t even look at them, he just went on looking at the flower. Minutes passed, then hours, and the people became very much restless.

It is said that Mahakashyap couldn’t contain himself. He laughed loudly. Buddha called him, gave him the flower and said to the gathered crowd, “Whatsoever can be said through words I have said to you, and that which cannot be said through words I give to Mahakashyap. The key cannot be communicated verbally. I hand over the key to Mahakashyap.”

This is what Zen masters call transference of the key without scripture — beyond scripture, beyond words, beyond mind. He gave the flower to Mahakashyap, and nobody could understand what happened. Neither Mahakashyap nor Buddha ever commented upon it again. The whole chapter was closed. Since then, in China, in Tibet, in Thailand, in Burma, in Japan, in Ceylon — everywhere Buddhists have been asking for these twenty-five centuries, “What was given to Mahakashyap? What was the key?” The whole story seems to be very esoteric. Buddha was not secretive; this was the only incident…. Buddha was a very rational being. He talked rationally, he was not a mad ecstatic, he argued rationally, and his logic was perfect — you could not find a loophole in it. This was the only incident where he behaved illogically, where he did something which was mysterious. He was not a mysterious man at all. You cannot find another master who was less mysterious. Jesus was very mysterious, Lao Tzu was absolutely mysterious. Buddha was plain, transparent; no mystery surrounds him, no smoke is allowed. His flame burns clear and bright, absolutely transparent, smokeless. This was the only thing that seemed mysterious; hence many Buddhist scriptures never relate this anecdote, they have simply dropped it. It seemed as if someone had invented it. It didn’t make any sense with Buddha’s life and teaching.

But for Zen this is the origin. Mahakashyap became the first holder of the key. Then six holders in succession existed in India, up to Bodhidharma; he was the sixth holder of the key, and then he searched and searched all over India but he couldn’t find a man of the capability of Mahakashyap — a man who could understand silence. He had to leave India just in search of a man to whom the key could be given; otherwise the key would be lost. Buddhism entered China with Bodhidharma in search of a man to whom the key could be given, a man who could understand silence, who could talk heart to heart without being obsessed in the mind, who had no head. A man with no head was difficult to find in India, because India is a country of pundits and scholars and they have the biggest heads possible. A pundit by and large forgets everything about the heart and he becomes the head. His whole personality becomes lopsided as if only the head exists, and the whole body shrinks and disappears. This communication beyond words is possible only from heart to heart…

To me, if all the scriptures of Buddha disappear nothing is lost. Only this anecdote should not disappear. This is the most precious, and scholars have dropped it from Buddha’s biography. They say, “This is irrelevant; it doesn’t fit with Buddha.” But I say to you, “All that Buddha did was just ordinary — anybody could do that — but this is extraordinary, this is exceptional. Only a Buddha can do this.” What happened that morning? Let us start to penetrate into it. Buddha came, sat, and started looking at the flower. He would not look at the people; the flower became the wall. That’s what Bodhidharma did. He would look at the wall, he would not look at the people — he would not waste his look. The flower became the wall and the crowd disappeared. Buddha looked and looked at the flower. What was he doing?…In the East it has always been known that a flower is the most receptive thing. When Buddha looked at the flower and continued to look at the flower, something of him was transferred to that flower. Buddha entered the flower. The quality of his being, the alertness, the awareness, the peace, the ecstasy, the inner dance, touched the flower. With Buddha looking at the flower, so at ease, at home, without any desire, it must have danced in its inner being. He looked, to transfer something to the flower. One thing to be understood is that only the flower and he existed for a long period of time. The whole world dropped.

Only Buddha and the flower were there. The flower entered Buddha’s being, and Buddha entered the flower’s being. Then the flower was given to Mahakashyap. It was not just a flower now, it carried buddhahood. It carried the inner quality of Buddha’s being. And why to Mahakashyap? There were other great scholars, ten great disciples; Mahakashyap was only one, and he was included in the ten only because of this story, otherwise he would never have been included…Nobody thought about Mahakashyap very much. He remained in the crowd, was part of the crowd. But when Buddha became silent, the whole gestalt changed. Now Moggalayan and Sariputta were not significant; they simply dropped out of existence, as if they were not there. They just became a part of the crowd. A new man, Mahakashyap, became the most important. A new dimension opened. Everybody was restless, thinking, “Why is Buddha not speaking? Why is he keeping silent? What is going to happen? When will it end?” They became uncomfortable, restless.

But Mahakashyap was not uncomfortable or restless. Really, for the first time he was at ease with Buddha; for the first time he was at home with Buddha. When Buddha was talking he may have been restless. He may have thought, “Why this nonsense? Why go on talking? Nothing is conveyed, nothing is understood; why go on knocking your head against the wall? People are deaf. They cannot understand….” He must have been restless when Buddha was talking, and now for the first time he was at home. He could understand what silence was. Thousands were there and everybody was restless. He couldn’t contain himself, looking at the foolishness of the crowd. They were at ease when Buddha was talking; now they were restless when he was silent. When something could be delivered they were not open; when nothing could be delivered they were waiting. Now through silence Buddha could give something which is immortal, but they could not understand. So he couldn’t contain himself and laughed loudly — he laughed at the whole situation, the whole absurdity. We require even a Buddha to talk, because that’s all we understand. This is foolish. You should learn to be silent with a Buddha, because only then can he enter you. Through words he can knock at your door but can never enter; through silence he can enter you, and unless he enters nothing will happen to you. His entry will bring a new element to your world; his entry into the heart will give you a new beat and a new pulse, a new release of life — but only his entry.

Mahakashyap laughed at the foolishness of man. They were restless and thinking, “When will Buddha stand up and drop this whole silence so that we can go home?” He laughed. Laughter started with Mahakashyap and has been going on and on in the Zen tradition. There is no other tradition which can laugh. Laughter looks so irreligious, profane, that you cannot think of Jesus laughing, you cannot think of Mahavira laughing. It’s difficult even to conceive of Mahavira having a belly laugh, or of Jesus laughing uproariously. No, laughter has been denied. Sadness, somehow, has become religious. One of the famous German thinkers, Count Keyserling, has written that health is irreligious. Illness has a religiousness about it because an ill person is sad, desireless — not because he has become desireless but because he is weak. A healthy person will laugh, would like to enjoy, will be merry — he cannot be sad. So religious persons have tried in many ways to make you ill: go on a fast, suppress your body, torture yourself. You will become sad, suicidal, crucified on your own. How can you laugh? Laughter comes out of health. It’s an overflowing energy. That’s why children can laugh and their laughter is total. Their whole body is involved in it — when they laugh you can see their toes laughing. The whole body, every cell, every fiber of the body, is laughing and vibrating. They are so full of health, so vital; everything is flowing. A sad child means an ill child, and a laughing old man means he is still young. Even death cannot make him old, nothing can make him old. His energy is still flowing and overflowing, he is always flooded. Laughter is a flooding of energy.

In Zen monasteries they have been laughing and laughing and laughing. Laughter becomes prayer only in Zen, because Mahakashyap started it. Twenty-five centuries ago, on a morning just like this, Mahakashyap started a new trend, absolutely new, unknown to the religious mind before — he laughed. He laughed at the whole foolishness, the whole stupidity. And Buddha didn’t condemn; rather, on the contrary, he called him near, gave him the flower and spoke to the crowd. And when the crowd heard the laughter they must have thought, “This man has gone mad. This man is disrespectful to Buddha, because how can you laugh before a Buddha? When a Buddha is sitting silently, how can you laugh? This man is not paying respect.” The mind will say that this is disrespect. The mind has its own rules, but the heart does not know them; the heart has its own rules, but the mind has never heard about them. The heart can laugh and be respectful; the mind cannot laugh, it can only be sad and then be respectful. But what kind of respect is this which cannot laugh? A very new trend entered with Mahakashyap’s laughter, and down the centuries the laughter has continued. Only Zen masters, Zen disciples, laugh…

Mahakashyap laughed, and this laughter carried many dimensions in it. One dimension was at the foolishness of the whole situation, at a Buddha silent and nobody understanding him, everybody expecting him to speak. His whole life Buddha had been saying that the truth cannot be spoken, and still everybody expected him to speak. The second dimension — he laughed at Buddha also, at the whole dramatic situation he had created, sitting there with a flower in his hand, looking at the flower, creating so much uneasiness, restlessness in everybody. At this dramatic gesture of Buddha he laughed and he laughed. The third dimension — he laughed at his own self. Why couldn’t he understand up to now? The whole thing was easy and simple. And the day you understand, you will laugh, because there is nothing to be understood. There is no difficulty to be solved. Everything has always been simple and clear. How could you miss it?

With Buddha sitting silent, the birds singing in the trees, the breeze passing through the trees, and everybody restless, Mahakashyap understood. What did he understand? He understood that there is nothing to be understood, there is nothing to be said, there is nothing to be explained. The whole situation is simple and transparent. Nothing is hidden in it. There is no need to search, because all that is, is here and now, within you. He laughed at his own self also, at the whole absurd effort of many lives just to understand this silence — at so much thinking. Buddha called him, gave him the flower and said, “Hereby, I give you the key.” What is the key? Silence and laughter is the key — silence within, laughter without. And when laughter comes out of silence, it is not of this world, it is divine. When laughter comes out of thinking it is ugly; it belongs to this ordinary, mundane world, it is not cosmic. Then you are laughing at somebody else, at somebody else’s cost, and it’s ugly and violent. When laughter comes out of silence you are not laughing at anybody’s cost, you are simply laughing at the whole cosmic joke.

And it really is a joke! That’s why I go on telling jokes to you… because jokes carry more than any scriptures. It is a joke because inside you you have everything, and you are searching everywhere. What else should a joke be? You are a king and acting like a beggar in the streets; not only acting, not only deceiving others, but deceiving yourself that you are a beggar. You have the source of all knowledge and are asking questions; you have the knowing self and think that you are ignorant; you have the deathless within you and are afraid and fearful of death and disease. This really is a joke, and if Mahakashyap laughed, he did well. But except for Buddha, nobody understood. He accepted the laughter and immediately realized that Mahakashyap had attained. The quality of that laugh was cosmic. He understood the whole joke of the situation. There was nothing else to it. The whole thing is as if the divine is playing hide-and-seek with you. Others thought Mahakashyap was a fool, laughing in front of Buddha. But Buddha thought this man had become wise. Fools always have a subtle wisdom in them, and the wise always act like fools…This anecdote has been dropped from Buddhist scriptures because it is sacrilegious to laugh before Buddha, to make it the original source of a great religion is not good. This is not a good precedent that a man laughed before Buddha, and also not a good thing that Buddha gave the key to this man, not to Sariputta, Ananda, Moggalayan, and others who were important, significant.

And finally, it was they, Sariputta, Ananda and Moggalayan, who recorded the scriptures. Mahakashyap was never asked. Even if they had asked he would not have answered. Mahakashyap was never consulted if he had something to say to be recorded. When Buddha died all the monks gathered and started recording what happened and what not. Nobody asked Mahakashyap. This man must have been discarded by the sangha, by the community. The whole community must have felt jealous. The key had been given to this man who was not known at all, who was not a great scholar or pundit. Nobody knew him before, and suddenly that morning he became the most significant man, because of the laughter, because of the silence. And in a way they were right, because how can you record silence? You can record words, you can record what happened in the visible; how can you record what has not happened in the visible? They knew the flower had been given to Mahakashyap, nothing else. But the flower was just a container. It had something in it — Buddhahood, the touch of Buddha’s inner being, the fragrance that cannot be seen, that cannot be recorded. The whole thing seems as if it never happened, or as if it happened in a dream.

Those who were the recorders were the men of words, proficient in verbal communication, in talking, discussing, arguing. But Mahakashyap is never heard of again. This is the only thing known about him, such a small thing that the scriptures must have missed it. Mahakashyap has remained silent, and silently the inner river has been flowing. To others the key has been given, and the key is still alive, still opens the door. These two are the parts. The inner silence — the silence so deep that there is no vibration in your being; you are, but there are no waves; you are just a pool without waves, not a single wave arises; the whole being silent, still; inside, at the center, silence — and on the periphery, celebration and laughter. And only silence can laugh, because only silence can understand the cosmic joke.

So your life becomes a vital celebration, your relationship becomes a festive thing; whatsoever you do, every moment is a festival. You eat, and eating becomes a celebration; you take a bath, and bathing becomes a celebration; you talk, and talking becomes a celebration; relationship becomes a celebration. Your outer life becomes festive, there is no sadness in it. How can sadness exist with silence? But ordinarily you think otherwise: you think if you are silent you will be sad. Ordinarily you think how you can avoid sadness if you are silent. I tell you, the silence that exists with sadness cannot be true. Something has gone wrong. You have missed the path, you are off the track. Only celebration can give proof that the real silence has happened.

What is the difference between a real silence and a false silence? A false silence is always forced; through effort it is achieved. It is not spontaneous, it has not happened to you. You have made it happen. You are sitting silently and there is much inner turmoil. You suppress it and then you cannot laugh. You will become sad because laughter will be dangerous — if you laugh you will lose silence, because in laughter you cannot suppress. Laughter is against suppression. If you want to suppress you should not laugh; if you laugh everything will come out. The real will come out in laughter, and the unreal will be lost…

This is the key — the inner part of it is silence, and the outer part of the key is celebration, laughter. Be festive and silent. Create more and more possibility around you — don’t force  the inner to be silent, just create more and more possibility around you so that the inner silence can flower in it. That’s all we can do. We can put the seed in the soil, but we cannot force the plant to come out. We can create the situation, we can protect, we can give fertilizer to the soil, we can water, we can see whether the sunrays reach or not, or how much sunrays are needed, whether more or less. We can avoid dangers, and wait in a prayerful mood. We cannot do anything else. Only the situation can be created. That’s what I mean when I tell you to meditate. Meditation is just a situation; silence is not going to be the consequence of it. No, meditation is just creating the soil, the surrounding, preparing the ground. The seed is there, it is always there; you need not put in the seed, the seed has always been with you. That seed is Brahma; that seed is atma —  that seed is you.  Just create the situation and the seed will become alive. It will sprout and a plant will be born, and you will start growing. Meditation doesn’t lead you to silence; meditation only creates the situation in which the silence happens. And this should be the criterion — that whenever silence happens, laughter will come into your life. A vital celebration will happen all around. You will not become sad, you will not become depressed, you will not escape from the world. You will be here in this world, but taking the whole thing as a game, enjoying the whole thing as a beautiful game, a big drama, no longer serious about it. Seriousness is a disease.

Buddha must have known Mahakashyap. He must have known when he was looking at the flower silently and everybody was restless, he must have known only one being was there, Mahakashyap, who was not restless. Buddha must have felt the silence coming from Mahakashyap, but he would not call. When he laughed, then he called him and gave him the flower. Why? Silence is only the half of it. Mahakashyap would have missed if he had been innocently silent and didn’t laugh. Then the key would not have been given to him. He was only half grown, not yet a fully grown tree, not blossoming. The tree was there, but flowers had not yet come. Buddha waited. Now, I will tell you why Buddha waited for so many minutes, why for one or two or three hours he waited. Mahakashyap was silent but he was trying to contain laughter, he was trying to control laughter. He was trying not to laugh because it would be so unmannerly: What would Buddha think? What would the others think? But then, the story says, he couldn’t contain himself any more. It had to come out as a laugh. The flood became too much, and he couldn’t contain it any more. When silence is too much it becomes laughter; it becomes so overflooded that it starts overflowing in all directions. He laughed. It must have been a mad laughter, and in that laughter there was no Mahakashyap. Silence was laughing, silence had come to a blossoming.

Then immediately Buddha called Mahakashyap: “Take this flower — this is the key. I have given to all others what can be given in words, but to you I give that which cannot be given in words. The message beyond words, the most essential, I give to you.” Buddha waited for those hours so that Mahakashyap’s silence became overflooded, it became laughter. Your enlightenment is perfect only when silence has come to be a celebration. Hence my insistence that after you meditate you must celebrate. After you have been silent you must enjoy it, you must have a thanksgiving. A deep gratitude must be shown towards the whole just for the opportunity that you are, that you can meditate, that you can be silent, that you can laugh.


Listen to complete discourse at mentioned below link.

Discourse Series: A Bird on the Wing Chapter #10

Chapter title: The Master of Silence

19 June 1974 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken on Buddha and many Buddhist enlightened masters like Mahakashyap, Bodhidharma, Subhuti, Atisha, Saraha, Tilopa, Naropa, Nagarjuna, Vimalkirti, Manjushri, Ananda, Sariputta and many more in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha
  2. The Discipline of Transcendence
  3. The Heart Sutra
  4. The Diamond Sutra
  5. Bodhidharma: The Greatest Zen Master
  6. Hari Om Tat Sat
  7. The Osho Upanishad
  8. The Transmission of the Lamp
  9. Zen: Zest, Zip, Zap and Zing
  10. The Great Zen Master Ta Hui
  11. Tantra: The Supreme Understanding
  12. The Tantra Vision
  13. The Book of Wisdom
  14. And The Flowers Showered
  15. I Celebrate Myself: God Is No Where, Life Is Now Here
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