Mahakashyapa is Still Live Today!
Venerable Mahakasyapa is one of the Buddha’s disciples who is foremost in ascetic practice. Before the Buddha entered parinirvana, he preferred to practice alone, away from the Sangha community. After the Buddha entered parinirvana, he took it upon himself to lead the Sangha by presiding over the First Buddhist Council.
Considered to be the Buddha’s third chief disciple, he is regarded as the first patriarch in several Mahayana school Dharma lineages. He is often depicted as standing on one side of the Buddha together with Ananda.
In Flower Sermon, a story about the origin of Zen Buddhism, only Mahakashyapa smiled when Shakyamuni Buddha hled a white flower, signifying the wordless transmission of Dharma from the Buddha to Mahakashyapa.
Many may not be aware that Mahakasyapa is currently still alive. Currently residing at Mount Kukkutapada (Chicken Foot Mountain) in Yunnan Province, China, he is more than 2500 years old. Among all the Buddha’s disciples, only Mahakashyapa’s relics/shariras are missing, which means that he is really still alive now. He will continue to be in deep samadhi meditation until Bodhisattva Maitreya attains Buddhahood in the future. The mission of Mahakashyapa will only be completed after he gives Maitreya Buddha the Dharma bowl and robe given by Shakyamuni Buddha.
When Mahakashyapa left home under the Buddha, he was already one hundred sixty years old. During the 49 years of Dharma propagation of Shakyamuni Buddha and at the point of the Buddha’s parinirvana, he was already over two hundred years old.
Those who visit Chicken Foot Mountain as part of their spiritual pilgrimage to worship Venerable Mahakashyapa may have the opportunities to witness three kinds of light: Buddha-light, golden light and silver light. Some may be able to hear the sound of a bell ringing on its own accord inside the mountain. It is an inconceivable experience.
Here is an extract of the scriptural proof of Mahakashyapa’s mission in The Sutra of Maitreya’s Attaning Buddhahood (佛說彌勒大成佛經):
“Then Maitreya Buddha, together with His great disciples and sentient beings that were headstrong in their past lives in the Sahā World, will go to the Gṛdhrakūṭa Mountain. Having arrived at its foot, they will serenely walk up the Wolf Track Mountain. After they have reached the summit, Maitreya Buddha will touch the ground with his big toe. Forthwith, the great earth will move in eighteen different ways. Then Maitreya Buddha will split the cliff with both hands, like a Wheel-Turning King opening the gate of a great city [to find Mahākāśyapa inside].
“Then the Brahma-kings will pour scented oil onto the crown of Mahākāśyapa’s head and over his body. Next, they will beat the great Dharma instruments and blow the great Dharma conch shells. Mahākāśyapa will then rise from the Samādhi of Total Halt. He will straighten his robe, bare his right shoulder, kneel on his right knee, and join his palms. Kneeling on both knees, he will hold the Dharma robe worn by Śākyamuni Buddha and offer it to Maitreya Buddha, saying these words: ‘The great teacher Śākyamuni, the Tathāgata, Arhat, Samyak-Saṁbuddha, upon His parinirvāṇa, entrusted me with His Dharma robe and commanded me to offer it to the World-Honored One.’
“Meanwhile, everyone in the multitudes will ask Maitreya Buddha, ‘Why on this mountaintop today is a human-headed worm, puny, ugly, and dressed in the śramaṇa’s habit, able to pay homage and make obeisance to the World-Honored One?’
“Then Maitreya Buddha will rebuke His great disciples. He will speak in verse, telling them not to disdain this person:
The peacock has beautiful colors,
But it can be eaten by the eagle.
The white elephant has infinite strength,
But the lion-son, though young,
Can grab and eat it like dirt.
The great dragon has an enormous body,
But it can be snatched by the golden-winged garuḍa.
The tall and large human body,
Plump, white, and handsome,
Is like a vessel made of the seven treasures but filled with feces.
Its filth is unbearable.
This person, though puny,
Has wisdom like refined gold.
Having long ended his afflictions and habits,
With nothing left of the suffering of birth and death,
For protecting the Dharma, he has stayed here.
Most victorious among gods and humans,
He has always carried out the dhūta way of life.
Unequaled in ascetic training.
Śākyamuni, the Two-Footed Honored One,
Has sent him to me.
You all should join your palms with a single mind and reverently make obeisance to him.
“Having spoken these stanzas, Maitreya Buddha will tell the bhikṣus, ‘Śākyamuni the World-Honored One has taught and transformed sentient beings in the world of the five turbidities. Among His 1,250 disciples, there was one with a golden body, who was foremost in the dhūta way of life. To learn the Way, he renounced family life and left his golden wife. Day and night he progressed energetically, as if fighting a fire burning on his head. He was loving-kind and compassionate to sentient beings that were poor and lowly, and always wanted to deliver them. For the sake of the Dharma, he has remained in the world. This person is none other than Mahākāśyapa.’
“Having heard these words, the multitude will all make obeisance to him.
“Then Maitreya Buddha will use Śākyamuni Buddha’s Dharma robe to cover his right hand, but it will cover only two of His fingers. Then He will [use it to] cover His left hand, but again it will cover only two of His fingers. The multitude, astonished by the tiny size of the past Buddha, will understand that it was caused by sentient beings’ greed and arrogance.
“Maitreya Buddha will tell Mahākāśyapa, ‘Now you can demonstrate your spiritual powers and pronounce all the sūtras of the past Buddha.’
“Then Mahākāśyapa will jump up into the sky and display eighteen transformations. He will manifest an enormous body, filling the sky. This huge body will transform into a tiny one, like a grass seed. Water will manifest above his body, and fire will appear under his body. He will walk on the ground as if it were water, then walk on water as if it were ground. He will sit or lie down in the sky, not falling to the ground. He will appear in the east but vanish in the west, then appear in the west but vanish in the east. He will appear in the south but vanish in the north, then appear in the north but vanish in the south. He will appear at the edge but vanish in the center, then appear in the center but vanish at the edge. He will appear above but vanish below, then appear below but vanish above. He will turn into an aquamarine grotto in the sky. By virtue of the spiritual power of this Buddha, he will pronounce with the Brahma tone Śākyamuni Buddha’s sūtras in the twelve categories. When the multitude hear [the teachings], they will marvel at them as something that never existed before. Then 80 koṭi people will eradicate their afflictions, becoming Arhats. They will remain in the midst of dharmas [of perceptions] but no longer embrace them. Innumerable gods and humans will activate the bodhi mind.
“Mahākāśyapa will descend from the sky and circle Maitreya Buddha three times. He will make obeisance to this Buddha and state that all saṁskṛta dharmas are impermanent. He will say farewell to Him and return to the place in the Gṛdhrakūṭa Mountain where he has been. Fire will burst from his body, and he will enter parinirvāṇa. Then his relics will be collected, and a pagoda will be erected on the mountaintop to enshrine his relics.
“Maitreya Buddha will again praise him, ‘Śākyamuni Buddha, in the midst of the multitude, always praised the bhikṣu Mahākāśyapa, saying that he was foremost in the dhūta way of life and was accomplished in meditation and the Liberation Samādhi. This person, although he had great transcendental powers, was never haughty. Always pitying sentient beings in poverty and squalor, he was able to give them great joy.’
“Maitreya Buddha will extol Mahākāśyapa’s relics, saying, ‘Very good! Mahākāśyapa, the great disciple of the Śākya lion of great merit, was able to train his mind in that evil world.’
“At that time the relics of Mahākāśyapa will [appear in apparition and] speak in verse:
The dhūta practice is a treasury store.
Observing the precepts is sweet nectar.
One who can carry out the dhūta way of life
Will definitely arrive at the ground of no death.
One who observes one’s precepts will be reborn in heaven
And in the bliss of nirvāṇa.
“After speaking this stanza, [the vision of] Mahākāśyapa, like liquid aquamarine, will return into the pagoda.