Ananda Knocks Down the Flag Pole

Talk by Zen Master Seung Sahn on January 17, 1996, at the beginning of the intensive week during Kyol Che at Shin Won Sah Temple in Korea.

Winter is the traditional season for doing intensive meditation practice. This tradition comes down to us from the time of the Buddha, when monks and nuns would congregate during the three month rainy season in India to practice together.

In our school, too, serious students will take this time to do a long retreat or increase their daily practice commitment. In the middle of this three month period one week is set aside for even more intensive practice. In Korea, this is what we call Yoeng Maeng Jong Jin, which is translated as "to leap like a tiger while sitting."

The origin of this special week of practice is very interesting. After the Buddha's death a large convention of his enlightened followers was called to collect and formalize his teaching--to make what we now call the sutras. The head of this group was Mahakashyapa, the first patriarch. However Ananda, Buddha's attendant, however was excluded from this group because he did not have enlightenment. This is ironic because Ananda was renowned for his phenomenal memory. It is said that he remembered everything that the Buddha said.

When he was barred from entering the assembly, Ananda became angry. He asked Mahakashyapa, "Buddha transmitted to you the Golden Brocade Robe. What else did he transmit to you?" Mahakashyapa called out, "Ananda!" "Yes, sir." "Knock down the flag pole in front of the gate." Ananda did not understand this, so he went to the mountains to do a seven day retreat. Seven days of very hard practicing; no sleep. Then at the end of the seven days, "Boom!" He got enlightenment.

Upon Ananda's return to the convention, Mahakashyapa said, "If you can come in without opening the door, then OK. If not, then you cannot come in." Immediately Ananda opened the door and went in. Then Mahakashyapa said, "OK, OK. Come in; now we can make the sutras."