From a talk on Fukanzazengi by Taitaku Pat Phelan (Chapel Hill Zen Center)
... "a banner" refers to Ananda’s enlightenment story. Ananda was the Buddha’s first cousin and became his attendant. Both Ananda and Kasyapa were disciples of Buddha [but] Ananda realized enlightenment after Buddha’s death when he was practicing with Kasyapa. ... Ananda’s enlightenment story goes: One day Ananda asked Kasapya, "Elder brother, did the World-Honored One (or Buddha), transmit anything else to you besides the gold brocade robe?" Kasyapa, knowing the time was right, called, "Ananda!" Like a valley spirit echoing in response to a call, Ananda immediately replied, "Yes!" like a spark issuing from a flint. Kasyapa said, "Knock down the banner in front of the gate." Ananda was greatly awakened.
In India at that time, when two religious or philosophical groups debated, both sides put up a banner; when one side was defeated, their banner was taken down. The commentary says, it’s as if Kasyapa and Ananda had lined up for debate and set up their banners next to each other, since now Ananda was appearing in the world, Kasyapa should fold up his banner–one appearing, one disappearing. But this story is not about debating or winning and losing. When Kasyapa instructed Ananda to take down the banner, Ananda was greatly enlightened because master and disciple had become one in the Way, so they no longer needed two banners. This is a story from the Transmission of the Light which is a collection of the enlightenment stories of the ancestors in our lineage whose names we chant in the Names of Buddha’s and Ancestors.
We see in the past that those who transcended the ordinary and transcended the sacred and those who died while sitting or died while standing, relied totally on this power. Moreover, changing of the moment through the action of a finger, a [flag]pole, a needle, or a wooden clapper; and exact experience of the state through the manifestation of a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout, can never be understood by thinking and discrimination. How could they be known through mystical powers or practice and experience? They may be dignified behavior beyond sound and form. How could they be anything other than criteria that precede knowing and seeing? [Nishijima]
In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both mundane and sacred and dying while either sitting or standing have all depended entirely on the power of zazen. In addition, triggering awakening with a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and effecting realization with a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout-these cannot be understood by discriminative thinking; much less can they be known through the practice of supernatural power. They must represent conduct beyond seeing and hearing. Are they not a standard prior to knowledge and views? [SZTP]
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