Ananda and Kashyapa

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on February 22, 2016.)

Ananda and Kashyapa flank the Buddha at Hongyuan Temple, Shenzhen

When the Buddha is on a temple's main altar, there are often two seated figures of similar size on either side. These may be other Buddhas, or various bodhisattvas.

However, even when these are present, it is not uncommon to see two long, slim figures standing on either side of the main Buddha, smaller than the main figures, making a total of five on the altar. These are two of the Buddha's foremost disciples (actually, arhats), Ananda (Enan) and Kashyapa (Jiaye).

Both are monks, but each has his unique purpose in being there. Ananda (on the Buddha's right, our left) was one of the youngest of the Buddha's followers. His father and the Buddha's father were brothers; as a first cousin, he became the personal attendant of the Buddha, accompanying him on his travels. Thus he heard the Buddha's teaching over and over, and due to his excellent memory retained much of what he heard.

After the Buddha's death, a council was called to organize his teachings. At this time Ananda was not yet enlightened, so he was to be excluded from the meeting. But he focused his efforts and attained enlightenment before the discussion began. Good thing: He was the main source of much of what later became the Pali Canon.

The older disciple, Kashyapa, is considered the first patriarch of Chan (Zen). He was the first to apprehend the truth of the "Flower Sermon"--an esoteric teaching--and the asceticism of his practice was much respected.

These two, then, represent two aspects of the Buddha's teaching. Ananda was the keeper of the words, the exoteric teaching; Kashyapa was the guardian of the inner teachings.

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