“Maha means great, many and victorious. The Sanskrit word kasyapa means ‘great turtle clan’, because Mahakasyapa’s ancestors saw the pattern on the back of a giant turtle and used it to cultivate the Way. Kasyapa also means ‘light drinking clan’, because his body shone with light which was so bright it seemed to drink up all other light.
“Why did his body shine? Seven Buddhas ago, in the time of the Buddha Vipasyin, there was a poor woman who decided to repair a ruined temple. The roof of the temple had been blown off and the images inside were exposed to the wind and rain. The woman went everywhere and asked for help, and when she had collected enough money she commissioned a goldsmith to regild the images. By the time he was finished, the goldsmith fell in love with her and said, ‘You have attained great merit from this work, but we should share it. You may supply the gold and I will furnish the labor, free.’ And so the temple was rebuilt and the images regilded. The goldsmith asked the woman to marry him, and in every life for ninety-one kalpas, they were husband and wife and their bodies shone with purple and golden light.
“Mahakashyapa was born in Magadha in India. When he was twenty, his father and mother wanted him to marry, but he said, ‘The woman I marry must shine with golden light. Unless you find such a woman, I won’t marry.’ Eventually they found one, and they were married. As a result of their good karma their bodies shone with golden light, and they cultivated together and investigated the doctrines of the Way. When Mahakashyapa left home to become a Bhikshu, his wife became a Bhikshuni called Purple and Golden Light.
“Mahakashyapa’s personal name was Pippala, because his parents prayed to the spirit of a pippala tree to grant them a son.
“As the first patriarch, Mahakashyapa holds an important position in Buddhism. When Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Dharma, the Great Brahma Heaven King presented him with a golden lotus and Shakyamuni Buddha held up the flower before the assembly. At that time hundreds of thousands of gods and men were present, but no one responded except Mahakashyapa, who simply smiled. The Buddha said, ‘I have the Right Dharma-Eye Treasury, the wondrous mind of Nirvana, the reality beyond appearance. The Dharma-door of mind to mind transmission has been entrusted to Kashyapa.’ Thus Mahakashyapa received the transmission of Dharma and became the first Buddhist patriarch.
“The Venerable Mahakashyapa is still present in the world. When he left home under the Buddha, he was already one hundred sixty years old. At the time Shakyamuni Buddha had spoken Dharma for forty-nine years in over three hundred Dharma assemblies, Kashyapa was already over two hundred years old. After Shakyamuni Buddha entered Nirvana, Kashyapa went to Southwestern China, to Chicken Foot Mountain in Yunnan Province. It has been over three thousand years since the Buddha’s nirvana, but Mahakashyapa is still sitting in samadhi in Chicken Foot Mountain waiting for Maitreya Buddha to appear in the world. At that time he will give Maitreya the bowl which the Four Heavenly Kings gave Shakyamuni Buddha and which Shakyamuni Buddha gave him, and his work in the world will be finished.
“When cultivators travel to Chicken Foot Mountain to worship the Patriarch Kashyapa, on the mountain there are always three kinds of light: Buddha-light, golden light, and silver light. Those with sincere hearts can hear a big bell ringing inside the mountain. It rings by itself, and although you can’t see it, you can hear it for several hundred miles. It is an inconceivable experience.”