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I've heard of a Buddhist story in which the Buddha just holds up a flower and one monk in the audience understands then becomes instantly enlightened. I believe it is a foundational text for Zen Buddhism. Where does this text originate from? What canon or collection of texts is it from? When was it wrote and which tradition(s) does it derive from?

Generally I would just like to know a bit of background to the history, authoring and authority of the text. I have only ever hear to it referred to in secondary sources and never giving a primary reference.

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Here is some information about it:

The origin of the Zen school is traditionally traced to Mahakassapa, who was said to have received a direct transmission outside the scriptures. This transmission is illustrated with the evocative story of the Buddha holding a flower silently before the assembled Sangha: only Mahakassapa understood, and smiled. The story is gains special resonance since Mahakassapa is renowned as a curmudgeonly old monk – although his authentic verses in the Theragatha do indeed show a delightful love of nature.

Despite the fame and importance of the story, it is not attested in any Indic scripture, and is a Chinese Chan invention. It’s first appearance is apparently in the compilation of koans, the 無門關 (Wúménguān, often rendered in English as The Gateless Gate), compiled by the Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k’ai (無門慧開) and first published in 1228. The development of the notion of lineages is discussed by Dumoulin.
-The Date of the Flower Sermon, Sujato Bhikkhu

The text is found, as mentioned above, in "The Gateless Gate" under the heading "Buddha Twirls a Flower".

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In Dhammapada of Kuddaka Nikaya, there is one instance where Buddha helped a disciple of Sariputta to attain arahanthood within one day by creating a lotus flower and meditate on it. The link to that story can be found here. This is in Theravada tradition and I don't know if this is what you are looking for.

  • It's actually a different sutra/story - but that's interesting. I'd not heard of that one. Thank you – Crab Bucket Aug 23 '14 at 17:39
  • ??? I cannot find this sutra in Dhammapada. The link suggests it is dhammapada/209 but in the access-to-insight - collection under dhamapada/209 ff. there are only short sayings in two-line form. So what's going on here? – Gottfried Helms Aug 24 '14 at 7:42
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    In access-to-insight the verse can be found at Maggawagga, 285 But I don't know why they haven't given the background story in it. Here's another link where you can find all the Dhammapada verses and there background stories what-buddha-said.net/Canon/Sutta/KN/… – dmsp Aug 24 '14 at 8:41
  • @GottfriedHelms The verses of the Dhammapada have accompanying text stories. I think the verses are considered Buddhavacana and the stories aren't (so the stories are often omitted from a translation or anthology). But here is an edition with the stories. – ChrisW Apr 4 '18 at 21:45

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