Nenge Misho (拈華微笑)

The Nenge misho (heart-to-heart communication (lit: holding a flower and subtly smiling) tradition is a Zen legend that holds that, Zen teachings extend from a linage that goes back to the sage Shakyamuni.


At Mt. Ryojusen (Griddhakuta) in India, Shakyamuni silently twisted a flower, but daishu (Zen monks) did not understand his intention. It was only the Buddhist saint Daikasho (Mahakasyapa) who understood its meaning and broke into a subtle smile. For that reason, legend has it that the sage Mahakasyapa passed on the teachings of Zen.

In the Shakamuni-butsu chapter of Lien-teng-hui-yao (Zen sect history), it says 'Seson was at Ryozenejo. He twisted a flower and showed it to his audience. Everyone remained silent. It was only Mahakasyapa who broke into a subtle smile.
Gautama Buddha Sayings
You have Shoho-genzo (treasury of the eye of true teaching), Nehan-myoshin, Jisso-muso and Mimyo homon. Therefore, I transmit Furyumonji and Kyoge-betsuden (heart-to-heart transmission of spiritual awakening) to Makakasho (Mahakasyapa). Even thought the Creator again raised doubts and questioned Buddhist teachings, there is even 'Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, The essence of the Buddha's enlightenment' and doubtful teachings that are not documented and go beyond orthodox teachings which are associated with the sage Mahakasyapa.

The legend does not appear in Sanzo of the Kyoron-ritsu, and it is believed that it was devised to compete with Kyoso Hanjaku (evaluation of sutras) and their verifications of other sects when the Zen Sect was first established. At the end of the Emperor Dezong era of Tang Dynasty, the shamon (priest) in Nanjing named Eko compiled an anthology titled Horinden ("Baolin zhuan" or "Pao-lin Chuan"). The legend is outlined in the anthology and, the sect is said to have begun exaggerating the legend. From the Sung dynasty onwards the legend was recorded in written works such as: 人天眼目 (The eye of humans and gods), 無門関 (Mumonkan abstractions: collection of Zen teachings), 五燈会元 (Five Light's Collections), 廣燈録 (Kotoroku: Zen sect historiography) and 聯燈会要 (Essentials of the Several Lamps Combined) etc. Anseki O (Wang Anshi) of Sung indicated that the legend was adapted from Dai bontenno monbutsu ketsugi kyo. Nowadays, however, it is believed that the Dai bontenno monbutsu ketsugi kyo was a fictitious Buddhist scripture created to substantiate the legend for posterity.

Critics say that the 'Nenge misho' legend describes well unspoken communication, a feature of Zen.

[Original Japanese]