This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
That makes it a very special occasion to speak about him. Perhaps he is the only man whom I have loved so deeply that speaking on him I will be almost speaking on myself. That also creates a great complexity, because he never wrote anything in his life. No enlightened being has ever written. Bodhidharma is not an exception, but by tradition these three books that we are going to discuss are attributed to Bodhidharma. The scholars reason that because there is no contrary evidence -- and for almost one thousand years, these books have been attributed to Bodhidharma -- there is no reason why we should not accept them. I am not a scholar, and there are certainly fragments which must have been spoken by Bodhidharma, but these are not books written by him. These are notes by his disciples. It was an ancient tradition that when a disciple takes notes from the master he does not put his own name on those notes, because nothing of it belongs to him; it has come from the master. But knowing Bodhidharma as intimately as I know him ... There are so many fallacies which are possible only if somebody else was taking notes and his own mind entered into it; he has interpreted Bodhidharma -- and with not much understanding. Before we enter into these sutras, a few things about Bodhidharma will be good to know. That will give you the flavor of the man and a way to understand what belongs to him in these books and what does not belong to him. It is going to be a very strange commentary. Bodhidharma was born fourteen centuries ago as a son of a king in the south of India. There was a big empire, the empire of Pallavas. He was the third son of his father, but seeing everything -- he was a man of tremendous intelligence -- he renounced the kingdom. He was not against the world, but he was not ready to waste his time in mundane affairs, in trivia. His whole concern was to know his self-nature, because without knowing it you have to accept death as the end. All true seekers in fact, have been fighting against death. Bertrand Russell has made a statement that if there were no death, there would be no religion. There is some truth in it. I will not agree totally, because religion is a vast continent. It is not only death, it is also the search for bliss, it is also the search for truth, it is also the search for the meaning of life; it is many more things. But certainly Bertrand Russell is right: if there were no death, very few, very rare people would be interested in religion. Death is the great incentive.
Bodhidharma renounced the kingdom saying to his father, "If you cannot save me from death, then please don't prevent me. Let me go in search of something that is beyond death." Those were beautiful days, particularly in the East. The father thought for a moment and he said, "I will not prevent you, because I cannot prevent your death. You go on your search with all my blessings. It is sad for me but that is my problem; it is my attachment. I was hoping for you to be the successor, to be the emperor of the great Pallavas empire, but you have chosen something higher than that. I am your father so how can I prevent you? "And you have put in such a simple way a question which I had never expected. You say, 'If you can prevent my death then I will not leave the palace, but if you cannot prevent my death, then please don't prevent me either.'" You can see Bodhidharma's caliber as a great intelligence. And the second thing that I would like you to remember is that although he was a follower of Gautam Buddha, in some instances he shows higher flights than Gautam Buddha himself. For example, Gautam Buddha was afraid to initiate a woman into his commune of sannyasins but Bodhidharma got initiated by a woman who was enlightened. Her name was Pragyatara. Perhaps people would have forgotten her name; it is only because of Bodhidharma that her name still remains, but only the name -- we don't know anything else about her. It was she who ordered Bodhidharma to go to China. Buddhism had reached China six hundred years before Bodhidharma. It was something magical; it had never happened anywhere, at any time -- Buddha's message immediately caught hold of the whole Chinese people. The situation was that China had lived under the influence of Confucius and was tired of it. Because Confucius is just a moralist, a puritan, he does not know anything about the inner mysteries of life. In fact, he denies that there is anything inner. Everything is outer; refine it, polish it, culture it, make it as beautiful as possible. There were people like Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, contemporaries of Confucius, but they were mystics not masters. They could not create a counter movement against Confucius in the hearts of the Chinese people. So there was a vacuum. Nobody can live without a soul, and once you start thinking that there is no soul, your life starts losing all meaning. The soul is your very integrating concept; without it you are cut away from existence and eternal life. Just like a branch cut off from a tree is bound to die -- it has lost the source of nourishment -- the very idea that there is no soul inside you, no consciousness, cuts you away from existence. One starts shrinking, one starts feeling suffocated.
But Confucius was a very great rationalist. These mystics, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, knew that what Confucius was doing was wrong, but they were not masters. They remained in their monasteries with their few disciples. When Buddhism reached China, it immediately entered to the very soul of the people... as if they had been thirsty for centuries, and Buddhism had come as a rain cloud. It quenched their thirst so immensely that something unimaginable happened. Christianity has converted many people, but that conversion is not worth calling religious. It converts the poor, the hungry, the beggars, the orphans, not by any spiritual impact on them but just by giving them food, clothes, shelter, education. But these have nothing to do with spirituality. Mohammedanism has converted a tremendous amount of people, but on the point of the sword: either you be a Mohammedan, or you cannot live. The choice is yours. The conversion that happened in China is the only religious conversion in the whole history of mankind. Buddhism simply explained itself, and the beauty of the message was understood by the people. They were thirsty for it, they were waiting for something like it. The whole country, which was the biggest country in the world, turned to Buddhism. When Bodhidharma reached there six hundred years later, there were already thirty thousand Buddhist temples, monasteries, and two million Buddhist monks in China. And two million Buddhist monks is not a small number; it was five percent of the whole population of China. Pragyatara, Bodhidharma's master, told him to go to China because the people who had reached there before him had made a great impact, although none of them were enlightened. They were great scholars, very disciplined people, very loving and peaceful and compassionate, but none of them were enlightened. And now China needed another Gautam Buddha. The ground was ready. Bodhidharma was the first enlightened man to reach China. The point I want to make clear is that while Gautam Buddha was afraid to initiate women into his commune, Bodhidharma was courageous enough to be initiated by a woman on the path of Gautam Buddha. There were other enlightened people, but he chose a woman for a certain purpose. And the purpose was to show that a woman can be enlightened. Not only that, her disciples can be enlightened. Bodhidharma's name stands out amongst all the Buddhist enlightened people second only to Gautam Buddha. There are many legends about the man; they all have some significance. The first legend is: When he reached China -- it took him three years -- the Chinese emperor Wu came to receive him. His fame had reached ahead of him. Emperor Wu had done great service to the philosophy of Gautam Buddha. Thousands of scholars were translating Buddhist scriptures from Pali into Chinese and the emperor was the patron of all that great work of translation. He had made thousands of temples and monasteries, and he was feeding thousands of monks. He had put his whole treasure at the service of Gautam Buddha, and naturally the Buddhist monks who had reached before Bodhidharma had been telling him that he was earning great virtue, that he will be born as a god in heaven. Naturally, his first question to Bodhidharma was, "I have made so many monasteries, I am feeding thousands of scholars, I have opened a whole university for the studies of Gautam Buddha, I have put my whole empire and its treasures in the service of Gautam Buddha. What is going to be my reward?" He was a little embarrassed seeing Bodhidharma, not thinking that the man would be like this. He looked very ferocious. He had very big eyes, but he had a very soft heart -- just a lotus flower in his heart. But his face was almost as dangerous as you can conceive. Just the sunglasses were missing; otherwise he was a mafia guy!
With great fear, Emperor Wu asked the question, and Bodhidharma said, "Nothing, no reward. On the contrary, be ready to fall into the seventh hell." The emperor said, "But I have not done anything wrong -- why the seventh hell? I have been doing everything that the Buddhist monks have been telling me." Bodhidharma said, "Unless you start hearing your own voice, nobody can help you, Buddhist or nonBuddhist. And you have not yet heard your inner voice. If you had heard it, you would not have asked such a stupid question. "On the path of Gautam Buddha there is no reward because the very desire for reward comes from a greedy mind. The whole teaching of Gautam Buddha is desirelessness and if you are doing all these socalled virtuous acts, making temples and monasteries and feeding thousands of monks, with a desire in your mind, you are preparing your way towards hell. If you are doing these things out of joy, to share your joy with the whole empire, and there is not even a slight desire anywhere for any reward, the very act is a reward unto itself. Otherwise you have missed the whole point." Emperor Wu said, "My mind is so full of thoughts. I have been trying to create some peace of mind, but I have failed and because of these thoughts and their noise, I cannot hear what you are calling the inner voice. I don't know anything about it." Bodhidharma said, "Then, four o'clock in the morning, come alone without any bodyguards to the temple in the mountains where I am going to stay. And I will put your mind at peace, forever." The emperor thought this man really outlandish, outrageous. He had met many monks; they were so polite, but this one does not even bother that he is an emperor of a great country. And to go to him in the darkness of early morning at four o'clock, alone.... And this man seems to be dangerous -- he always used to carry a big staff with him. The emperor could not sleep the whole night, "To go or not to go? Because that man can do anything. He seems to be absolutely unreliable." And on the other hand, he felt deep down in his heart the sincerity of the man, that he is not a hypocrite. He does not care a bit that you are an emperor and he is just a beggar. He behaves as an emperor, and in front of him you are just a beggar. And the way he has said, "I will put your mind at peace forever." "Strange, because I have been asking," the emperor thought, "of many many wise people who have come from India, and they all gave me methods, techniques, which I have been practicing, but nothing is happening -- and this strange fellow, who looks almost mad, or drunk, and has a strange face with such big eyes that he creates fear.... But he seems to be sincere too -- he is a wild phenomenon. And it is worth to risk. What can he do -- at the most he can kill me." Finally, he could not resist the temptation because the man had promised, "I will put your mind at peace forever." Emperor Wu reached the temple at four o'clock, early in the morning in darkness, alone, and Bodhidharma was standing there with his staff, just on the
steps, and he said, "I knew you would be coming, although the whole night you debated whether to go or not to go. What kind of an emperor are you -- so cowardly, being afraid of a poor monk, a poor beggar who has nothing in the world except this staff. And with this staff I am going to put your mind to silence." The emperor thought, "My God, who has ever heard that with a staff you can put somebody's mind to silence! You can finish him, hit him hard on the head -- then the whole man is silent, not the mind. But now it is too late to go back." And Bodhidharma said, "Sit down here in the courtyard of the temple." There was not a single man around. "Close your eyes, I am sitting in front of you with my staff. Your work is to catch hold of the mind. Just close your eyes and go inside looking for it -- where it is. The moment you catch hold of it, just tell me, `Here it is.' And my staff will do the remaining thing." It was the strangest experience any seeker of truth or peace or silence could have ever had -- but now there was no other way. Emperor Wu sat there with closed eyes, knowing perfectly well that Bodhidharma seems to mean everything he says. He looked all around -- there was no mind. That staff did its work. For the first time he was in such a situation. The choice... if you find the mind, one never knows what this man is going to do with his staff. And in that silent mountainous place, in the presence of Bodhidharma, who has a charisma of his own.... There have been many enlightened people, but Bodhidharma stands aloof, alone, like an Everest. His every act is unique and original. His every gesture has his own signature; it is not borrowed. He tried hard to look for the mind, and for the first time he could not find the mind. It is a small strategy. Mind exists only because you never look for it; it exists only because you are never aware of it. When you are looking for it you are aware of it, and awareness surely kills it completely. Hours passed and the sun was rising in the silent mountains with a cool breeze. Bodhidharma could see on the face of Emperor Wu such peace, such silence, such stillness as if he was a statue. He shook him and asked him, "It has been a long time. Have you found the mind?" Emperor Wu said, "Without using your staff, you have pacified my mind completely. I don't have any mind and I have heard the inner voice about which you talked. Now I know whatever you said was right. You have transformed me without doing anything. Now I know that each act has to be a reward unto itself; otherwise, don't do it. Who is there to give you the reward? This is a childish idea. Who is there to give you the punishment? Your action is punishment and your action is your reward. You are the master of your destiny." Bodhidharma said, "You are a rare disciple. I love you, I respect you, not as an emperor but as a man who has the courage just in a single sitting to bring so much awareness, so much light, that all darkness of the mind disappears." Wu tried to persuade him to come to the palace. He said, "That is not my place; you can see I am wild, I do things I myself don't know beforehand. I live moment to moment spontaneously, I am very unpredictable. I may create unnecessary trouble for you, your court, your people; I am not meant for palaces, just let me live in my wildness." He lived on this mountain whose name was Tai... The second legend is that Bodhidharma was the first man who created tea -- the name `tea' comes from the name TAI, because it was created on the mountain Tai. And all the words for tea in any language, are derived from the same source, tai. In English it is tea, in Hindi it is CHAI. That Chinese word tai can also be pronounced as CHA. The Marathi word is exactly CHA.
The way Bodhidharma created tea cannot be historical but is significant. He was meditating almost all the time, and sometimes in the night he would start falling asleep. So, just not to fall asleep, just to teach a lesson to his eyes, he took out all his eyebrow hairs and threw them in the temple ground. The story is that out of those eyebrows, the tea bushes grew. Those were the first tea bushes. That's why when you drink tea, you cannot sleep. And in Buddhism it became a routine that for meditation, tea is immensely helpful. So the whole Buddhist world drinks tea as part of meditation, because it keeps you alert and awake. Although there were two million Buddhist monks in China, Bodhidharma could find only four worthy to be accepted as his disciples. He was really very choosy. It took him almost nine years to find his first disciple, Hui Ko. For nine years -- and that is a historical fact, because there are ancientmost references, almost contemporary to Bodhidharma which all mention that fact although others may not be mentioned -- for nine years, after sending Wu back to the palace, he sat before the temple wall, facing the wall. He made it a great meditation. He would just simply go on looking at the wall. Now, looking at the wall for a long time, you cannot think. Slowly, slowly, just like the wall, your mind screen also becomes empty. And there was a second reason. He declared, "Unless somebody who deserves to be my disciple comes, I will not look at the audience." People used to come and they would sit behind him. It was a strange situation. Nobody had spoken in this way; he would speak to the wall. People would be sitting behind him but he would not face the audience, because he said, "The audience hurts me more, because it is just like a wall. Nobody understands, and to look at human beings in such an ignorant state hurts deeply. But to look at the wall, there is no question; a wall, after all is a wall. It cannot hear, so there is no need to be hurt. I will turn to face the audience only if somebody proves by his action that he is ready to be my disciple." Nine years passed. People could not find what to do -- what action would satisfy him. They could not figure it out. Then came this young man, Hui Ko. He cut off one of his hands with the sword, and threw the hand before Bodhidharma and said, "This is the beginning. Either you turn, or my head will be falling before you. I am going to cut my head too."
Bodhidharma turned and said, "You are really a man worthy of me. No need to cut the head, we have to use it." This man, Hui Ko, was his first disciple. Finally when he left China, or intended to leave China, he called his four disciples -- three more he had gathered after Hui Ko. He asked them, "In simple words, in small sentences, telegraphic, tell me the essence of my teachings. I intend to leave tomorrow morning to go back to the Himalayas, and I want to choose from you four, one as my successor." The first man said, "Your teaching is of going beyond mind, of being absolutely silent, and then everything starts happening of its own accord." Bodhidharma said, "You are not wrong, but you don't satisfy me. You just have my skin." The second one said, "To know that I am not, and only existence is, is your fundamental teaching." Bodhidharma said, "A little better, but not up to my standard. You have my bones; sit down." And the third one said, "Nothing can be said about it. No word is capable of saying anything about it." Bodhidharma said, "Good, but you have said already something about it. You have contradicted yourself. Just sit down; you have my marrow." And the fourth was his first disciple, Hui Ko, who simply fell at Bodhidharma's feet, without saying a word, tears rolling down from his eyes. Bodhidharma said, "You have said it. You are going to be my successor." But in the night Bodhidharma was poisoned by some disciple as a revenge, because he had not been chosen as the successor. So they buried him, and the strangest legend is that after three years he was found by a government official, walking out of China towards the Himalayas with his staff in his hand and one of his sandals hanging from the staff -- and he was barefoot. The official had known him, had been to him many times, had fallen in love with the man, although he was a little eccentric. He asked, "What is the meaning of this staff, and one sandal hanging from it?" Bodhidharma said, "Soon you will know. If you meet my people just tell them that I'm going into the Himalayas forever." The official reached immediately, as fast as he could, the monastery on the mountain where Bodhidharma had been living. And there he heard that he had been poisoned and he had died... and there was the tomb. The official had not heard about it, because he was posted on the boundary lines of the empire. He said, "My God, but I have seen him, and I cannot be deceived because I have seen him many times before. He was the same man, those same ferocious eyes, the same fiery and wild outlook, and on top of it, he was carrying on his staff one sandal." The disciples could not contain their curiosity, and they opened the tomb. All that they could find there was only one sandal. And then the official understood why he had said, "You will find out the meaning of it; soon you will know."
. But nobody has talked much of the resurrection of Bodhidharma. Perhaps he was only in a coma when they buried him, and then he came to his senses, slipped out of the tomb, left one sandal there and put another sandal on his staff, and according to the plan, he left. He wanted to die in the eternal snows of the Himalayas. He wanted that there should be no tomb, no temple, no statue of him. He did not want to leave any footprints behind him to be worshiped; those who love him should enter into their own being -- "I am not going to be worshiped." And he disappeared almost in thin air. Nobody heard anything about him -- what happened, where he died. He must be buried in the eternal snows of the Himalayas somewhere. This is the man, and there are these three small collections which we are taking as one whole book. These are not his writings, because they don't show any quality of the man. They are notes of scholarly disciples; hence they are bound to have fundamental and essential faults, misunderstandings, misinterpretations. They are not people of no-mind. Their minds are taking the notes; their minds are choosing the words. Bodhidharma was not a man of words, he was a man of action. There is no possibility of him writing a book. A man who never wanted to be worshiped, a man who never wanted to leave any footprints behind him to be followed, is not going to write a book either, because that is leaving footprints to be followed. But I have chosen to speak on them because these three small collections are the only writings which for centuries have been believed to be Bodhidharma's. They contain here and there, in spite of the people who were taking the notes, something of Bodhidharma -- something has entered. The task is difficult for any scholar to make a distinction as to which part is Bodhidharma's and which part is the note taker's. It is not a problem for me. I know from my own experience what can be unpolluted Bodhidharma, and what can be only the mind of a scholar interpreting him. So these are not ordinary commentaries. In a way this is the first effort about Bodhidharma to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
RESPONSE TO EZHAM ARIVU
With the Tamil film 7 am arivu (meaning 7th sense) catching imagination of even common man about Bodhi Dharma, curious readers are all looking for more on his personality and findings. Bodhi Dharma was a Tamil prince born in Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu. He travelled to China to spread Buddhism. He is worshipped in China Enlightenment, Meditation, Yoga etc are related to inner contemplation which have been explored by saints, wise men, gurus, god men through their 7’th sense. These Indian men lived in greater India from Afghanistan to Tamil Nadu from ancient times. Bodhi Dharma was one of them. We all have five physical senses. The rational thinking of the human being is the sixth sense. Our brain collects information using five senses through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching and arrives at a analytical conclusion by Sixth sense. The seventh sense is finding the truth by transcending the sixth sense. That is the next stage. The ways of attaining seventh sense are practiced by enlightened individuals. Why anyone should attain seventh sense? Those who search for realisation of the true meaning of life end up in seventh sense. Then why should one understand true meaning? Because that gives eternal joy and ends the wretchedness of birth. Such questions and answers can be reasonably settled only by acquiring the seventh sense. Bodhi Dharma was one such person. What is special about him? Has he not just followed Buddha? In what way he differed from Buddha?
Individuals find the new ideals. The next step is the fusion of ideals. What Bodhi Dharma attempted was combining the age old Tamil wisdom in yoga practices with Buddhism found by Gauthama Buddha to discover Zen Buddhism not before meeting various cultures and philosophies in and around India. Thiruvalluvar ( around 50 BC) , Patanjali ( time unknown) are some of the people from Tamil nadu who found their own ways to attain the seventh sense. Thiruvalluvar has given some ethics and literature about seventh sense although his practical methods are not recorded. Chapter 36 of Thirukkural is about 7th sense. Thiruvalluvar should have decided that seventh sense can be achieved by remaining in a family life whereas others consider family life as a hindrance to get in to seventh sense and therefore they preach a bachelor or segregated life. Siddha of Tamil tradition is for meditation and Yoga by living a life of recluse. They also practiced Medicine which is followed in Tamil Nadu as Siddha medical system. The Siddhars give great importance for maintenance of body and food in contrast to some other school of thoughts which ask us to hate this body as a cause for all ills. No wonder Bodhi Dharma has inherited Tamil wisdom of meditation, medicine and physical arts together in total which is rare to find in any other personality in this world since such a combination is explored in Tamil nadu from unknown times. Patahjali is one of the Tamil Siddhar. From the work of Thirumandiram by Thirumular, another Sidhar, we come to know that Patanjali learnt Yoga from Nandi deva. Patanjali was born near Coimbatore and his Samadhi is in Tiruppatur near Trichy. The Patanjali Yoga is a compilation of Yoga methods. However it has been in practice by many Siddhars in Tamil Nadu for many centuries. Bodhi Dharma born in Tamil Nadu who followed Buddhism should have been exposed to Yoga practices as practiced in this area. The excellent understanding and perfection of five senses through proper food and medicine and conditioning of the body by martial arts and practice of yoga over and above are the foundations on which one can find the ways to understand the life personally and individually instead of keep on reading the scriptures. Only under such environment the seeds of Zen Buddhism could have been developed. Zen was initiated by Buddha but evolved by Bodhi Dharma when he got the right environment and experience. In other words Bodhi Dharma attained his seventh sense by learning the theories of Buddhism and combining them with Yoga, Medicine and Physical arts as practiced by Sidhars in Tamil nadu. Bodhi Dharma was both a Buddha and Siddha.
Abandoning the false and embracing the true, and in simpleness of thought, abiding in pi-kuan or wall meditation, one finds that there is neither selfhood nor otherness, that the masses and the worthies are of one essence. Holding firmly to this belief and never moving away therefrom, one is not guided by any written instructions, for one is in silent communion with the principle itself, free from conceptual discrimination, serene and not-acting. Meditation on Four Acts BODHIDHARMA
There was a transmission from mind to mind without the use of written texts. BODHIDHARMA to HUI-K'E
Meditation had been a vital dimension of Buddhist practice from the moment it entered China. Tao-an combined a vigorous attempt to secure and meticulously translate accurate texts with an enduring commitment to establish strong foundations for the Buddhist sanghaand by spreading meditation exercises amongst the monks. Although serene contemplation was honoured by Confucian scholars and a few Taoists revered some kinds of meditative art, Tao-an and his worthy successors introduced a more consistent and serious range of practices, based on a variety of sacred texts, to the Chinese mind. Yet, although meditation,dhyana, was held to be important, its cultivation was sporadic and uneven, since no school of thought made it the cornerstone of life. Nonetheless, individuals did just that, and gradually China became ripe for a fundamental reorientation of Buddhist thought. Bodhidharma recognized the fertile soil and sowed the seeds of dhyana in it. His successors reaped a fruitful harvest in the cluster of schools gathered together under the name of Ch'an. Very little is known of Bodhidharma's life, in part because few details survive from his time and in part because of the legends which surround him. Having little faith in the capacity of the written text to convey the quintessence of buddhavachana, the Word of Buddha, he did not commit much to writing. As the Ch'an tradition emerged, later writers relied on whatever sources they could find to reconstruct his life. Since he was altogether a mysterious being, these accounts attempted to capture the remarkable spirit of his actions rather than the details which might be found in a clinical biography. Tradition holds that he was the third son of a South Indian Brahmin of Kanchipuram. His brilliance and exceptional powers of observation convinced him early in life that the ways of the world held nothing worth gaining, and so he became a monk. By the time he had mastered meditation, he saw that Buddhist practice was declining in many regions and he decided to go to China, where, he believed, a fresh infusion of dhyana could quicken Buddhist life. According to tradition, he arrived in China in about 520 C.E., although indirect evidence suggests that he might
have reached northern China as much as forty years before. There he trained disciples and launched the Ch'an movement. Ch'an is an abbreviated form of ch'an-na, the Chinese equivalent to dhyana in Sanskrit, jhana in Pali, and later, zen in Japanese. According to the records of the Ch'an and Zen schools of China and Japan, there existed from the time of Buddha a transmission outside the canonical Teaching. From the Ch'an standpoint there is a double gap between the luminous mind of Buddha and the written scripture. What is said in a certain context to particular individuals with a specific timing can only be imperfectly put down in written form. What could have been transparent to those who heard it from Buddha's lips may become obscured by the opacity of written texts, and whole schools of interpretation may have arisen like shadows cast when sunlight falls on dense objects. Even more difficult than the inherent limitations of writing, however, is the gap between the inmost thoughts of an enlightened consciousness and the constricting words which have to be used to express them. An enlightened being abides within a pristine spiritual ontology and a pellucid meta-ethics, and his words can at best provide indicators of the realm of Reality. Metaphysically, consciousness abiding beyond the world of illusion characterized by limited space and measurable time can speak only in hints and guesses to consciousness bound by that world. Psychologically, the human mind can assimilate Buddha-consciousness only by rising to the level of Buddha. When this occurs in whatever degree, there is a direct contact between minds, a transmission outside the Teaching (though not in conflict with it), which in the world of words and passing thoughts can be represented only by Silence. The Ch'an tradition traces itself to a single event in Buddha's life. Once while discoursing to a gathering on Vulture's Peak, Buddha left off all words. Silently he raised a flower given him by a lay disciple and gazed at it. None understood the import of this Teaching save the aged Mahakashyapa, who merely smiled. Seeing his smile, Buddha said, "I have the supremely precious treasure, spiritual and transcendental, which I now hand to you, O Mahakashyapa." In this way, Mahakashyapa became the second Indian patriarch of the transmission outside the Teaching. From that time on, each patriarch was confirmed by his predecessor, often with some tangible symbol like a robe or a begging bowl, but always with a direct transmission from mind to mind of the secret of Enlightenment. This transmission from patriarch to successor was seen as a reflection, within a period marked by the advent of a Buddha, of the transmission of spiritual insight from Buddha to Buddha. In time, a gathaor verse was recorded as the legacy of transmission between Buddhas and from patriarch to patriarch. For example, the gatha of Buddha Kashyapa, offered to Siddhartha Gautama, reads:
Pure, immaculate, is the nature of all sentient beings; From the beginning there is neither birth nor death. Body and mind are phantom creations, And phantom change holds neither sin nor merit.
When Gautama Buddha gave the transmission to Mahakashyapa, he said:
The Dharma is ultimately a dharma which is adharma;
A dharma which is adharma is also a dharma. Now I hand this adharma on to you: What is called the Dharma – where, after all, is it?
Within the Ch'an tradition, twenty-eight Indian patriarchs were recognized – "a special transmission outside the scriptures" – of whom Buddha was the first, followed by Mahakashyapa. Ananda, who had remembered everything Buddha said in his presence and whose recollections formed the basis for the scriptures set down at the First Council, was the third patriarch. Ashvaghosha, who wrote The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, was the twelfth, and Nagarjuna,
whose searing dialectic illustrated the inherent limitations of language and systems, was the fourteenth patriarch. Vasubandhu, whose incisive treatises gave rise to various 'mind-only' schools, was the twenty-first patriarch, and Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth. In choosing to go to China, Bodhidharma brought the Indian line to a close. Becoming the first Ch'an patriarch, he inaugurated a line which is generally held to have closed with the sixth Ch'an patriarch, and Bodhidharma's begging bowl was buried with him. The sixth patriarch belonged to the Southern Ch'an school, which split with the Northern school, and after his time various lineages developed and faded into history. Bodhidharma arrived in Canton around 520. In China he was known as P'u-t'i-ta-mo (usually shortened to Ta-mo), and in Japan, where his influence remains strong in the Zen schools, as BodaiDaruma. His first recorded act in China was an interview with the famous Emperor Wu of Liang, a strong supporter of the Buddhist Order in his kingdom. Having shown Bodhidharma the temples he had built, the sacred texts he had transcribed and the large number of monks and nuns he had supported, he enquired, "What do you think my merit might be?" "None whatever, sire", was Bodhidharma's blunt answer. "But why?" the surprised emperor asked. "All these are inferior deeds which cause their author to be born in the heavens or on this earth again. They still show the traces of worldliness, like shadows following objects. . . . As to a truly meritorious deed, it is replete with pure wisdom and is perfect and mysterious; its real nature transcends human understanding. It cannot be sought after by any worldly achievement." Realizing that he was hearing a radical reformulation of Buddhist thought, the emperor asked, "What is the first principle of the holy teaching?" "Vast emptiness," Bodhidharma replied, "and there is naught in it to be called holy, sire." "Who is it, then, who is now confronting me?" "I know not, sire. Although the emperor was gracious, he did not pretend to grasp Bodhidharma's meaning, and the monk decided to travel north. Crossing the Yangtze River, he went to the northern kingdom of Wei, where he admired the great Yung-ning Temple in Lo-yang, calling it the finest temple he had ever seen. He did not seek to become a public figure, but he gathered a select group of disciples together and ordained at least one monk. Although he taught and wrote a few short texts, he focussed entirely on conveying a rigorous mode of meditation. From the scanty materials that survive, including several brief treatises, it appears that Bodhidharma was less concerned to teach a system of meditation than to provide a method whereby all forms of meditation could be understood, assessed and strengthened. It is said that in Wei he retired to the Shao-lin Monastery and meditated facing a wall for nine years. Although some monks have taken this story literally and in some Zen schools meditation is conducted facing a wall, the story seems to refer to the method of meditation he taught, which he called pi-kuan, meaning 'with mind perceiving (kuan) as a wall (pi) sees', not 'perceiving (kuan) a wall (pi)'. Bodhidharma was deeply moved by the vigorous, unstinting and ceaseless efforts of two of his disciples, Tao-yih and Hui-k'e. Because of their potent spiritual resolve, he penned one or two short essays on the meditative life for their benefit. His Meditation on Fourfold Practice provided the general method by
which meditation was to be undertaken. Although there are numerous ways to enter the Path, Bodhidharma wrote, they can be placed under two broad headings: entrance by reason and entrance by conduct. Entrance by reason means "the realization of the spirit of Buddhist teaching by the aid of scriptures". Here one deepens one's faith in the true and original nature, which is the same for all beings. This pristine nature is obscured by external objects and deluded thoughts, but when the mind turns from the false to the true, simply abiding in pi-kuan – meditation like a wall – both the separative sense of self and its cognate sense of otherness disappear. Such a mind is in communion with the formless essence of all beings. Its mode is silence and its condition is serene. Whatever details of life are encountered, it can be said to be not acting. Entrance by conduct deals with the four acts under which all actions are subsumed.
What are the four? How to requite hatred; to be obedient to karma; not to seek after anything; to be in accord with the Dharma.
Requiting hatred has to do not only with overcoming dislikes and aversions but also with the sense of injustice that can arise when one is striving to do one's spiritual best, only to find all kinds of adversity placed in the way. Bodhidharma suggested a specific line of thought which should be cultivated whenever such conditions affect one's thoughts:
During innumerable ages in the past I have wandered through a multiplicity of existences, all the while giving myself to unimportant details of life at the expense of essentials and thereby creating infinite occasions for hate, ill will and wrongdoing. Even if no violations have been committed in this life, the fruits of evil deeds in the past are to be gathered now. Neither gods nor men can foretell what is coming upon me. I will submit myself willingly and patiently to all the ills that befall me, and I will never moan or complain.
Hatred is requited and not just banished by this method, because reflection on wrongful thinking becomes an opportunity to take a broad view of the chain of causation in the service of treading the Path. Being obedient to karma involves recognizing that no self (atman) can be a part of whatever is the interplay of conditions resulting from karma. The oscillation between opposites like pain and pleasure is the outcome of previous actions, and both will in time disappear. "The spirit itself knows neither increase nor decrease", and nothing can affect it if it is in harmony with the Path. Although the worldly-minded are ever attached to one or another thing, the wise know that all attachments, however noble or base, inevitably lead to suffering.
Their minds abide serenely in the uncreated while the body turns about in accordance with the laws of causation. All things are empty and there is nothing desirable and to be sought after. . . . Wherever there is seeking, there you have suffering; when seeking ceases you are blessed.
Being in accord with the Dharma means that the mind abides in purified reason, which is the Dharma. Further, Dharma is shunyata, the Void at the core of all manifestation, beyond attachments and pollution, where there is neither self nor other. When this state is realized, one's conduct is in accord with the Dharma. Wise beings know this and have no attachments, and so their lives are embodiments of dana, selfless love and charity. They have no compulsion to be amongst human beings but voluntarily choose to work in the world.
Only because of their will to cleanse all beings of their stains, they come among them as of them, but they are not attached to the form. This is known as the inner aspect of their life. . . . The wise practise the six virtues (paramitas) of perfection to rid themselves of confused thoughts, and yet they are not conscious of their doings.
In this treatise Bodhidharma did not delineate a particular system of meditation, but he did set
forth criteria of meditation and right practice, which involved an abiding faith that all beings share the same ultimate nature – a state of consciousness which is like a wall, witnessing all, clinging to nothing – and a constant mindfulness of the fourfold practices essential to spiritual nurture in daily life. In distinguishing between the two entrances – by reason and by conduct – he followed closely the teaching of the Vajrasamadhi Sutra, but there the term for steady, enlightened consciousness is chueh-kuan, 'awakened perceiving'. By choosing the seemingly unsuitable phrase pi-kuan, 'wall perceiving', he drew attention to the critical element in all meditation practice: absolutely steady, non-dualistic, abiding consciousness. Tao-yuan, in his Records of the Transmission of the Lamp, written in 1004, quoted from an older work which discussed Bodhidharma's pi-kuan doctrine. When Bodhidharma was teaching Hui-k'e in the Shao-lin Monastery, he said:
Externally keep yourself away from all relationships, and internally avoid ch'-uan, pantings, hankerings, in your heart. When your mind is like a straight-standing wall, you may enter the Path.
Although Bodhidharma spoke from direct experience, confirmed by his teacher and predecessor, he invoked sacred texts to explain the message he sought to pass on to others. A manuscript found in the Tun-huang Caves purports to be a discourse of Bodhidharma to an unknown disciple. There true mind is called wu-hsin, which has been translated 'no-mind'.'Wu' means 'no', but 'hsin' has many meanings, including 'mind', 'heart', 'soul', 'regulating principle', 'consciousness', 'mental attitude' and even 'voluntariness'. In the Tun-huang discourse Bodhidharma argued that no thought, feeling or action would be possible without the invisible presence of wu-hsin in and behind it. Any conditioned conception, which includes every conception the conscious mind can think, is false when contrasted with Reality. "It is like a man seeing in the dark a table or a piece of rope which he takes for a ghost or a snake, being terrified by his own imagination." Hence even one's conceptions ofnirvana and Enlightenment are illusory, just as are one's conceptions of objects, beings and states. This is why, according to Bodhidharma, the Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra said that there is no body in which Enlightenment can be realized, and the Vajrachchedika Sutra taught that a Buddha's attainment is no attainment. Yet wu-hsin is attainable because it is always present in consciousness.
Wu-hsin works through my conscious mind, making it understand the true nature of Reality. . . . So we read in the Ratnakuta that the mind functions by means of wu-hsin without being aware of it. . . . Only let us be awakened to wu-hsin in all things and in all our doings – this is the way of discipline, and there is no other way. Thus when wu-hsin is realized, all things cease to trouble us.
Having laid the foundations for his method, Bodhidharma spent most of his time in China bringing the method to life for disciples who were ready. The techniques he used, each appropriate to a particular disciple at a particular time, provided the colourful and seemingly bizarre behaviour which became the distinguishing mark of Ch'an and Zen life. Once a monk named Shen-kuang sought Bodhidharma's help, but the patriarch ignored him. Shen-kuang persisted by remaining near Bodhidharma until he would be noticed. One evening he stood so long in falling snow that the drift about him reached almost to his knees. Suddenly Bodhidharma turned to him and said that the doctrine was incomparably difficult to master and the discipline even more difficult to endure. He added that only those of the highest virtue and wisdom would ever understand it. Shen-kuang continued to follow Bodhidharma, until one day Bodhidharma said, "This is not to be sought through another." "But my soul is not yet pacified", Shen-kuang replied. "Pray, Master, pacify it." "Bring your soul here," Bodhidharma said, "and I will have it pacified." After some hesitation Shen-kuang responded, "I have sought it these many years and am unable
still to get hold of it." "There!" Bodhidharma exclaimed, "it is pacified once for all." Upon hearing these words, Shen-kuang realized that for which he had spent years in seemingly fruitless preparation. Bodhidharma, knowing his mind, knew with exact timing precisely what to say, and Shen-kuang gained insight into the true nature of all beings. Thereupon Bodhidharma told him to change his name to Hui-k'e, the name by which he is known as the second patriarch. Nine years later, Bodhidharma decided that his work in China was finished, and he called his closest disciples to him to test them. Tao-fu said, "The truth is above affirmation and negation", to which Bodhidharma replied, "You have got my skin." Then the nun Tsung-ch'ih stepped forward, saying, "Truth is like Ananda's viewing the Buddha-land of Akshobya: it is seen once and never again." Bodhidharma said, "You have got my flesh." Tao-yu came forward and spoke: "Empty are the four elements and non- existing the fiveskandhas. There is not a thing to be grasped as real." And Bodhidharma responded, "You have got my bones." When Hui-k'e's turn came, he stood in his place, bowed to Bodhidharma and said nothing. "You have my marrow", Bodhidharma spoke softly. Those present would have understood their Teacher's meaning, for they would have known Nagarjuna's commentary on the Prajna Paramita Sutra, where he wrote:
Moral conduct is the skin, meditation is the flesh, the higher understanding is the bone, and the mind subtle and good is the marrow.
Later Hsieh-sung wrote, "The subtle mind is what is secretly transmitted from Buddha to his successors in the faith." The end of Bodhidharma's life is as wrapped in mystery as is the beginning. Nothing is known of him after this incident with his disciples. One legend avers that he was poisoned by a rival. Another holds that he vanished while returning to India by way of the Gobi Desert. One legend even proclaims that he moved on to Japan. In all of them, however, he is said to have been very old, perhaps one hundred and fifty years. Like a meteor, he burst full-blown into history and just as suddenly vanished. Yet the brilliant mark he made on the vault of time left a luminous impression that glows warmly right into the present. His 'special message' revolutionized Chinese Buddhist practice and gave a fundamental impulse to the Buddhist tradition in Japan. An anonymous later writer formulated that message in a verse worthy of the first Ch'an patriarch:
A special transmission outside the scriptures; No dependence on words or letters; Direct pointing at the soul of man; Seeing into one's nature, attaining the Buddha.
Just as a well-kindled fire reduces fuel to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of wisdom (jnanagni) reduce all actions to ashes. Bhagavad-Gita IV.37 SHRI KRISHNA
The Zen patriarch Bodhidharma
It was a bright, cheerful day in the kingdom of the mighty Pallava king Sugandha. King Sugandha was sitting on his effulgent throne chatting with his ministers about the affairs of his kingdom. Just then, the guard at the door announced the arrival of Prince Bodhi. The young prince took slow steps towards his father and stood with his eyes fixed on his father’s feet. Pain was clearly visible in his deep set eyes. Sugandha’s heart was overflowing with pride for having such a brilliant son, however, he caught that pain hidden in his son’s eyes , and questioned him lovingly – “O noble and handsome son, you have successfully completed all your education in warfare, self defense, scriptures and political science. You are ready to take on this throne and lead the Pallava people to a glorious future. The borders of this kingdom have been secured, and the people are happy and prosperous. Various forms of arts are flourishing and we seemed to reached great heights of achievement. Your ascent to the throne after me is all that is left. There cannot in the entire world be a father today who is as proud of his noble son as I am. When the entire kingdom is waiting eagerly for your ascent to the throne, why then O son is your gait lacking enthusiasm and what pain are those eyes desperately trying to hide? Still staring at his father’s feet, Bodhi asked, “Father, Do you know why there is death in the world?”. Deathly silence fell upon the entire courtroom. No one spoke a word. Slowly Bodhi lifted his eyes to look into his father’s eyes and continued, “Father, I want to conquer death. I seek your permission before I embark on this journey. Do you know how to conquer death Father? If you can guarantee that you can teach me how to prevent death, then I will become your sincere disciple and learn from you. I will also stay back and rule the kingdom after you. But, if you have no answers, then please allow me to go and search for my answers.” Sugandha was taken aback by these sharp words. No sword had dared to pierce the mighty Sugandha his entire life. But these soft and sincere words from his son’s mouth went straight through Sugandha’s heart. Even though he was extremely saddened by the fact that he had no answers to console his son which would mean, he would have to let go of Bodhi, he was still very proud that a son like Bodhi was born to him. Finally Sugandha broke the long silence and said, “O Son, I am ashamed to say that I am incapable of giving you the answer. I do not understand how Kaal (time/death) works. I have no way of knowing what causes him to go after people. I do not think I can stop him from getting to you. All my knowledge is in the area of politics and I am sadly ignorant in the matters of the higher truth. I worry that if you leave the kingdom in search of the truth, then there will be no one left who is good enough for this throne. Your brothers would make valiant kings, but their knowledge is no match to your wisdom. But, that worry is mine alone, and I would have to deal with that myself. It would be unfair for me to thrust my worries on your head. And therefore it is only fair that I allow you to go and search the answer to your question. O wise Bodhi, you not only have my permission, but also my blessings. Go on, son! May you learn the truth!” As Bodhi left the courtroom after paying respects to his father, Sugandha fell back into his throne, lifelessly. Sugandha had never doubted that his son was a very noble and valiant boy, but never did he even once think that this nobility and this courage could potentially cause permanent separation from Bodhi. The moment Bodhi renounces the kingdom, Bodhi will cease to remain Sugandha’s son anymore. Bodhi would become just an identity-less someone who was searching for the truth. In fact, the entire kingdom was on the one hand proud of having a prince like Bodhi, and on the other hand, were very sad to let him go. What Bodhi had learned at this young age – to disentangle himself from the bonds of attachment – even old people on the death beds had still not learned. What a great boy Bodhi must be!
He thus embarked on this difficult journey. He needed a teacher who was also enlightened to show him the path to enlightenment. We see in Bodhi a characteristic very similar to that of Gautama Buddha. Like Gautama, Bodhi was parched with hunger and thirst for the truth. He wanted to know the truth about life and death, more intensely than he wanted to enjoy the sensual pleasures that were so easily available to him as a prince. After a lot of pondering alone, and after a lot of wandering and searching for a teacher, Bodhi found Pragyatara. Pragyatara patiently groomed and nurtured Bodhi and also initiated him into meditation and taught him many secrets that are hard to discover on the journey towards the truth. At the end of all this intensive study, Pragyatara was certain tha Bodhi had attained full knowledge and understanding about life and death. Bodhi was now a new man, a man with knowledge. Now, Pragyatara felt that time had come for Bodhi to spread this teaching to the rest of the world. This new Bodhi was henceforth given a new name – Bodhidharma – and he was ordered to go to China to disseminate the Buddha’s teachings to the people there. Thus to fulfill the orders of his teacher, Bodhidharma undertook a long journey towards China. He travelled from India to China on foot and the journey took him 3 years. On the way, countless people who lived in the villages he passed by benefited from Bodhidharma’s teachings. Several Buddhist monks from India had traveled to China to spread the message of the Buddha. They had all made great impact despite the fact that none of them were really completely enlightened. Bodhidharma was the first enlightened patriarch of Buddhism stepping on Chinese soils. As soon as the news of his arrival reached the emperor’s ears, Emperor Wu came personally to greet him. Emperor Wu had been a generous patron of the Buddhist monks. He had built tens of thousands of monasteries for the two million monks who lived and practiced in China. Of course, all these accomplishments, like one would guess, had given Wu more than a tinge of conceit. At the first chance he got, he did not fail to mention all this to Bodhidharma and asked him if all these good deeds would give him and his kingdom good results. Bodhidharma said to Wu, “Emperor, be prepared to go to the worst hell there is, as that is what you will attain.” The emperor was shocked, “Sire, why would these good deeds take me to hell. I have been sincerely serving the monks and following their advice to the word. I don’t deserve to go to hell.” Bodhidharma explained further, “You have listened to everyone else but yourself. You have followed everything that these monks told you, but have you paid any heed to the voice inside you? Has the voice not even once told you that all these so-called noble deeds you are boasting about will take you to hell? Has that voice never reminded you that there is no worth in doing deeds with the desire for fruits. The desire for actions to bear fruits comes from a greedy mind. And O Emperor, you have that greedy mind, hence you have not gained any merit whatsoever. A man who performs the action with no desire for results; that man who serves selflessly, that man who acts bearing in mind that the action itself is the reward, only that man deserves to get merit for his actions. Would the voice inside you affirm that you are indeed worthy of merit? I don’t think so. Go emperor, go listen to that voice inside you and learn from it, for that voice is the greatest teacher.” These words made great impact on Wu. Wu confessed to Bodhidharma about how that his inner voice had almost died. His fickle monkey mind that kept jumping from one thought to another had made Wu so restless that Wu stopped hearing the inner voice altogether. Bodhidharma said, “Wu, come to that cave in the mountains where I am currently residing. Do not bring any guards or companions. Do not bring any weapons. At four in the morning, before dawn comes, you must come alone. I will teach you how to take charge of this mind of yours.” Wu agreed to meet Bodhidharma in that cave before dawn. However, that night Wu’s mind was restless again. His mind was concocting reasons why Wu should not go to meet Bodhidharma at dawn, “Why did Bodhidharma ask me to not bring anyone? Why should I go alone? What if anything happens to me there? Oh, what if Bodhidharma was secretly plotting to kill me and take over my kingdom?”. “Well, he already had a kingdom at home. He couldn’t just give up his own kingdom, walk for 3 years to come to China and plot to kill Wu. That theory just doesn’t make sense. Besides, all that Bodhidharma claim as his worldly possessions is a staff that he carries around that aids him in walking across difficult terrain.” Despite this tumultuous battle that
was going on in his mind, the determined Wu got up at four and sneaked out of the palace, unaccompanied, and unarmed to meet Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was standing at the mouth of the cave, majestic and glowing. He held his staff in his hand. The howling wind caused Bodhidharma’s hair to fly in an uncontrolled manner. Even though there was smile on Bodhidharma’s face, the sight of him standing like that waiting, caused Wu to think that the god of death himself was standing in front of him, eagerly waiting to pounce and reduce him to non-existence. Despite this ominous thought, Wu kept walking towards Bodhidharma. He bowed at his feet and waited for his instructions. Bodhidharma examined Wu carefully and then started the lesson, “Here sit down with closed eyes right here. Start searching for your mind. The minute you find it, call out my name. Today you and I are going to catch hold of your mind and give it such a thrashing with this staff that your mind will remember forever that it should never bother you again” After making sure that Wu understood the instructions, he sat down and closed his eyes. 5 minutes had passed. Wu hadn’t moved. 10 minutes passed. Still no sound from Wu. Like this, almost 2 hours had passed and Wu was still sitting motionless and had not yet caught hold of the mind. Bodhidharma, who was sitting right across from Wu gently opened his eyes and smiled. At this moment, Wu also opened his eyes and immediately fell down at Bodhidharma’s feet. “O Master, I have known that which you wanted to teach me. Alas, why did it take so long? I am forever indebted to you for your kindness. The moment I started watching and looking out for my mind, it dissolved into nothingness. I waited patiently for the mind to come back, but it looks like the mind has disappeared forever. I feel light. I have no mind anymore.” Having thus sowed the seeds of enlightenment in Wu’s mind, Bodhidharma moved on to spread his teachings. Where did Bodhidharma go next? Did he get any new disciples? Why did he come to be called the Patriarch of Zen? Who followed him as the master of Zen? The answer to these questions will follow in the next post.
After receiving the wonderful art of silencing and controlling the mind from Bodhidharma, Wu felt very grateful to his master. Even though he realized that perfecting this art should be the focus of the remainder of his life, he knew that the time had not yet come for him to renounce the world and become a monk, because his kingly duties beckoned him. Wu was not at all happy by the thought that he would have to part ways with the master so soon. Despite Wu repeatedly requesting Bodhidharma to stay back in the kingdom for a longer time, Bodhidharma politely rejected the invite and he went his way after blessing Wu and his kingdom. Bodhidharma kept walking through the dense jungles and forests north of Wu’s territory. At the end of the dense jungles, was a village. People of that village had already somehow got the news that the realized master Bodhidharma was on his way. They had all gathered on the outskirts of their village waiting eagerly for Bodhidharma. When they saw the master, staff in hand, his matted locks swaying with the motion of his determined gait, and the penetrating gaze of his fierce deep set eyes, they must have all felt like they got a darshan of Mahakala himself. Oh what a fearful yet soul-filling sight that would have been! They all requested the master to give them a sermon. Bodhidharma neither said yes, nor said no. The people assumed that was a yes and were elated. They all immediately got about making a comfortable and raised seat for the teacher, and themselves sat down on the bare ground, ready for the lecture to begin. There is a lot of significance in the gesture of a student choosing to sit at the feet of the master. The student is a seeker and the master is the possessor of what the student is seeking. Knowledge demands respect and since the master is more worthy of respect than the student, symbolically the master gets a raised seat. However a seeker must understand that he is not doing any special service or favor on the master by giving him a raised seat. Giving due respect to the teacher merely enables the student to acquire an open mind towards what the teacher is about to tell, thus also helping him completely grasp the teachings also. The teacher possesses the knowledge already and
can also easily reveal it to the student. However, if the student is not in the right frame of mind to receive it, then this exchange of knowledge has been rendered unfruitful. Just like how water only flows from a higher level to a lower level, these simple gestures assist a student in simulating the difference of levels within the mind, so that his mind may become ready to accept the teaching. Coming back to the story, Bodhidharma accepted the seat offered to him. The people of that village were eager for the pearls of wisdom to fall out of the master’s mouth. But a very strange thing happened. Bodhidharma closed his eyes and started meditating, instead of speaking and the people continued to sit, waiting around his feet. Several hours passed this way in complete silence. At the end of the meditation, Bodhidharma opened his eyes, quietly got up and resumed his journey northward. However, those people who were waiting to hear him speak did not appear to be dissatisfied at all. Even though not even a word was spoken at all, everyone sitting there had responded in some way to Bodhidharma’s meditation. Through the meditation of an enlightened soul, each one seemed to have had a different experience. Among those people were some that had tears of joy in their eyes, while some others were lying in complete prostration on the ground. And there were some who just sat there blankly, as if in trance. Depending on how empty each one’s cup was, each of those people had received their blessing and teaching in their respective cups. Continuing to travel north, Bodhidharma reached the Shaolin Temple, in the present day Henan province. Near the temple he found a dark cave and retreated into it. He sat there facing the wall of the cave and meditated. Days passed, months passed but he continued to sit and stare at the wall. Meanwhile, the monks who lived at the temple monastery, took notice of Bodhidharma and so did the other people who lived in the village. They would visit Bodhidharma from time to time and sit by his feet, and after they were satisfied, they would leave the master alone with his meditation. Some monks and also some curious people from the village tried to approach Bodhidharma requesting him to take them as his disciple. Bodhidharma would hear their humble request, but he never turned his face away from the wall and practically ignored them. For nine years, Bodhidharma sat staring at the wall, not really caring to make new disciples and increase his following. Some of these people who were ignored, got irritated and stopped asking Bodhidharma to teach them. Of course, these kind of people did not deserve to be taught. However, there was one particular lad who was genuinely sincere in his request to learn. He repeatedly came to Bodhidharma every single day and made the same request to be his disciple. Somehow this young lad’s request was very different from the request of all the others. The others who had asked Bodhidharma the same question, upon receiving no response from the master, either got angry and left, or felt dejected and left. This young man was different because the tone in his voice – the sincere beseeching to acquire knowledge – was unchanged despite being ignored by the master for years. Mentally he had already accepted Bodhidharma as his guru and he would serve the master everyday. In the mornings, he would visit the master with offerings of flowers, fruits, etc., and at night he would stand guard at the door of the cave making sure that the master was not attacked by wild animals. He performed this service for many years. One day, after he made the same request and was again ignored, he felt so dejected that he decided he had to do something to make the master at least notice him. He immediately brought out a sword, and cut off his left hand and placed it beside the master and said, “O Master, you have been unhappy with all my offerings so far and you have not even as much as looked at me in all these years of my service to you. This is probably because I have never given you anything that was worth offering to a master. Worthless indeed is my life if I do not learn anything from you. This ignorant fool would rather die than go on living in the darkness of ignorance. Therefore, I stand before you today to make the offering of my head. Master, wherever my head rolls after it is cut it off from my body, please accept it as if it were offered at your feet.” Completely devastated and hopeless, bleeding profusely, this brave boy lifted his sword ready to cut off his head. And lo! At that very moment, after nine years of staring at the wall, Bodhidharma turned to stop him and said, “There is no need to cut the head. We have to use it.” The direct vision of Bodhidharma that fell on this boy instantly transformed him. He fell at the master’s feet, tears falling from his eyes. The name of this first disciple of Bodhidharma was Hui Ke. Following Hui Ke, Bodhidharma got three other disciples. Even though there were two million Buddhist monks in China during Bodhidharma’s time, only four among them were considered to be
worthy disciples. There is no doubt now about how strict and rigid Bodhidharma should have been as a master! Bodhidharma trained these four disciples in all the significant scriptures in the Buddhist tradition. He taught them rigorous meditation and trained them all to take complete control of their minds and bodies. The Sanskrit word for meditation is dhyana. In Chinese, dhyana is written as cha’n and by the time we go further east towards Japan, Cha’n becomes zen. Thus the word zen is in fact derived from the Sanskrit word dhyana. Since Bodhidharma was the first to initiate seekers into the path of dhyana, he later came to be known as the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism. Bodhidharma also felt that the Shaolin monks were physically very weak and were pretty incapable of being initiated into the rigors of zen practice, until they developed strength in their bodies. Bodhidharma was well versed in Kalaripaayattu (the South Indian martial arts). He devised a comprehensive set of exercises and routines drawing from Kalaripaayattu and taught that to the Shaolin monks. After Bodhidharma, these Shaolin monks further mastered this art and thus Kung Fu and other eastern martial arts were born from the teachings of Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma started feeling the urge to go to the Himalayas and spend the rest of his life there, amidst the pure snows and sacred vibrations of the many others who were also meditating there. However, he could not just leave without first selecting one among his four disciples to succeed him in his mission of spreadingdharma and dhyana. With that in mind, he called his four disciples to him and asked them to share with him in as few words as possible what each one had learned from the master. One of them came forward and said, “O master, you have given us the unparalleled art of going beyond the mind. You have taught us to accept everything that happens and to remain silent always.” Bodhidharma was not completely satisfied. The second disciple stepped up and said, “O Guru, Only existence is and I am not. That is what I have learned.” Bodhidharma smiled. Now the third disciple broke his silence and said, “No word is capable of describing the change you have brought into our lives, O master!”. Bodhidharma smiled, “Son, but you have just said so many words about it now” and saying thus, he turned to his favorite disciple Hui Ke and asked “My dear, what have you learned?” Hui Ke could not bring himself to speak even a word. Tears were rolling down from his eyes. In response to that question, he fell at the master’s feet and wept his heart out. Bodhidharma was satisfied and proclaimed, “Rise my boy, you are the rightful successor.” Having thus appointed Hui Ke to be his successor, Bodhidharma retired to the Himalayas. Somewhere beneath all the snow on the mountains may lie the remains of this great master.
bodhidharma death true history
The evolution of Asian martial arts as they are known today is thought to have originated around 500 A.D., when an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma arrived in China. Legend has it that he taught Indian fighting exercises to the Chinese monks in order to improve their physical condition. All kung-fu is thought to have evolved from this beginning, and from kung-fu came karate. The Bodhidharma legend has been examined in detail by Michael Spiesbach (“Bodhidharma: meditating monk, martial arts master or make-believe?” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 1992, vol. 1, no. 4, p. 10-27). The question of Bodhidharma's actual contribution to the martial arts, and even of his very existence, has been the subject of controversy among martial arts historians for many years. Because he is such an important figure, we will review what is thought to be known about him in some detail: The earliest historical reference to Bodhidharma is the Luoyang jia lan ji, (“The History of the Monasteries of Luoyang”) written by Yang Xuanzhi in 547 A.D. Yang claims to have personally visited the Yong Ning Temple and to have met there an old Persian “Barbarian” (foreigner) named Sramana Bodhidharma, who stated that he was 150 years old. The Buddhist scholar Guifeng Zongni (780-841) quoted an old Buddhist Koan (riddle) that asks, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” Dao Zuan's Xu gao seng zhuan (“Biographies of Eminent Tang Monks”), written in 645, gives the earliest record of Bodhidharma's life. The second most important biography is Dao Yuan's Jing de zhuan deng lu (“The Records of Transmission 1 of the Lamp”), compiled in 1004. Many writings have traditionally been credited to Bodhidharma himself, but current scholarly opinion maintains that none is authentic. Mainstream Buddhist tradition holds that Bodhidharma arrived in China in 520, although there are historical indications that he may have arrived in 470, or even as early as 420. There is no agreement as to the route he traveled or where he arrived first. Some say he traveled by sea, “risking his life over the towering waves,” from Madras in southern India to Guangzhou and then by land to Nanjing. Other scholars believe that he walked a well-beaten trail over the Pamir Plateau, across the desert and along the Yellow River to Luoyang, the provincial capital and center of Chinese Buddhist culture. In any case, the journey from India is agreed to have been long and dangerous. Bodhidharma is thought to have been born in Kanchipuram, near Madras, India, the third son of a local king and therefore a member of the caste of warriors and rulers. At the age of seven he purportedly began making observations of precocious wisdom (e.g. “The mind is a jewel”). His teacher, Prajnatara, changed the boy's name from Bodhitara to Bodhidharma. Following his father's death, Bodhidharma served Prajnatara for many years spreading Buddhism. Upon Prajnatara's death Bodhidharma left his monastery in India to follow his master's last wish that he go to China and spread the teaching. 2 Bodhidharma crossing the Yanstze Rover on a reed Bodhidharma is said to have resided a while in the court of the Emperor Wu Dai (465-550), but left after deciding that the emperor was not sufficiently appreciative of his teaching. He traveled to the northern part of the province by crossing the Yangtze River (according to one version, by miraculously standing on a reed), arriving finally at Luoyang, an active center of Buddhist scholarship. There he made himself unpopular by asserting that the Buddhist scriptures were only a tool for achieving enlightenment and need not be studied indefinitely for their own sake. Hated, abused and slandered in Luoyang, he was forced to live by begging for food. He then traveled to Mount Song for a period of ascetic contemplation, and from there moved on finally to the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. (Not to be confused with other Shaolin temples, such as the one in Fujian Province associated so closely with the origin of Okinawan karate in the 18th and 19th centuries). The temple, built in 495, was already a focal point for Indian Buddhist monks who came there to work at translating the Indian sutras into Chinese. He was not welcomed there either, however, so he took up “wall-gazing” meditation in a cave facing a high cliff opposite the Shaolin monastery. Legend says he meditated there in 3 4
silence for nine years as a demonstration of the true reality of Buddhism. During this time he was approached by a Chinese monk named Shen Guang, who convinced Bodhidharma of his sincerity and was accepted as Bodhidharma's disciple and successor. There are many mutually incompatible stories of Bodhidharma's death and burial place. According to what is apparently a mostly oral tradition, Bodhidharma initiated training programs at the Shaolin temple which related to martial arts. Bodhidharma taught his brand of dhyana meditation to monks at the temple, but found that they did not possess the necessary stamina. They were so weak that they tended to fall asleep during meditation lessons. In order to strengthen their “flaccid and emaciated bodies” he instituted calisthenics, breathing exercises and Indian fighting exercises. His emphasis was said to be the cultivation of intrinsic bioenergy (called ki in karate) through breath control. Bodhidharma is supposed to have been well versed in these techniques as a result of the training given all members of the Indian warrior caste in their youth. The famous Sanchin kata, incorporated today in over a dozen Okinawan karate styles, is often attributed directly to Bodhidharma. In the Uechi-ryu karate style, the goal of Sanchin practice is actually stated to be nothing less than enlightenment! Another component of present-day karate attributed to Bodhidharma is the kiba dachi, or “horse stance,” which is used as a physical exercise as well as a meditation stance. Monks were originally expected to remain in the low horse stance while meditating for the length of time it took a stick of incense to burn, about one hour. The horse-stance has been called one of “Bodhidharma's Treasures.” Disciplines and martial exercises instituted by Bodhidharma were supposedly transmitted orally for centuries, and were not actually written down until a thousand years later when the Yi Jin Jing (“Muscle-changing-Classic”), the Xi Sui Jing (“Marrow-cleansing Classic”), and the Shi Ba Luo Han Shou (“Eighteen Hand Movements of Luohan”) were composed. The “Muscle-changing Classic” consists of exercises for strengthening the “external” (arm and leg) muscles and also the “internal” (torso) muscles. After the “Muscle-changing Classic” was mastered, students were to move on to the “Marrow-cleansing Classic,” which was designed to clean the bone marrow and blood, strengthen the immune system, and energize the brain to facilitate enlightenment. Bodhidharma (also known as Taishi Daruma in Japan) eventually became revered as the founder of Zen Buddhism. Whether his legends hold an element of truth, or are the products of later Zen scholars attempting to flesh out a believable patriarch, he remains today a prime symbol of the willpower, determination and self-discipline that are essential to success in the martial arts. Following his example, the modern martial artist strives to “endure what is most difficult to do, and practice what is most difficult to practice.” Bodhidharma's example of the Master-student relationship for teaching the way to enlightenment also endures today throughout the martial arts. Consequently, through the hard evidence for his existence and his martial arts contributions is entirely lacking, he is still widely and beneficially accepted as the Father of the Asian Martial Arts.
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