The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma

The following is the first in a series studying “The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma”–as translated by Red Pine.

1. Outline of Practice

MANY roads lead to the Path, but basically there are only two: reason and practice. To enter by reason means to realize the essence through instruction and to believe that all living things share the same true nature, which isn’t apparent because it’s shrouded by sensation and delusion. Those who turn from delusion back to reality, who meditate on walls,’ the absence of self and other, the oneness of mortal and sage, and who remain unmoved even by scriptures are in complete and unspoken agreement with reason. Without moving, without effort, they enter, we say, by reason.

For Bodhidharma there is an essential truth: Mind Only. There are many roads that lead to this pathless path, yet there are two that lead to its recognition: reason (self-realization of Noble Wisdom) and four unfolding patterns of heightened bodhipower (practice). Through the self-realization of Noble Wisdom one discerns that all apparent phenomena are nothing but Mind obstructing itself—a dream, a fata morgana, a sensate realm of delusion that is devoid of the Unmoving Principle (Mind resting in its True Unborn Essential Stature); Bodhidharma is insistent upon this self-realization…nothing, not even the written word in scripture can distract one from resting in this deathless principle. One needs to learn to see like a wall sees—Unmoving and undisturbed—NOT as a mind “perceiving” the wall. The alternative is to be forever encaged in the Moving Principle (phenomena).

To enter by practice refers to four all-inclusive practices: Suffering injustice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practicing the Dharma. First, suffering injustice. When those who search for the Path encounter adversity, they should think to themselves, “In Countless ages gone by, I’ve turned from the essential to the trivial and wandered through all manner of existence, often angry without cause and guilty of numberless transgressions.
Now, though I do no wrong, I’m punished by my past. Neither gods nor men can foresee when an evil deed will bear its fruit. I accept it with an open heart and without complaint of injustice. The sutras say “when you meet with adversity don’t be upset because it makes sense.” With such understanding you’re in harmony with reason. And by suffering injustice you enter the Path.

One begins to Recollect their former error of exclusively focusing on the Moving Principle which opens the door to the mind-maze of endless transgressions with its accompanying poisons like anger and guilt. Even if one is “Originally Unstained” from these defilements, by embracing the Moving one spins the diurnal wheel of karmic consequences. Once in a karmic-cycle, there is no escape; Bodhidharma says that you will surely meet with adversary because it makes sense within the karmic-spin. Recognizing this through the lens of self-realization empowers one to stay in harmony within the deathless center (Dharmadhatu) of the karmic-spin; hence, just by accepting what is passing enables one to remain faithful to the Path.

Second, adapting to conditions. As mortals, we’re ruled by conditions, not by ourselves. All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions. If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame or fortune, it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past. When conditions change, it ends. Why delight In Its existence? But while success and failure depend on conditions, the mind neither waxes nor wanes. Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the Path.

It’s all a matter of adapting to the conditioned realm of samsara; realize that both moments of bliss and misfortune are passing fancies and just stay rooted in the Unmoving Principle—neither being moved by those fleeting moments of both joy and sorrow.

Third, seeking nothing. People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something-always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up. They choose reason over custom. They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons. All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know peace? Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop Imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.” When you seek nothing, you’re on the Path.

The greatest of all self-entrapment is the rabid desire to “seek”—whatever the object. When one incessantly seeks one is turning-away from the Unmoving Principle; it’s like being on a fast-moving carnival ride and trying to observe the rapidly moving phenomenon that is passing by—instead of closing one’s phenomenal eyes and staying centered within the Imageless Eye of the Unmoving Core. All of those passing images are Self-empty; one is just lost in the “no-self” of the body consciousness. No one will ever experience peace in the no-self. The solution is to STOP SEEKING; indeed, when you “seek” you are doing so through the no-self of the body consciousness. When you make a FULL STOP to the seeking, the no-self is rendered null and void and one is back home again on the Unmoving and pathless-path of the Unborn Mind.

Fourth, practicing the Dharma.’ The Dharma is the truth that all natures are pure. By this truth, all appearances are empty. Defilement and attachment, subject and object don’t exist. The sutras say, “The Dharma includes no being because it’s free from the impurity of being, and the Dharma includes no self because it’s free from the impurity of self.” Those wise enough to believe and understand these truths are bound to practice according to the Dharma. And since that which is real includes nothing worth begrudging, they give their body, life, and property in charity, without regret, without the vanity of giver, gift, or recipient, and without bias or attachment. And to eliminate impurity they teach others, but without becoming attached to form. Thus, through their own practice they’re able to help others and glorify the Way of Enlightenment. And as with charity, they also practice the other virtues. But while practicing the six virtues to eliminate delusion, they practice nothing at all. This is what’s meant by practicing the Dharma.

Wonderful stuff here—all dharmatas are Self-empty—hence subject AND object don’t really exist. What really matters is being faithful to the Buddhadharma—anything outside this wordless teaching is just useless chaff blowing in the wind. All attachments that are aligned with the Moving need to be dropped in order to see with Deathless Eyes the true “Dharmata”—the inner essence that is realized inwardly by one’s inmost self.

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One Response to The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma

  1. Mike says:

    How wonderful!, this emptiness where things exist, actually where things are free. Whats a soap bubble? Because of it’s emptiness, it’s not just a soap bubble! Imagine, what is it to God, source of all beingness? It’s ok to seek, like a rabid dog seeking water, and nothing will quench this thirst, only emptiness, because what’s at the center of nothingness, in the heart of a black hole: the aweful, incomprehensible, magical maneuvers of the Intent of Infinity.

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