Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.”
Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.”
Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.”
“There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified your mind.”
In the 5th century, he appeared in China.
Sources differ on whether he came from India or Persia. He has been described as a blue eyed barbarian with a giant beard. We only know him from his Buddhist name, Bodhidharma. He is credited with bringing not only Zen to China, but also the martial art that would come to be known as Shaolin Kung Fu.
His life story is full of wild myths and legends.
When he arrived in China, he was already famous. Word had spread that this great Buddhist teacher was coming, so everyone was ready for him. I picture it like the papparazzi waiting for a celebrity.
There are many legendary stories about Bodhidharma that are probably mythical.
It’s said that he spent nine years in a cave meditating non-stop; they say that Bodhidharma invented tea to help him stay awake during hours and hours of meditation.
One story involved Bodhidharma meeting Wu, the emperor of China. The emperor of China was a big fan of Buddhism and he wanted to meet this famous, already legendary, teacher. They had a dialogue that went like this:
Emperor Wu: “How much merit have I gained for ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?”
Bodhidharma: “None. Good deeds done with worldly intent bring good karma, but no merit.”
Emperor Wu: “So what is the highest meaning of noble truth?”
Bodhidharma: “There is no noble truth, there is only void.”
Emperor Wu: “Then, who is standing before me?”
Bodhidharma: “I know not, Your Majesty.”
This is the teaching style of Bodhidharma; he challenged preconceptions at every opportunity. The emperor tried to meet with Bodhidharma later, but he refused.
Here’s another story:
There was a man named Huike who wanted to learn from Bodhidharma. He went to the cave that Bodhidharma was living in and requested to become his student. Bodhidharma refused, telling him to go away.
Huike didn’t give up. He stood outside Bodhidharma’s cave in the middle of winter, waiting for Bodhidharma to change his mind. He stood until snow was up to his waist.
In the morning, Bodhidharma asked Huike what he wanted and Huike said, “I want a teacher to open the gate of the elixir of universal compassion to liberate all beings”.
Bodhidharma refused, saying, “How can you hope for true religion with little virtue, little wisdom, a shallow heart and an arrogant mind? It would just be a waste of effort.”
This reminds me of the scene in the film Fight Club, when Tyler refuses the first applicant to their little terrorist house and the guy just waits outside for days until they let him in. (I wonder if that scene was inspired by the story of Huike.)
Anyway, in an incident that’s more hardcore than a Brad Pitt movie, after waiting a long time, Huike demonstrated his determination by cutting off his own arm. Bodhidharma was impressed by his commitment and accepted Huike as his student, eventually making him his heir.
Is this story true? I doubt it, but, it doesn’t matter. The point is we should be determined to practice. We don’t have to make the level of sacrifice that Huike did, however.
Bodhidharma met the monks at a monastery called Shaolin and he thought they looked out of shape. So, he invented Kung Fu so that they would get some exercise.
Bodhidharma’s teaching was pretty simple and straightforward. He said we should be focused on practice, rather than giving too much faith to religious texts. The concept that enlightenment is with us already comes from Bodhidharma.
He described zen as:
“A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words and letters;
By pointing directly to mind
It lets one see into [one’s own true] nature and attain Buddhahood.”
And he was a big advocate of a style of meditation that he referred to as ‘wall-gazing.’ This is the style of sitting meditation in which we sit facing a blank wall, keeping our eyes open and attempt to quiet our minds.
No visualization, no chanting, just silent meditation.
Many of the branches of Buddhism have different rituals and things going on. Bodhidharma’s Buddhism did not; direct and to the point was how he wanted it.
He thought Zen should be something simple.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise