Transmission of the Lamp

10. Barishiba

Barishiba faithfully attended on Fudamitta for three years without ever resting. One day Fudamitta was reciting a Scripture and lecturing on the UNBORN; upon hearing this, Barishiba realized enlightenment.

Barishiba (S. Parsva, ‘He Whose Ribs Remain Upright’) was from Central India; his name was originally Nanshá (S. Durjata, ‘He Whose Birth Was Difficult’); just before he was born, his father dreamt of a white elephant with a jewelled seat on its back; in the seat lay a lustrous pearl the light of which illumined monks and laity, male and female; upon his awakening, his son was born.

Fudamitta arrived in Central India whilst travelling about teaching others. At the time a wealthy elder, whose name signified ‘He Who Is a Fragrant Canopy’, came with his son and, reverently bowing to Fudamitta, said, “My son was in the womb for sixty years, hence he was named ‘He Whose Birth Was Difficult’. I once met a rishi who told me that my son was no ordinary person and thus would undoubtedly become a vessel for the Teaching. Now that I have met you, a sainted one, it is proper that he leave home and become a monk.” Fudamitta shaved the son’s head and gave him the Precepts.

Barishiba did not give rise to his resolve to realize enlightenment until he had been in the womb for sixty years and then matured for an additional eighty years for a total of one hundred and forty years; he was already a very old man when he became a very old monk. This is why, when he undertook to arouse his resolve, everyone rebuked him, saying, “Since you are already a very old person, why waste your time trying to leave your footprints in the clear stream of the Sangha? After all, there are two types of monks; those who train through meditation and those who chant Scriptures. You are not fit to do either.” When Barishiba heard these disparaging remarks made by worldly people he made a vow to himself, saying, “I have left home to become a monk; until I have thoroughly studied and mastered the Three Treasure Houses of the Canon and have realized the three types of spiritual clarity, I will not let my ribs touch my mat.” Pledging himself in this way, he studied and recited the Scriptures during the day and then meditated, or spent time in reflective recollection, during the night without ever drifting off into sleep.

When he first undertook to leave home and become a monk an auspicious light illumined wherever he sat and, as a consequence, he felt as though the twenty-one fragments of the Buddha’s remains were before his very eyes. Because of his diligent devotion he forgot all about his fatigue during the three years it took him to thoroughly study and master the Three Treasure Houses of the Canon and open himself up to the three types of spiritual clarity. Then one day, whilst Fudamitta was reciting a Scripture and lecturing on the UNBORN, Barishiba realized enlightenment; ultimately he was ranked as the Tenth Ancestor.

Understand that Barishiba forgot his fatigue because of his diligent devotion. He studied and recited the Scriptures, as well as meditated and recollected, doing all of this as the meritorious undertakings of a Buddha and Ancestor. The Ancestors and Masters always recited Scriptures as well as lectured on the UNSURPASSED, ‘Scriptures’ here referring to the genuine Mahayana Scriptures. In like manner Barishiba would never recite anything if it was not a Mahayana Scripture even though it was something that the Buddha had expounded. He never had recourse to a Scripture that was not completely faithful to the TRUTH: true Mahayana Scriptures do not expound on ‘sweeping oneself clean of defiling dirt’ or talk of ‘ridding one’s mind of erroneous concepts’. Of necessity, completely faithful Scriptures not only thoroughly clarify abstract principles as well as subtle points of meaning, they also make completely clear the Great Matter that teaches one how to practise. By ‘making completely clear the Great Matter’ I mean that they explain in full detail how the various Buddhas gave rise to Their resolve to realize enlightenment, how They realized the nirvana of enlightened wisdom and how They preached both the Three Vehicles for conveying sentient beings to the Other Shore, the Five Vehicles for conveying them to their karmic rewards and what the times and places were wherein They lived, as well as the names They went by among other things. This is what ‘being completely faithful’ means. Be aware that this is what Buddhist Scriptures are like.

Even though you can utter a phrase or show familiarity with some principle, it would be all but impossible to acknowledge you as a Buddha and Ancestor if you do not see a whole lifetime of study through to the end, therefore forget your fatigue through your diligent devotion, withdraw from the mundane by giving rise to your resolve to realize enlightenment, abstain from debating and theorizing about training, pursue your meditation and practice with care, examine everything in detail, persist day and night, raise your resolve and awaken your strengths, fully discern why the Buddhas and Ancestors have long cherished the desire to appear in the world and clarify the purpose for which you are responsible. ‘Becoming a Buddha and Ancestor’ means that never, in your whole life, do you have to say that you did not penetrate to the PRINCIPLE or that you did not make every effort in the great practice. In recent times the Way of the Buddhas and Ancestors has become unfashionable and, inasmuch as practice and study have consequently lost their verity and credibility, there are those who feel that it is enough just to be familiar with some term or well versed in some principle; such trainees are undoubtedly of the same ilk as those arrogant braggarts on Vulture Peak who walked out whilst the Buddha was preaching. Stand in dread of such people!

Have you not seen the passage where Oryu Enan (C. Huang-lung Hui-nan) says, “The Way is like a mountain which, as you climb it, seems higher and higher; virtue is like an ocean which, as you enter into it, seems deeper and deeper.” By entering into what is deep you reach the bottom, by climbing what is high you reach the top; not until then will you be a true disciple, a child of Buddha. Never casually neglect your body and mind since everyone is, through and through, a vessel for the Teaching. Every day is a favorable day!

You will be someone who penetrates all the way to IT or not simply on the basis of whether you practice carefully or not; it is not a question of someone being chosen or some time being more propitious as you should realize from today’s story. Barishiba was already very old, old by being more than a hundred and forty years but, because his resolve was unrivalled and, in his devotion, he forgot about his fatigue, he ultimately brought the training and study of his lifetime to a conclusion. As the story says, he served Fudamitta unswervingly for three years without resting despite his truly pitiable old body. Since people nowadays, especially as they grow older, become disinclined or negligent, you should identify with such former venerable and wise ones of times long past and not look upon winter’s cold as ‘How cold it is!’ or summer’s heat as ‘How hot it is!’; do not dwell on whether your life will suddenly be cut off or wonder whether you are mentally up to going on. If you do your training in this way and do it well, then you will be someone who really trains, someone who practises the Way. If there is true training and practice of the Way, which of you will not be a Buddha and Ancestor?

As said earlier, Barishiba recited Scriptures but ‘reciting Scriptures’ does not simply mean reciting Them aloud or holding a copy of Them in your hand whilst skimming through the pages; reciting in the Hall of the Buddhas and Ancestors is not some mechanical manipulation of sounds or an occasion to wander off into the dark womb of inattention; it is vital that you recite Scriptures by arousing enlightened wisdom and discernment at every point and by bringing Their light and clarity to the foundation of your mind at all times. When you comport yourself in this way twenty-four hours a day as though you were not concerned with anything else, then you cannot help but penetrate to the very core of ORIGINAL UNBORN NATURE.

Have you not realized that, although we come to be born, there is nowhere that we come from and, although we depart in death, there is, again, no place into which we go? We emerge in life in the here and now and then completely pass away from everywhere. As this rising and passing away is not neglected for a single moment, what we call ‘birth’ is not birth nor is ‘death’ death however, as trainees and students, do not let ‘birth and death’ get trapped in your heads, do not let your seeing and hearing estrange you from your TRUE SELF. Even though IT becomes seeing and hearing as well as sound, shape and colour, IT is your own brilliantly luminous TREASURE HOUSE. When you let loose this brilliance through your eyes, you bathe the Buddha body and Buddha land in splendour; when you set this luminosity free through your ears, you can hear the sounds and voices of the Buddhas at work; when you let the radiance pass out through your hands, you change your- self as well as others; when you let it pass out through your feet, you put yourself into action, now stepping forward, now stepping back.

Again today I would like to append my humble words in the interest of pointing out what is happening in this story. Do you wish to hear them?

Turning page after page,
oh how many volumes of Scripture there are!
Dying here, being born there, is but chapter and verse.

(from The DENKOROKU: The Record of the Transmission of the Light by Zen Master Keizan Jokin. Translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, Shasta Abbey Press, 2001.)