Transmission of the Lamp

24. Shishibodai

Shishibodai asked Kakurokuna, “As I wish to pursue the Way to enlightenment, how should I exert my mind in order to do it?” Kakurokuna answered, “If you would pursue the Way, there is no situation where you need to exert your mind.” Shishibodai asked, “If I do not exert myself, who will perform the work of Buddha?” Kakurokuna replied, “If you are involved in exerting, there will be no merit or virtue; if you do not make yourself perform, then that is ‘the work of Buddha’. A Scripture says, ‘The merit and virtue in what I perform is due to there being no egocentric ‘I’’.” When Shishibodai heard these words he entered the Buddha’s WISDOM.


Shishibodai (S. Simfihabodhi, ‘The Wisdom of the Lion’) was a Brahman from Central India; originally he had studied non-Buddhist teachings and had a reputation for being well versed in them. He met Kakurokuna and the above dialogue ensued whereupon he was straightway exposed to the state where he did not exert his discriminative mind and so immediately entered the Buddha’s WISDOM.

One day Kakurokuna suddenly pointed toward the northeast and asked, “How do those forms in the sky appear to you?” Shishibodai answered, “I see a vaporous cloud, like a white rainbow, stretching from heaven to earth with five trails of black clouds running across it at right angles.” Kakurokuna asked, “What does this portend?” Shishibodai replied that he did not know. Kakurokuna said, “Fifty years after my death difficulties will arise in Northern India which will assail your body. In spite of this, you will Transmit the TREASURE OF THE LAW so that others can be converted in the future.” Having received this personal prediction, Shishibodai went to preach in Kashmir where he met Bashashita whom he made his spiritual heir and told him, “My master made a prediction to me, in private, that I would meet with difficulties and my body would be attacked; I will not try to get round this in any way. I will remain here so that you can be endowed with my Way to enlightenment and travel to different countries to convert others.” He then imparted the Kesa and the Teaching to Bashashita.

The ruler of Kashmir at that time, although deeply devoted to Buddhism, was still mired in appearances, moreover, there were two non-Buddhist men in the country, named Mamokuta (S. MÅmukta) and Torakusha (S. Tulaka), who had studied the arts of trickery hoping to stir up rebellion. They had stolen some robes, dressed up as disciples of the Buddha and sneaked into the royal palace, saying to themselves, “Should we not succeed, the blame will fall back on the Buddhists.” When their enterprise failed, the enraged king said, “From the very first I have committed my heart and mind to the Triple Treasure. Why have Buddhist monks tried to bring harm to me? All they have achieved is that I order their monasteries to be destroyed and the host of Buddhists to be eradicated.” Then, sword in hand, he went to where Shishibodai was staying and demanded of him, “Have you found the immaculacy of emptiness of the skandhas or not?” Shishibodai answered that he had. The king then asked, “Are you beyond birth and death?” Shishibodai answered that he was. The king said, “Since you are beyond birth and death, you can give me your head.” Shishibodai replied, “Since this body is not mine, why should I begrudge you its head?” whereupon the king decapitated Shishibodai with his sword. White milk spurted several feet into the air from the wound. The king’s right arm twisted off and he fell to the ground; a week later he died. Shishibodai, for his part, had remained constant.

The first time Kakurokuna and Shishibodai met the latter had asked, “As I wish to pursue the Way to enlightenment, how should I exert my mind in order to do it?” Kakurokuna had replied, “If you would pursue the Way, there is no situation where you need to exert your mind.” When you sincerely seek the Way, how can the Way have any connection with mental exertion? We die in one place and are reborn in another. Although people may sporadically aspire to the Way and pursue the Teaching, they have not yet made that True Returning due to their mental exertions. So, if you want to be instantly in accord with the Buddha’s WISDOM, you must not only free yourself from the four false views (i.e. that the phenomenal world is permanent, is a source of pleasure, is pure and has a self) and the three poisons of greed, hate and delusion, but also let go of such notions as the Three Bodies of Buddha and the four types of enlightened wisdom (i.e. the great perfect mirror-wisdom, the wisdom of equality, the wisdom of wondrous perception and the wisdom of accomplishing transformations). When you go forth in this way, it will be difficult to classify you as being among the ranks of the ordinary or to extol you as one on the level of a Buddha. Going far beyond the state in which you feel that you are holy or are ordinary, you will have forthwith left behind your judgments of being different from, or the same as, others. It is said that even the Buddhas and Ancestors found it hard to reach the place of DARK WONDER; it is not only difficult for the Buddhas and Ancestors to arrive here, whenever this place comes up for discussion the Buddhas and Ancestors always, in the end, cease to exist. Reaching such a realm is truly considered a signpost in seeking the Way.
Until you have reached this realm, even if you can make flowers rain down from the sky, make the great earth move, expound on ORIGINAL NATURE and discourse on the DARK WONDER, you have never caught sight of even the tiniest bit of IT whilst upon this truly wondrous Way. Even so, the virtues from your meditation can reach a place as ineffable as this and make clear THAT which the successive generations of Ancestors have borne on their shoulders.

As usual there are my humble words which try to explain a little of this principle. Do you wish to hear them?

If you want to manifest the ABSOLUTE, do not conceal IT ;
Indefinable in ITS emptiness, pure in ITS tranquility,
IT has been evident from the first.

(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.)