Transmission of the Lamp

28. Bodhidharma (达摩)

One day Hannyatara asked Bodaidaruma (Bodhidharma), “Amongst all things, which is without any characteristics?” Bodaidaruma replied, “The NON-ARISING is without characteristics.” Hannyatara asked, “Amongst all things, which is the greatest?” Bodaidaruma answered, “The DHARMA-NATURE is the greatest.”

Bodaidaruma was of the warrior caste. Originally his name was Bodaitara; he was the third son of King Kōshi of Southern India. This king, whose name means ‘He Whose Fragrance Excels All Others’, had a reverence for Buddhism far exceeding that of his companions and had once bestowed a priceless pearl on Hannyatara. His three sons he had named Gatsujōtara (S. Candravimalatāra, ‘The Bright Pearl of the Moon’), Kudokutara (S. Punyatāra, ‘The Pearl of Meritorious Virtue’) and Bodaitara (S. Bodhitāra, ‘The Pearl of Supreme Enlightenment’). Hannyatara, wishing to test the spiritual wisdom of these three princes, showed them the pearl and asked, “Can anything rival this pearl?” The first and second sons replied, “This pearl is the most honoured amongst the seven precious objects and is truly unrivalled. If not someone with your Worship’s spiritual prowess, who better to receive it?”

Bodaitara said, “This is a worldly treasure so it still falls short of being considered supreme; amongst all treasures, the DHARMA TREASURE is considered above them. This jewel has a worldly lustre so it still falls short of being considered supreme; amongst all lustres, the lustre of ENLIGHTENED WISDOM is considered supreme. This pearl has a worldly brightness so it still falls short of being considered supreme; amongst all forms of brightness, the ORIGINAL NATURE’s brightness is considered supreme. The splendour of this jewel cannot shine in, and of, itself; of necessity you must borrow from the LIGHT OF ENLIGHTENED WISDOM to perceive its shining. When you have fully discerned this, then you will know that THAT is the JEWEL. When you have come to know that JEWEL, then you will be clear about what that TREASURE is. If you are clear about what that TREASURE is, a treasure will, in itself, not be the TREASURE. If you have discerned that JEWEL, a jewel, in itself, will not be the JEWEL. A jewel, in itself, will not be the JEWEL when we invariably use the JEWEL OF ENLIGHTENED WISDOM to differentiate amongst worldly treasures; a treasure, in itself, will not be the TREASURE when we invariably use the TREASURE OF ENLIGHTENED WISDOM to be clear about the DHARMA TREASURE. Because Hannyatara’s Way is the TREASURE OF ENLIGHTENED WISDOM, you are now conscious of the worldly treasure, however, since the master keeps the Way, this TREASURE then manifests ITSELF; should sentient beings keep the Way, the TREASURE will also manifest ITSELF for them.”

Hannyatara, upon hearing such eloquence, knew that Bodaitara was karmically descended from a sage. Although he discerned that Bodaitara was certainly his Dharma heir, for the time being he kept silent about it and did not single him out. This is why he asked him, “Amongst all things, which is without any characteristics?” to which Bodaitara had replied, “The NON-ARISING is without characteristics,” whereupon Hannyatara had asked, “Amongst all things, which is the loftiest?” to which Bodaitara had answered, “The TRUE SELF is the loftiest.” Hannyatara had then asked, “Amongst all things, which is the greatest?” to which Bodaitara had said, “The DHARMA-NATURE is the greatest.” Although they carried on their discussion in this manner, with the minds of the master and his disciple in communion, Hannyatara still held back for a while on his bringing Bodaitara’s spiritual potential to maturity.

Later, when his father the king passed away and everyone was bewailing his death, Bodaitara sat alone before the bier and entered into samadhi. After seven days had passed, he emerged and then went to Hannyatara and asked to become a monk. Hannyatara, realizing the time was ripe, let him become a monk and had him take all the Precepts. After this Bodaitara stayed in Hannyatara’s abode doing seated meditation for seven days.

Hannyatara instructed him extensively on the subtle principles of seated meditation; upon hearing them, Bodaitara gave rise to unsurpassed wisdom.

Hannyatara then pointed out to him, “You have already attained the full measure of the Dharma Teaching. Since ‘dharma’ has a meaning of ‘all-pervasiveness’, it would be well to give you the name of Daruma (S. Dharma),” consequently his name was changed to Bodaidaruma (S. Bodhidharma, ‘He Whose Enlightenment Is All-Pervasive’). Upon becoming a monk and receiving the Transmission of the Law, Bodaidaruma asked Hannyatara on bended knees, “Now that I have received the Teaching, to which country should I go to carry out the activities of Buddha?” Hannyatara said, “Although you have received the Teachings, you should stay in Southern India for a while. Wait until my parinirvana at age sixty-seven, then, by all means, go to China and make contact with those of great character.” Bodaidaruma said, “Will I be able to find noble beings with the capacity for the Teaching in that land and, after a thousand years, will troubles also arise there?” Hannyatara said, “In that land you will leave behind countless people who will realize enlightenment. There are some small difficulties that will arise; you would do well to submit to them. When you reach China, do not abide in the South; there they are only fond of the achievements that are found in the transient world and fail to perceive the ruling principles of Buddhism.” He then recited a verse for Bodaidaruma,

“In travelling the road, you will traverse the waters and encounter sheep;
All by yourself, and agitated, you will cross the river in darkness.
The most pitiable under the sun will be a pair—an elephant and a horse.
Two young cinnamon trees will there be whose glory will prosper far into the future.

Whilst in a meditation grove you will witness a man on the verge of finding the FRUITION OF THE WAY.” He also said in verse,

“Though China is vast, there is no other road for you If you would have disciples follow in your footsteps; Since the Golden Cock knows how to hold a grain of millet in his beak, He will nourish worthy monks in all ten directions.”

Through such verses Bodaidaruma received the SEAL and the detailed predictions of his activities; he served and trained closely under Hannyatara for forty years. After Hannyatara entered parinirvana, a fellow trainee named Butsudaisen (S. Buddhasena, ‘He Who Is Dependent on the Buddha’), who had also received confirmation and predictions from Hannyatara along with a monk named Shōta, divided Hannyatara’s followers up into six schools by comparing their teachings with those of Hannyatara. Bodaidaruma, through his own teaching, reformed the six groups for which act his name was universally revered.

As he approached his sixties, he knew that his karmic connection with China had ripened, so he went to the king, who held non-Buddhist views, and told him, “Revere the Triple Treasure and you will thrive and prosper in the blessings of the Buddha. My karmic connections with China have ripened. When my work there is finished, I will return.” The king, weeping like one in mourning, said, “What offences has this our country committed? What is so felicitous about their land? Well, if you must go, you must but, once you have finished your work in China, please return to us quickly; do not forget the land of your parents.” The king himself saw Bodaidaruma off, accompanying him to the very seashore.

(Chinese/English book translated by Red Pine)

Bodaidaruma sailed for three whole years, crossing the Southern Sea to arrive at Nankai (C. Nan-hai), on the south coast of China, on the twenty-first day of the ninth lunar month in the year 527 C.E. during the Liang Dynasty, the era name having changed from Futsū (C. P’u-t’ung, ‘The Common Way’) to Daitsū (C. Ta-t’ung, ‘The Great Universal Way’) in the third month. First he had an audience with Emperor Bu (C. Wu) of Liang, as the familiar story goes, which was what Hannyatara had alluded to when he said, “Do not abide in the South.”

He went north to the kingdom of Wei; it is said that he floated there on a reed. Literal-minded people fancy that this refers to a reed stalk and portray him as floating on a reed shaft, which is inaccurate. A ‘reed’ is what a small passenger boat was called because of its shape; it was not an actual reed. In Hannyatara’s verse, ‘encountering a sheep’ refers to Emperor Bu of Liang and ‘crossing the river in darkness’ refers to Bodaidaruma’s crossing of the Yangtze River which separates the two kingdoms. In this way he quickly reached Shōrin-ji (C. Shao-lin-ssu), on Mount Sū (C. Sung), where he stayed in the monastery’s East Gallery. No one could fathom what he was doing because he sat cross-legged throughout the day; as a consequence they called him ‘the Brahman Who Contemplates the Wall’. Thus he passed nine years without ever preaching in a harsh or critical manner and without being quick to point things out. After the nine years he handed down his ‘skin, flesh, bones and marrow’, respectively, to his four disciples Dōfuku, Dōiku, Sōji and Eka (C. Tao-fu, Tao-yv, Tsung-ch’ih and Hui-k’o) for he knew their spiritual potential had already ripened.

At that time there were two heretical Buddhists named Bodairyūshi (S. Bodhiruci, ‘He Who Longs for Enlightenment’) and Vinaya Master Kōzu (C. Kuang-t’ung, ‘He of the Lineage of Light’). Seeing Bodaidaruma’s religious virtue spreading through the country and people everywhere paying their respects to him, they could not restrain their resentment. Not only did they throw stones at him and knock out his front teeth but they also tried to poison him five times. When they proffered a poisonous drug for the sixth time, Bodaidaruma spread it out upon a huge boulder which immediately crumbled to pieces.

When he saw that his spiritual mission had already been completed, he thought to himself, “Upon receiving the SEAL and the predictions from my former master I saw a great spirit in China and knew for certain that there would be someone capable of receiving the Teachings of Mahayana. However, following my encounter with Emperor Bu of Liang, occasions have not been suitable for winning people over. In vain have I sat in silence for only the Noble One (that is, Eka) has realized the DIVINE LIGHT and to him I have passed on all that I have derived from the Way. My work has now been disposed of and my karmic connection completed. It is time to pass on.” So saying he sat erect and died; he was buried on Bear’s Ear Peak (J. Yūjihō; C. Hsiung-erh-feng). It is said he met Sōun (C. Sung-yun) later on in the Onion Range (that is, the Belaturgh Mountains of Turkestan); however, he is actually buried on Bear’s Ear Peak, this is correct. Just as Hannyatara had predicted, Bodaidaruma became the first Ancestor in China.

At the time when he was still a prince, Bodaidaruma had held forth upon the pearl. As a result of this Hannyatara had asked him, “Amongst all things, which is without any characteristics?” and he had answered, “The NON-ARISING is without characteristics.” Truly, even though some say that IT is void and tranquil, such a view is not free of characteristics which is why he had said that the NON-ARISING is without characteristics. Because of this you should understand that IT towers above all like a steep cliff soaring into the sky; you should comprehend that IT is clear and bright within the hundred grasses and realize that nothing is other than IT, however, everything, simply by its very nature, abides in its phenomenal state and yet is not the NON-ARISING, and is not, therefore, free of characteristics. When Heaven and Earth have not yet been separated, how can the sanctified and the ordinary possibly be differentiated? At this stage nothing will give rise to anything, not a speck of dirt will be able to stain or soil anything.

This does not mean that originally there was nothing at all; IT is truly vast and clear like the sky, wondrously alert and resplendent. Because IT is beyond comparison and is never accompanied by anything, IT is the very maximum. This is why they say that the GREAT is called unimaginable and the UNIMAGINABLE is called the DHARMA-NATURE. Not even the priceless pearl could compare with IT; not even the clear light of the mind resembles IT. This is why Bodaidaruma said of the pearl, “It has a worldly lustre, so it still falls short of being considered supreme; the lustre of ENLIGHTENED WISDOM is supreme.” This is how he divined IT.

What he said truly arose from his inherent intelligence, nevertheless he sat in meditation for seven days whilst being instructed in the marvellous principles of seated meditation and gave rise to the wisdom of the unsurpassed Way. You should know that, after you have found a thorough understanding of this and completely made real such a state, you will know THAT which the Buddhas and Ancestors were talking about and, having gained a clear understanding of THAT which the Buddhas of the past have already borne witness to, you will be a direct descendant of the Buddhas and Ancestors, a fact that the Venerable Bodaidaruma, in particular, exemplifies.

Although he was like one who already has naturally enlightened wisdom, he also gave rise to the wisdom of the Unsurpassed Way. Still later he trained thoroughly in meditation and probed deeply into what efforts he should make to preserve and maintain it in the future; for forty years he served his master Hannyatara, scrupulously performing his duties without forgetting Hannyatara’s predictions for his future. Having lived sixty years, he spent three whole years of winters and summers upon the billows of the vast sea until at last he reached a foreign land then, during his nine years of sitting in silent meditation, he found a great vessel for the Teaching and for the first time propagated the True Law of the Tathagata in China as well as disseminated the great blessings of his former teacher. His hardships were more severe than those of any other; his austerities were greater than those of any other.

Our times are decadent and frivolous and people’s abilities are mediocre so many trainees today, as might be expected, desire easy attainments. Those of this ilk who lay claim to what they have not yet found must be companions to those conceited braggarts on Vulture Peak who thought their spiritual prowess was sufficiently so advanced that they did not need to stay to hear the whole of the Buddha’s Teaching.

If you meditate carefully and probe deeply into what is happening in the previous story, your understanding of these lofty matters will continue to increase; if you ‘wear your brains out and discard your body’ by training with a good will, you will have the subtle fragrance of the Buddhas and directly match what was apprehended by the Buddhas and Ancestors. Do not think that some bit of wisdom or a partial comprehension is sufficient.

Again, here are my humble words. Do you wish to hear them?

There is no location, boundary or surface,
So how can anything even as minute as autumn down
possibly exist?

(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.)

(The 1st Patriarch of Chinese Chan)