Transmission of the Lamp 祖師傳燈

Hui-k’o (慧可 Eka)

Whilst serving and training with Bodaidaruma (Bodhidharma), Eka one day told him, “I have by now severed all my karmic ties.” Bodaidaruma said, “You are not denying the law of karma, are you?” Eka answered, “No, I am not.” Bodaidaruma asked him, “And how can you be sure of this?” Eka replied, “Clearly, and beyond doubt, I have always known; words cannot approach IT.” Bodaidaruma said, “This is the ORIGINAL NATURE which the Buddhas have apprehended; do not let yourself doubt IT ever again.”

(The 2nd Patriarch of Chinese Chan)

Eka was a man from Burá (C. Wu-lao), his family was of the Ki (C. Chi) clan to which the legendary Yellow Emperor had also belonged. Before Eka was born, his father, whose name was Seki (C. Chi, ‘The Silent, or Solitary, One’), had often told himself, “Since my family respects what is good, how can it be that I have had no offspring?” For a long time he prayed for a child then, one night, he became aware of a strange light illuming his bedroom and his wife, consequently, became pregnant. Whilst growing up, the boy was given the name of Ká (C. Kuang, ‘He of the Light’ or ‘The Radiant One’) because of the auspiciousness of the illumined room. Even from childhood, his spirit did not follow that of the herd. For a long time he lived in the area between the rivers I and Raku (C. I and Lo), near the ancient capital, and was an avid reader; he took no interest in family affairs but preferred to wander the countryside. Constantly lamenting that the teachings of Confucius and Lao-tzu were merely rules and regulations for social manners and arts and that the writings of Chuang-tzu and The Book of Changes had still not covered the subtler truth completely, he left home to become a monk and took the Precepts under Meditation Master Hájá (C. Pao-ching, ‘He Who Treasures Quietude’) of Dragon’s Gate (J. Ryâmon; C. Lung-men) on Fragrant Mountain (J. Kyázan; C. Hsiang-shan).

He floated around listening to the discourses of various teachers, extensively studying the principles of both the Greater and the Lesser Vehicles. One day, whilst reading a Buddhist text on prajna, he rose above its literal meaning and grasped its deeper significance. After that, he passed eight years sitting in meditation day and night until, in the midst of his tranquil silence, he saw a solitary divine being who addressed him, saying, “You are on the verge of receiving the effects of your training, so why tarry here? Supreme enlightenment is not far off; go to the South.” Realizing that this was spiritual guidance, he changed his name to Shinká (C. Shen-kuang, ‘He of the Divine Light’ or ‘The Divinely Radiant One’). The next day his head ached as if it had been pierced with a spike. When his teacher tried to heal this, a voice from out of the air said, “This is an altering of the skull bones; it is not an ordinary pain.” Shinká, at length, told his teacher about his having seen a deva. When his teacher examined Shinká’s skull it looked as if it had the five peaks of Mount Sâ (C. Hsiu) upon it. Thereupon he said, “You have an auspicious sign; undoubtedly you will realize an authentic enlightenment. The deva’s commanding you to go to the South refers to Great Teacher Bodaidaruma at Shárin-ji. Without doubt you will become a master.”

Having received this instruction, Shinká travelled to Shárin-ji on Mount Sâ, arriving on the ninth day of the final month in 528 C.E. Bodaidaruma would not permit him to enter as his disciple so Shinká stood outside the window. That night it snowed heavily; standing in the snow he awaited the dawn. The snow drift buried his hips, the bitter cold pierced him to the bone, his teardrops froze as they fell. Seeing his own tears only increased his feeling of coldness and regarding his reflection in the window, he thought, “Those of old who sought the Way broke open their bones to let others feed upon the marrow, pierced their veins to slake the thirst of others, wove their hair into a mat to protect the Buddha’s feet from the mire or threw themselves down some precipice to feed tigers. If those in the past acted thus, how should I behave?” Through such reflections he unflaggingly spurred his resolve; upright he stood without moving. At dawn, Bodaidaruma, seeing that Shinká had stood in the snow all through the night, asked him, out of compassion, “What do you seek that you would stand in the snow for such a long time?” Shinká answered, “Only that out of your compassion you will deign to open the Gate of Sweet Dew to me so that I may ferry all types of sentient beings throughout the world to the Other Shore.” Without giving him so much as a look over his shoulder, Bodaidaruma retorted, “The Unsurpassed, Wondrous Path of the Buddhas requires kalpas of effort and diligence, being able to practise what is difficult to practise, enduring what is hard to endure. How can you, with your meagre virtues and puny understanding, with your frivolous heart and lazy mind, dare to wish for the True Vehicle; in vain do you strive and toil!” Shinká, hearing this compassionate instruction with tears streaming down his face, was ever more eager in his determination to seek the Way. Unseen by Bodaidaruma, Shinká took a sharp sword and cut off his own left arm at the elbow. Bodaidaruma, realizing that Shinká was a vessel for the Teaching, told him, “All the Buddhas from the first sought the Way. For the sake of the Teaching they disregarded their bodies; you have now cut off your arm in my presence. You are capable of seeking It.” Because of this act, Bodaidaruma changed Shinká’s name to Eka (C. Hui-k’o, ‘He with the Capacity for Wisdom’) and finally allowed him to enter as a disciple. Eka served Bodaidaruma unswervingly for eight years.

Once, Eka asked Bodaidaruma, “Great Teacher, may I hear what you have to say about the Dharma-Seal of the Buddhas?” Bodaidaruma answered, “The Dharma-Seal of the Buddhas cannot be obtained from another person.” On another occasion Bodaidaruma told Eka, “Outwardly, sever all karmic ties; within your mind, do not pant after things. When your mind is like a wall you will be able to enter the Way.” As Eka was wont to speak of Original Nature without connecting this with the underlying principles of the Way, Bodaidaruma would simply cut off his errors and, for his sake, did not discuss the ORIGINAL NATURE of the mind which is free from discriminative thought. It says in the Indescribably Skillful Devices from Within the Master’s Quarters (J. ‘Shitsuchâ Genki;’ C. ‘Shih Chung Hsu ̈an Chi’), ‘Once, whilst Eka was attending Bodaidaruma, they were climbing Scant Houses Peak (J. Sháshihá; C. Shao-shih-feng) when Bodaidaruma asked, “Which way does the path go?” Eka replied, “If you will please go straight ahead, that is it.” Bodaidaruma responded, “If you try to go straight ahead, you will not be able to move even one step.” When Eka heard this, he realized enlightenment.’ At the time when, as related above, Eka told Bodaidaruma that he had by now severed all karmic ties and Bodaidaruma had replied that he should not let himself doubt IT ever again, he at last gave Eka both the Kesa and the Teaching, saying, “Inwardly, Transmit the DHARMA-SEAL by which the validity of enlightenment is realized within the heart; outwardly, pass on the Kesa by which the authenticity of our line is established.” Accordingly, after Bodaidaruma entered perfect rest, Eka continued to spread the profound Teaching of his master’s line. When giving the Teaching to Sásan, he said, “I still have residual karmic troubles that I must by all means pay for.” Having entrusted the Teaching and the Kesa to Sásan, Eka began to preach the Law in the nearby capital city of Yeh since circumstances seemed appropriate; members of all four groups—male and female monks, lay men and women—took the Refuges. He passed thirty years in the following way. He would hide the LIGHT, cover his traces, change his appearance, enter some wine-shop, pass through a butcher’s doors, stop to listen to the local gossip or go about with the humblest of menials, the outhouse cleaners. Someone once asked him, “You are one who has realized enlightenment so why do you behave like this?” Eka replied, “What I am doing is scrutinizing ORIGINAL NATURE but how does this concern you?”

Later, when Eka was expounding the essentials of the Dharma outside the main gate of Kyákyâ-ji (C. K’uang-chiu- ssu) in Kanjá (C. Kuan-ch’eng), a veritable forest of monks and lay people, male and female, gathered about him. At the time Dharma Master Benwa (C. Pien-ho) was lecturing within the temple on the Nirvana Scripture but his flock, learning of Eka’s preaching of the Dharma, left, one by one, to go and hear him. Benwa, persistent in his resentment, gave vent to slanderous accusations against Eka before the district magistrate Teki Châkan (C. Ti Chung-k’an). Having been led astray by these improper remarks, Châkan used unlawful means to inflict capital punishment on Eka who submitted to all this with a cheerful spirit. This occurred during the Sui Dynasty, on the sixteenth day of the second lunar month, 591 C.E.

Superior and inferior are not distinguished when it comes to the exalted virtues of the Ancestors; even so, Eka ranks as one esteemed among the esteemed, revered among the revered for the reason that, even though Bodaidaruma came from the West, it would have been difficult for our lineage to come down to us today had Eka not passed on the Transmission. His hardships have exceeded those of others, his determination in pursuing the Way has surpassed that of others. Even Bodaidaruma did not speak for a long time as he waited for Eka’s genuine potential to ripen; above all he did not point out, or explain, anything for him, he just said, “Outwardly, sever all karmic ties; within your mind, do not pant after things. When your mind is like a wall, you will be able to enter into the Way.” When you can truly bring a halt to deliberate thought in this way, you will manifest your ORIGINAL NATURE. Hearing what I have just said, you may try to become ‘mindless’ like a blank wall, but this is not taking a close look into your mind. This is why Eka said, “Clearly and beyond doubt, I have always known.” If you can be exactly like this, this is the significance of ‘what the Buddhas have apprehended’.

When you are able to sever all karmic ties to the outside, the myriad deliberate thoughts will cease to exist within. Be alert and IT will not be obscured from you; rest beyond doubt and IT will be clear to you as the SOURCE. Do not distinguish between past and present, do not separate self from other. Without departing even the slightest from what the Buddhas have realized, or from the heart-to-heart (mind-to-mind) Transmission of the Ancestors, IT has come harmoniously, therefore IT was Transmitted from India and the West to the lands of the East and spread from China to Japan. This is how it was in the past, this is how it is now. Do not yearn for the past or idle away the present, just train! Do not think that the time is long gone since Shakyamuni, the Wise One, passed away. Do not give up on yourself.
Here are my humble words that try to express an example of this. Do you wish to hear them?

Empty yet resonant,
all earth-bound thoughts exhausted,
IT is, beyond doubt, alert and clear,
always still and bright.

(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.)