On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

December 10, 2007

Bloodstream Sermon, Part 4

Bodhidharma (440-528)

Even if you can explain thousands of sutras and shastras, unless you see your own nature, yours is the teaching of a mortal, not a buddha. The true Way is sublime. It can’t be expressed in language. Of what use are scriptures? Someone who sees his own nature has found the Way, even if he can’t read a word.  Someone who sees his nature is a buddha. A buddha’s body is intrinsically pure and can’t be defiled. Everything he says is an expression of his mind. Since his body and expressions are basically empty, you can’t find a buddha in words. Nor anywhere in the Twelvefold Canon.

The Way is basically perfect. It doesn’t require perfecting. The Way has not form or sound. It’s subtle and hard to perceive. It’s like when you drink water. You know how hot or cold it is. But you can’t tell others. Of that which only a tathagata knows, men and gods remain unaware. The awareness of mortals falls short. As long as they’re attached to appearances, they’re unaware that their mind is empty, and by mistakenly clinging to the appearance of things, they lose the Way.

If you know that everything comes from the mind, don’t become attached. Once attached, you’re unaware. But once you see your own nature, the entire Canon becomes so much prose. Its thousands of sutras and shastras only amount to a clear mind. Understanding comes in midsentence. What good are doctrines?

The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words. They’re not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are illusions. They’re no different from things that appear in your dreams at night, be they palaces or carriages, forested parks or lakeside pavilions. Don’t conceive any delight for such things. They’re all cradles of rebirth. Keep this in mind when you approach death. Don’t cling to appearances, and you’ll break through all barriers. A moment’s hesitation, and you’ll be under the spell of devils. Your real body is pure and impervious. But because of delusions, you’re unaware of it. And because of this, you suffer karma in vain. Wherever you find delight, you find bondage. But once you awaken to your original body and mind, you’re no longer bound to attachments.

Anyone who gives up the transcendent for the mundane, in any of its myriad forms, is a mortal. A buddha is someone who finds freedom in good fortune and bad. Such is his power, karma can’t hold him.  No matter what kind of karma, a buddha transforms it. Heaven or hell are nothing compared to him. But the awareness of a mortal is dim compared to that of a buddha, who penetrates everything inside and out.

If you’re not sure, don’t act. Once you act, you wander through birth and death and regret having no refuge. Poverty and hardship are created by false thinking. To understand this mind, you have to act without acting. Only then will you see things from a tathagata’s perspective.

But when you first embark on the Path, your awareness won’t be focused. You’re likely to see all sorts of strange, dreamlike scenes. But you shouldn’t doubt that all such scenes come from your own mind and nowhere else.

If you see your nature, you don’t need to read sutras or invoke buddhas. Erudition and knowledge are not only useless, they cloud your awareness. Doctrines are only for pointing to the mind. Once you see the mind, why pay attention to doctrines?

To go from mortal to buddha, you have to put an end to karma, nurture your awareness and accept what life brings. If you’re always getting angry, you’ll turn your nature against the Way. There’s no advantage in deceiving yourself. Buddhas move freely through birth and death, appearing and disappearing at will. They can’t be restrained by karma or overcome by devils.

Once mortals see their nature, all attachments end. Awareness isn’t hidden. But you can only find it right now. It’s only now. If you really want to find the Way, don’t hold onto anything. Once you put an end to karma and nurture your awareness, any attachments that remain will come to an end. Understanding comes naturally. You don’t have to make any effort. But fanatics don’t understand what the Buddha meant. And the harder they try, the farther they get from the Sage’s meaning. All day long they invoke buddhas and read sutras. But they remain blind to their own divine nature, and they don’t escape the Wheel.

A buddha is an idle person. He doesn’t run around after fortune and fame. What good are such things in the end? People who don’t see their nature and think reading sutras, invoking buddhas, studying long and hard, practicing morning and night, never lying down, or acquiring knowledge is the Dharma, blaspheme the Dharma. Buddhas of the past and future only talk about seeing your nature. All practices are impermanent. Unless they see their nature, people who claim to have attained unexcelled, complete enlightenment are liars.

Among Shakyamuni’s ten greatest disciples, Ananda was foremost in learning. But he didn’t know the Buddha. All he did was study and memorize. Arhats don’t know the Buddha. All they know are so many practices for realization, and they become trapped by cause and effect. Such is a mortal’s karma: no escape from birth and death. By doing the opposite of what he intended, such people blaspheme the Buddha.

People who see that their minds are the buddha don’t need to shave their heads. Laymen are buddhas too. Unless they see their nature, people who shave their heads are simply fanatics.

Bodhidharma (440-528)

Excerpted from The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma Trans by Red Pine

Bodhidharma is considered the founder of Zen bringing the teaching to China from India in 520 AD. The story of his life and teachings is almost mythological in that most of his teachings were not written down. What makes Bodhidharma stand out among all the masters of Zen was his very unique approach. He brought the following message:

     “A special transmission outside the scriptures;

          No dependence upon words and letters;

            Direct pointing at the soul of man;

              Seeing into one’s nature and the

                Attainment of Buddhahood.”

While others at the time viewed meditation and Zen as a way of purification of the mind and a stage on the way to Buddhahood, Bodhidharma introduced the direct method of seeing into one’s nature cutting through all the stages.

Direct perception and a total revolution in the way one sees and experiences the world from there on out.  You read these accounts of these moments when the student at once perceives the whole, but you don’t read the years of practice that preceded their genuine insight. Hence, there is a place for the sudden and gradual schools of Zen. After all, what is one supposed to do while awaiting our magic breakthrough?  There is still the monkey mind that jumps from feeling to thought to feeling that needs to calm down. There is a kind of focus on a koan or question or experience that these students in the

past delved into until it became all they could think of. How many of us have that kind of deep intention?

So we live and act “as if” we truly understand that All is One, and that alone can be a transforming way to live whether one has that breakthrough experience of insight or not.

In a grove of tall bamboos

Beside an ancient temple

Steam rolls from the brazier

In fragrant white clouds.

I’ll show you the path of Sages

Beyond this floating world,

But will you understand

The lasting taste of spring?

Baisao (1675-1763)

Still climbing up the mountainside,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

Related Journals

Recent Journals

Journal Archives