On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

June 22, 1999

Notes from Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma (440-528)

Question: What is Buddha-Mind?

Answer: Your mind is it. When you see the self-same essence of it, you can call it suchness. When you see the changeless nature of it, you can call it Dharmakaya. It does not belong to anything; therefore, it is called Emancipation. It works easily and freely, being never disturbed by others; therefore, it is called the True Path. It was not born, and, therefore, it is not going to perish, so it is called Nirvana.

Question: What is Tathagata?

Answer: One who knows that he comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.

Question: What is Buddha?

Answer: One who realizes the truth, and holds nothing that is to be realized.

Question: What is Dharma?

Answer: It was never produced, and will never be reduced; therefore, it is called Dharma, the norm of the Universe.

Question: What is Sangha?

Answer: It is so named because of the beauty of its harmony.

Question: What is meditation in emptiness?

Answer: One observes things in the phenomenal world, yet always dwells in emptiness. That is meditation in emptiness.

Question: How can a man live as not-man and woman as not-woman?

Answer: There is no difference in Buddha-nature between a man and a woman, nor an entity designated as man or woman. Physical matter produces the grass and trees as it does human beings. In comparison you say “grass” or “trees.” You give all sorts of names to your illusions. Buddha said, “If one sees that everything exists as an illusion, he can live in a higher sphere than ordinary man.”

All Buddhas preach emptiness. Why? Because they wish to crush the concrete ideas of the students. If a student even clings to an idea of emptiness, he betrays all Buddhas. One clings to life although there is nothing to be called life; another clings to death although there is nothing to be called death. In reality there is nothing to be born, consequently, there is nothing to perish.

By clinging one recognizes a thing or an idea. Reality has neither inside, outside, nor middle part. An ignorant person creates delusions and suffers from discrimination. Right and wrong do not exist in reality. An ignorant person creates them, recognizes them, near or far, inward or outward. He then suffers from discrimination. This is the general way of the phenomenal world.

The teaching of the Buddha gives you the highest wisdom. No one can describe it without experience.

Question: Are there fast and slow ways of attainment?

Answer: If one sees that endless time is the mind, he will attain quickly, but if he makes a point in his mind and aims at his destination, he will attain slowly. The wise one knows his mind is the path; the stupid one makes a path beyond his mind. He does not know where the path is nor does he know that mind itself is the path.

Question: What is a sagacious student, and what is a dull student?

Answer: A sagacious student does not depend on his teacher’s words, but uses his own experience to find the truth. A dull student depends on coming to a gradual understanding through his teacher’s word.

A teacher has two kinds of students; one hears the teacher’s words without clinging to the material nor to the immaterial, without attaching to form or to non-form, without thinking of animate objects or of inanimate objects… this is the sagacious student; the other, who is avid for understanding, accumulates meanings, and mixes good and bad is the dull student.

The sagacious student understands instantly; he does not raise inferior mind when he hears the teaching, nor does he follow the sage’s mind; he transcends both wisdom and ignorance.

Even though one hears the teaching and does not cling to worldly desires, does not love Buddha or the true path, if when he has to select one out of two, he selects quietness from confusion, wisdom from ignorance, inactivity from activity and clings to one or the other of these, then he is a dull student.

If one transcends both wisdom and ignorance, has no greed for the teaching, does not live in right recollectedness, does not raise right thinking and does not have aspirations to be a Buddha or Bodhisattva, then he is a sagacious student.


Excerpted from Buddhism and Zen Edited and translated by Nyogen Senzaki and Ruth Strout McCandless 1953

The process of bringing a question before a teacher is a time honored tradition. Many get lost in the intellectual aspect of questioning and never take the questioning to a deeper level. So today, as has been the case throughout time, students need to learn freshly how to question…..

To question effectively, one must recognize and understand that real questioning is like polishing a gem; through abrasion the “extra” is being removed, rather than adding more to one’s storehouse of knowledge. To question in a basic sense one must learn to be polished or sculpted by the question rather than merely finding an answer that works.

Can we learn to look and question in such a way that thought negates itself within the depths of the vital unknown? To do so, thought must come to pose a living question unanswerable in words; in that questioning lies the reversal of the energy of the mind.

Is there a way to ask such a question deeply with no reliance on words at all? This kind of vital questioning is somehow empowered to evoke an entirely new state, a creative state in which the habitual tendencies of the mind are curbed.

– from Enlightening

Clearly there is much to explore in our own questioning. How deeply have we questioned? How long have we stayed with a question? Have we become the question itself and passed through to the other side? How often have we accepted someone else’s answers? Uncomfortable questions in themselves, but presented here to encourage you to stay with the process and go deeper.

Peace to you,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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