Book Extract: The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma tr. Red Pine
To celebrate Bodhidharma Day, which occurred this week, we feature an extract from his Bloodstream sermon, one of the writings attributed to the First Patriarch found at Dunhuang.
Bodhidharma was born around the year 440 in Kanchi, the capital of the Southern Indian kingdom of Pallava. He was a Brahman by birth and the third son of King Simhavarman. When he was young, he was converted to Buddhism, and later he received instruction in the Dharma from Prajnatara, whom his father had invited from the ancient Buddhist heartland of Magadha. It was Prajnatara who also told Bodhidharma to go to China. Since the traditional overland route was blocked by the Huns, and since Pallava had commercial ties throughout Southeast Asia, Bodhidharma left by ship from the nearby port of Mahaballipuram. After skirting the Indian coast and the Malay Peninsula for three years, he finally arrived in Southern China around 475.
When Bodhidharma arrived in China, in the latter part of the fifth century, there were approximately 2,000 Buddhist temples and 36,000 clergy in the South. In the North, a census in 477 counted 6,500 temples and nearly 80,000 clergy. Less than fifty years later, another census conducted in the North raised these figures to 30,000 temples and 2,000,000 clergy, or about 5 percent of the population.
To find a buddha, you have to see your nature.  Whoever sees his nature is a buddha. If you don’t see your nature, invoking buddhas, reciting sutras, making offering, and keeping precepts are all useless. Invoking buddhas results in good karma, reciting sutras results in a good memory; keeping precepts results in a good rebirth and making offerings results in future blessings - but no buddha.
If you don’t understand by yourself, you’ll have to find a teacher to get to the bottom of life and death.  But unless he sees his nature, such a person isn’t a teacher. Even if he can recite the Twelvefold Canon,  he can’t escape the Wheel of Birth and Death  He suffers in the three realms without hope of release.
… To find a buddha all you have to do is see your nature. Your nature is the buddha. And the buddha is the person who’s free: free of plans, free of cares. If you don’t see your nature and run around all day looking somewhere else, you’ll never find a buddha. The truth is, there’s nothing to find. But to reach such an understanding you need a teacher and you ned to struggle to make yourself understand. Life and death are important. Don’t suffer them in vain. There’s no advantage in deceiving yourself. Even if you have mountains of jewels and as many servants as there are grains of sand along the Ganges, you see them when your eyes are open. But what about when your eyes are shut? You should realize then that everything you see is like a dream or illusion.
.. Whoever sees his nature is a buddha; whoever doesn’t is a mortal. But if you can find your buddha-nature apart from your mortal nature, where is it? Our mortal nature is our buddha-nature. Beyond this nature there’s no buddha. The Buddha is our nature. There’s no buddha besides this nature. And there’s no nature besides the buddha.
 Life and death, Shakyamuni left home to find a way out of the endless round of life and death. Anyone who follows the Buddha must do the same. When it was time to transmit the robe and bowl of the Zen lineage, Hung-jen, the fifth Zen patriarch, called his disciples together and told them, “Nothing is more important than life and death. But instead of looking for a way out of the Sea of Life and Death, you spend all your time looking for ways to earn merit. If you’re blind to your own nature, what good is merit? Use your wisdom, the prajna-nature of your own mind. All of you, go write me a poem. (Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, Chapter One).
 Twelvefold Canon. The twelve divisions of the scriptures recognized by Mahayana Buddhism. These divisions, which were made to separate different subjects and literary forms, include sutras, sermons of the Buddha; geyas, verse repetitions of sutras; gathas, chants and poems; nidanas, historical narratives; jatakas, stories of previous buddhas; itivrittakas, stories of past lives of disciples; adbhutadharma; miracles of the Buddha; avadana, allegories, upadesa, discussions of doctrine; udana, unsolicited statements of doctrine; vaipulya, extended discourses,; and vyakarana, prophecies of enlightenment.
 The Wheel of Birth and Death. The endless round of rebirth from which only buddhas escape.
The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma trans. by Red Pine, pub. North Point Press 1989
You can find previous book extracts here.
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