Patriarch Bodhidharma Comes from the West to China


Bodhidharma -- "Bodhi" meaning enlightened and "Dharma" meaning the teachings -- was the Twenty-eighth Patriarch in India. Why didn't he stay in India and be a Patriarch there/ Why did he go to China. Well, previously Shakyamuni Buddha made a prediction that from the Twenty-eighth Patriarch on, the Great Vehicle teaching should go to China. This it happened that Patriarch Bodhidharma sailed from India to China.


Buddhism Seems to Be in China, Yet It Really Is Not


At that time, the Buddhadharma seemed to exist in China, but it really did not. It was as if it were and yet weren't there. This is because the work being done was superficial. There were few who recited Sutras, investigated the Sutra texts, or explained the Sutras, and virtually no one bowed repentance ceremonies. Ordinary scholars regarded Buddhism as a field of study and engaged in debates and discussions about it.

But the principals in the Sutras should be cultivated! However, nobody was cultivating. Why not? People were afraid of suffering. No one truly meditated. Well, there was Venerable Patriarch Zhi, who practiced meditation and attained the Five Eyes. But most people feared suffering and didn't cultivate. No one seriously investigated Chan and sat in meditation, just like you people now who sit in meditation for a while until your legs begin to hurt. When their legs began to ache, they would wince and fidgets and then gently unbend and rub them. People are just people and everyone avoids suffering as much as possible. That's the way it was then; that's the way it is now. That's called Buddhadharma seeming to be there but not really being there.


When the Disciples First Came, They Met with Difficulty


Before Patriarch Bodhidharma himself went to China, he sent two of his disciples there first. Who would have thought that when they go to China they would be totally ostracized and bullied? Those two disciples, named Fo Tuo and Ye She, were Indians who went to China to transmit the Sudden Teaching Dharma Door of the Chan School that advocates seeing the nature and becoming a Buddha, and which does not abide in language. At that time in China another Indian monk named Bodhiruchi was aware that these two monks had also com efrom India to explain the Chan School. Chan belongs to the Great Vehicle Teaching, but Bodhiruchi explained the Tripitaka Teaching, which belongs to the Small Vehicle. For that reason, Bodhiruchi got all other monks to join together to ostracize these two Indian monks. No matter what they said, no one would listen. No matter where they went, everyone ignored them. Deciding that the situation was meaningless, they left. That is how these two disciples of Patriarch Bodhidharma came to leave the western capital of Changan.


The Hand Makes a Fist; The Fist Makes a Hand


On their way out they passed by Lu Mountain where they met the Great Master Zhiyuan (Huiyuan), who promoted the practice of reciting the Buddha's name. He himself recited the Buddha's name all the time. Well, they went to pay their respects to Great Master Yuan. Venerable Yuan said to them, "What Dharma do you two monks from India transmit that causes people to pay you so little respect?"

Fo Tuo and Ye She both extended their hands. They probably knew very little Chinese. Extending their hands, they said, "The hand makes a fist, and the fist makes a hand. Isn't that fast?"

Master Yuan replied, "Very fast!"

"Bodhi and affliction," they said, "are just that fast!"

At that moment, Great Master Yuan became enlightened and said, "Ah! Bodhi and affliction basically are not different! Bodhi is affliction and affliction is Bodhi." Having gained such an understanding, Great Master Yuan made abundant offerings to Fo Tuo and Ye She. Shortly thereafter, the two died on the same day, in the same place. Their graves may still be seen at Lu Mountain.

Back in India, when Patriarch Bodhidharma learned that his two disciples had been scorned and had both died, he thought, "I will go there myself to have a look." Thereupon he went to China.

Patriarch Bodhidharma saw that the roots of the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma were ripe in China and knew that he should take the Great Vehicle Dharma there. Fearing neither the distance nor the hardship of travel, he took the Dharma there. What do you suppose it was like when he arrived in China?


Arriving First at Guangzhou, He is Feared by All Who See Him


Patriarch Bodhidharma went to Guangzhou first. When children there saw such a dark and bearded Indian, they surrounded him as if he were performing a street show. At that time the Chinese people were rather snobbish toward foreigners. They called Indians "Mo Luo Cha" (meaning devil, or devilish ghost). The Patriarch became Monk Mo Luo Cha. They even composed a rhyme that they chanted, "Devil! Devil! Skin you, I will." They wanted to skin him alive! See how Patriarch Bodhidharma was ridiculed and insulted? However, Patriarch Bodhidharma could not understand what they were saying because he did not know Chinese. He didn't speak their language and couldn't communite verbally with them. He wanted to befriend the children in that place, but as soon as they saw Patriarch Bodhidharma, they went crazy and scattered in all directions. They dared not to be near this Mo Luo Cha. Why? They were afraid of his long beard.


Being Insulted Left and Right, He finds Both Adults and Children Difficult to Convert


When the adults saw that children ran away from him, they suspected this Indian was a kidnapper. So they bid their children to stay away from the Patriarch. He could not even convert children; how could he convert the grown-ups? No one dared to get close to him. That was the situation in Guangzhou; no one recognized that he was a patriarch. Consequently, he did not stay long in Guanzhou and moved to Nanjing. While traveling on foot, he was also greeted by many children who yelled, "Ah! An Indian!" and threw clods of dirt at him.


Emperor Wu of Liang Boasts of His Own Merit and Virtue


When Patriarch Bodhidharma first arrived in Nanjing from Guangzhou, he went to convert Emperor Wu. Emperor Wu asked him, "In my whole life, I have built many temples, helped many people to leave the home-life, provided the needy with money from the national treasury, and also made vegetarian meal offerings to the Sangha. What merit and virtue have I created!" At that time, whoever left eh home-life would be treated well by the Emperor, with everything including food, dwelling, and clothing provided for. As long as you were a left home person, the emperor would make offerings to you, pay reverence to you and bow to you.

Emperor Wu was the kind of person who wanted to be number one in everything. That was why when he met Patriarch Bodhidharma, he didn't seek Dharma from him. Instead he was totally engrossed in how to win praise from the Patriarch. He wanted to inflate his ego. Concerned that the Patriarch might not know of the good deeds that he had done, such as building temples, convetring monks, practicing giving, and making vegetarian meal offerings, he went ahead and pointed them out as he introduced himself to the Patriarch. He said, "You see, I have built hundreds of temples. This one and that one all house many monks whom I helped to leave the home-life. The amount of giving I have done is not small and the number of monks I have provided for is not small. How much merit and virtue would you say I've amassed?" Basically, he was providing his own promotion campaign. He was saying, "Look at me! I am different from other emperors. I specialize in doing good deeds, creating merit and virtue. How much merit and virtue would you say I have?" He did not want to seek the Dharma for ending birth and death; instead, he wanted to boast of his own merit and virtue first.


Actually He Had No Merit and Virtue At All


Patriarch Bodhidharma listened to Emperor Wu of Liang praising himself as if drunk on his own ego, introducing himself, boasting of his merit and virtue, advertising for himself, calling attention to his own good points, and generally lauding himself. Most people, upon hearing the Emperor's comments, would have said, "Ah! Of course you have merit and virtue! You have tremendous merit and virtue! Your merit and virtue is out of this world!" That would be most people's response. Now I ask you, would a sage ever say things just to flatter someone? But Bodhidharma was a patriarch. How could he possibly flatter and fawn? and so he replied, "Actually you have no merit and virtue. In truth, no merit and virtue at all."

Patriarch Bodhidharma originally had gone there with the idea of saving Emperor Wu of Liang. However, Emperor Wu was too conceited; he had too high an opinion of himself. Being an emperor was already something, he thought. He had built many temples, enabled many people to leave home, given away a lot of money, and made a lot of offerings to the Triple Jewel. So, he thought he had created a tremendous amount of merit and virtue. Patriarch Bodhidharma, wanting to shatter the Emperor's attachment, said that he had no merit and virtue at all.


Meeting Face-to-Face, He Misses His Chance, Failing to Recognize the Patriarch


For the Patriarch to say he had no merit and virtue was one thing, for for Emperor Wu of Liang to hear that was another, for it made him quite unhappy. From then on, the Emperor ignored Patriarch Bodhidharma. No matter what Dharma the Patriarch spoke, the Emperor refused to listen. "Why should I listen to you?" Emperor Wu's karmic obstacles were too heavy. Although Patriarch Bodhidharma came from India to become the First Patriarch of China, Emperor Wu of Liang failed to recognize him. He was face-to-face and missed his chance. The Chinese people have a saying, "Coming face-to-face, one fails to recognize the Bodhisatta Who Contemplates the Sounds of the World." Emperor Wu of Liang was face-to-face and failed to recognize the One Who Intentionally Came from the West. He did not recognize the Patriarch who came from the West. Why did Patriarch Bodhidhama want to save him? He knew that he Emperor was going to encounter some difficulty, so he wanted to help the Emperor awaken. Had Emperor Wu been able to leave home and cultivate, or to yield his throne to someone else, he could have avoided the fate of starving to death.


Causes and Conditions from a Previous Life: He Starved a Monkey


Emperor Wu originally had deep faith in the Buddhadharma. During this time, Buddhism flourished in China. Using his power as an emperor, he built temples everywhere and promoted Buddhism. Consequently, many people came to believe in the Buddhadharma.

However, he had also created very heavy karma in a past life. What kind of a person had Emperor Wu been in the past? He had been a Bhikshu, a Buddhist monk. While that monk cultivated up in the mountains, a monkey would come every day to seal the things he planted for food and to steal the fruit from the nearby trees, such as peaches, apples, and the like. The monkey stole and ate all the fruit and most of the vegetables the monk planted. Finally one day the monk managed to trap the monkey in a cave and blocked the entrance of the cave with rocks. Basically he planned to keep the monkey in there for a couple of days and then let it out, in order to teach the monkey a lesson so that it wouldn't steal his food anymore. Who would have guessed that after blocking up the cave he would forget about it, thus causing that monkey to die of hunger!


Receiving Retribution in This Life, He Starves to Death in the Palace


In this life, he was an emperor, and the monkey was reborn to be Hou Jing. Hou Jing led soldiers to attack Nanjing. After Nanjing was taken, he kept Emperor Wu in captivity in the palace and did not provide him with any food. He took all food away, and left the Emperor there to starve to death. In a previous life, the Emperor starved the monkey to death, and in this life the monkey starved him to death. He had to undergo that retribution.

Now before that happened, Patriarch Bodhidharma saw that the Emperor had done so many good deeds that he could have redeemed his offense with the merit and virtue created. However, to do so there must be some conditions. That's why the Patriarch was not polite to him. But the Emperor thought to himself, "I am an emperor, a great emperor, and you are only a poor monk. You come to my country and are utterly rude to me." So he alienated himself from the Patriarch. Though Patriarch Bodhidharma wanted to save him and brought forth a compassionate mind toward him, the Emperor could not accept him. Because the Emperor made no move to seek help from the Patriarch, there was nothing the Patriarch could do to help him. Thus, the Patriarch left and paid no more attention to the Emperor.

What happened as a result was that after a period of time, Emperor Wu was captured and starved to death in the palace by Hou Jing and his people. Such was the cause and effect. You all think about it. If the Emperor actually had merit and virtue, how could he have starved to death? It was because he did not have merit and virtue that he died of hunger. Patriarch Bodhidharma wanted to save him from his fate by helping him reach an awakening. That a pity that Emperor Wu of Liang's ego was so big that even Patriarch Bodhidharma could not save him.


The Heavens Rain Down Flowers; Golden Lotuses Well Forth from the Earth


While still in Nanjing, after he left the imperial court, Patriarch Bodhidharma met the Venerable Shen Guang (Spiritual Light), who was lecturing on the Sutras. When Dharma Master Shen Guang explained the Sutras, the heavens rained down flowers, and golden lotuses welled forth from the earth. Heavenly maidens scattered blossoms, and from beneath the earth golden lotuses furst forth. Ah! What a supreme state!

The Patriarch heard about that, and so he also went to observe the Dharma assembly and listen to the Sutra lecture. By then he probably had learned some Chinese and could speak a few sentences. If on the road from Guangzhou to Nanjing, he learned one sentence a day, he would have learned ten sentences in ten days, and a hundred in a hundred days. That Patriarch was very intelligent; he did not have to study to learn Chinese, he just listened.

In Nanjing, he listened to Dharma Master Shen Guang explain a Sutra. Dharma Master Shen Guang was quite pleased by that. "Hah! See how well I lecture the Sutras? Even an Indian has come to listen! Ah! He came from so far away to listen to my lecture. How truly inconceivable!" He felt quite good about it.


The Patriarch Asks Him, "Why Are You Explaining Sutras?"


After he finished his Sutra lecture, he was surprised when the Indian began to question him. The Patriarch asked, "Dharma Master, what are you doing?"

Dharma Master Shen Guang replied, "I am lecturing on the Sutras. You don't even know that? I thought you came to listen to the explanation of the Sutra, but it turns out you don't even know what a Sutra lecture is all about!"

Patriarch Bodhidharma asked, "Hmm. What are you doing when you lecture on the Sutras? Why explain Sutras?"


Dharma Master Shen Guang Retorts Sarcastically


Dharma Master Shen Guang said, "Hey! What did you come here for? Don't you even know what Sutra lectures are all about? Where did you come from?"

"I came here from India."

"You come from India, and I am here explaining the Buddhist scriptures. Don't people explain Buddhist scriptures in India? You don't even seem to know."

Patriarch Bodhidharma replied, "The Sutra lectures in India explain the wordless true Sutra. The Sutra you lecture on here have words."

Dharma Master Shen Guang asked, "What is the wordless true Sutra?"

Patriarch Bodhidharma answered, "The Sutra I lecture is wordless. It is just a piece of blank paper. As to the Sutras you lecture, the inked areas are words, and the blank areas are paper. Why are you explaining them?"

Dharma Master Shen Guang replied, "I lecture on the Sutras to teach people how to end birth and death!"


Having Not Yet Ended Birth and Death, His Annoyance Turns to Rage


Patriarch Bodhidharma said, "Since you teach people how to end birth and death, tell me, how does one end birth and death? In the Sutra you are lecturing, the inked areas are words, and the blank areas are paper. What do you use to teach people how to end birth and death? Have you ended your own birth and death?"

Hearing that Dharma Master Shen Guang was speechless and thought to himself, "The things this Indian says are outlandish. Is he a manifestation of a demon king? Otherwise, how could he be slandering the Triple Jewel like that?" Thereupon, his annoyance turned to rage, and he lost his temper, "I'm going to try you out, you demon king!"


Once His Temper Flares, in His Rage, He Strikes the Patriarch


Wah! You see, his lectures caused flowers to rain down from the heavens and golden lotuses to well up from the earth, and still he lost his temper! That's why I said Buddhism seemed to exist in China, and yet it did not. What happened when he lost his temper? What happened when he got angry? He grabbed his weapon. What was it? His string of recitation beads. His beads weren't lightweight like these "stars and moon Bodhi" beads of mine. His recitation beads were made of iron! They were hard and durable. His recitation beads were designed to be a weapon to be used in case he encountered weird entities, demons, ghosts, wolves, reptiles, tigers, or panthers. He could conveniently grab his recitation beads and attack. This time, encountering Patriarch Bodhidharma, who had dared to challenge him so, his wrath was extreme, like a combination of tidal wave, avalanche, and earthquake. As he whipped out his beads, he snapped, "You are slandering the Dharma!" and cracked Patriarch Bodhidharma across the mouth.


The Blow Breaks Teeth; He Swallows Them with the Blood


Patriarch Bodhidharma was caught unprepared because he never expected that Dharma Master Shen Guang would hit him. Although certified sages can penetrate others' thoughts, the Patriarch did not reflect in advance on what the Dharma Master might do. Although Patriarch Bodhidharma had some skill in the martial arts, he was caught off guard. It never occurred to him that the monk would make such a vicious attack, that being unable to reply, he would resort to brute force. As a result, the blow broke off two of Patriarch Bodhidharma's teeth.

What did Patriarch Boddhidharma do about the two broken teeth? Well, he was a sage, and there's a legend about the teeth of a patriarch--a certified sage--and what happens if they get broken and he spits them out onto the ground. It's said that if a sage's teeth are knocked loose and he spits them out on the ground, it won't rain for three years.

Patriarch Bodhidharma thought, "Ai! If it doesn't rain for three years, just imagine how many people will starve! I have come to China to save beings, not to kill them!" And so Patriarch Bodhidharma did not let his teeth fall to the ground. Instead, he swallowed them, just as if he were eating a pancake. Well, pancakes aren't that hard--it was more like eating a bone! He swallowed them and made his exit.

Therefore, in China, there is a saying that came from that incident, "If someone knocks out the teeth of an arhat, the arhat swallows them."


Enduring the Insult, The Patriarch Leaves Silently


Having broken off two of the Patriarch's teeth, Dharma Master Shen Guang felt that he had won a real victory. Without saying a word, Patriarch Bodhidharma turned around and left. He did not fight back. Not at all! Foreigners are bound to be bullied. After all, he couldn't go to the government and file suite against Dharma Master Shen Guang for knocking out two of his teeth. Those who have left home have to be patient; how much more must a Patriarch forbear! After that happened, he just left and headed toward Henan.


A Parrot, Understanding Who He Is, Asks How to Escape the Cage


On the road, he met a parrot imprisoned in wicker cage. However, this bird was much more intelligent than the Dharma Master Shen Guang. Recognizing that Bodhidharma was a patriarch, the bird chirped,

He Who Intentionally came from the West

Intentionally came from the West,

What method is best, if you please,

To escape this cage and leave?

Although Patriarch Bodhidharma hadn't been able to find any people who really understood who he was, this parrot definitely recognized him. He knew who he was.

Hearing the bird's plea for help, Bodhidharma was pleased and taught the bird an expedient method--a provisional, not a real, Dharma. He said,

To escape the case, to escape the cage;

Stick out both legs. Shut both eyes.

That is the way to escape from the cage!

It was a secret, wonderful formula--a secret Dharma. It's for sure the Patriarch whispered it. He didn't say it so loudly as I am speaking now! He certainly must have used a very small voice: "To escape the cage...that is the way to escape from the cage!" He then spoke softly like that. Why? If he said it out loud so that the orders could hear him, then the method would not have worked. From tis we can how much trouble the Patriarch took to be kind.


The Smart Bird, Pretending to Be Dead, Cleverly Escapes the Cage


Mastering the method taught, the little bird chirped, "All right! Good method! Now I understand how to get out of the cage!" When the bird saw his owner approaching in the distance, he applied the expedient method. Sticking his legs out straight and closing his eyes, he waited for his owner to come close.

Every day when the owner came home, he always played with this bird that he was so fond of. Talking to it would cheer him up. And so, as usual, upon his return, he first went to check on his bird. But this time when he looked in the cage, he was shocked. He practically burst into tears. Why? His little bird lay on the floor of the cage, unmoving. He couldn't have been more upset if his own son had died. In fact, it's likely that this bird meant even more to him than his son!


Freedom over Birth and Death Comes When We Truly Escape our Cage


The owner pulled open the cage door and gently placed the little bird in his hand. It was still warm, not yet cold. In fact, because the bird was only pretending to be dead, of course it retained its body warmth. The owner peeked at the little thing, turning his hand this way and that. The bird didn't ven quiver. Whatever angle he viewed it from, the bird appeared to be really dead. Its body was still warm; only its breath seemed to have stopped. Slowly he open his hand...PHLLRTTPHLRTTPHLRTT! The bird broke loose from his hand and flew away! It had escaped from the cage!

But we are still in a cage right now! How do we escape! As to human beings, you shouldn't think you are free. Don't misinterpret freedom, saying, "I am really free. If I want to eat, I eat; if I want to drink alcohol, I drink alcohol. I can do anything I please. I can ignore the rules if I want to! That's what I call freedom!" That's a misinterpretation of freedom. To be truly free, you must be free of birth and death, and then if you wish to fly into space, you can fly into space, and if you wish to burrow into the earth, you can burrow into the earth. If you can do that, you will gain the kind of freedom that the little bird gained.


The Yamas if the Ten Courts Invite the Master to Tea


Dharma Master Shen Guang knocked out two of that Indian monk's teeth, and since the monk didn't retaliate, the Dharma Master figured he had the advantage--that he'd won the victory. He'd put a barbarian monk in his place. But not long after he struck the barbarian, the Yamas of the Courts paid a call: "Dharma Master, your life is supposed to end today. We Yamas from the Ten Courts now wish to invite you to a meeting. We will go there to investigate your case."

Hearing that, Dharma Master Shen Guang exclaimed, "What?" as he watched those ten blacked-faced people who claimed to be the Yamas of the Ten Courts approach him and request his presence in the dark yin realm where he was to take tea with King Yama. Dharma Master Shen Guang said, "Oh! What? I still have to die? I also have to die?"

The Yamas of the Ten Courts challenged him, "Why would you not have to die? What talents do you have that make you think you don't have to die?"

Dharma Master Shen Guang replied, "I speak Sutras so well that flowers rain down from the heavens and golden lotuses well forth from the earth; doesn't that qualify me as having ended birth and eath? I still have to die?"

The Yamas of the Ten Courts said, "Of course you have to die!"