Osho on Zen Master Bodhidharma

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    bodhidharma-with-his-staff[dropcap type=”2″]O[/dropcap]SHO:  I have a very soft corner in my heart for Bodhidharma. That makes it a very special occasion to speak about him. Perhaps he is the only man whom I have loved so deeply that speaking on him I will be almost speaking on myself. That also creates a great complexity, because he never wrote anything in his life. No enlightened being has ever written. Bodhidharma is not an exception, but by tradition these three books that we are going to discuss are attributed to Bodhidharma.

    The scholars reason that because there is no contrary evidence — and for almost one thousand years, these books have been attributed to Bodhidharma — there is no reason why we should not accept them. I am not a scholar, and there are certainly fragments which must have been spoken by Bodhidharma, but these are not books written by him. These are notes by his disciples. It was an ancient tradition that when a disciple takes notes from the master he does not put his own name on those notes, because nothing of it belongs to him; it has come from the master.

    But knowing Bodhidharma as intimately as I know him … There are so many fallacies which are possible only if somebody else was taking notes and his own mind entered into it; he has interpreted Bodhidharma — and with not much understanding.

    Before we enter into these sutras, a few things about Bodhidharma will be good to know. That will give you the flavor of the man and a way to understand what belongs to him in these books and what does not belong to him. It is going to be a very strange commentary.

    Bodhidharma was born fourteen centuries ago as a son of a king in the south of India. There was a big empire, the empire of Pallavas. He was the third son of his father, but seeing everything — he was a man of tremendous intelligence — he renounced the kingdom. He was not against the world, but he was not ready to waste his time in mundane affairs, in trivia. His whole concern was to know his self-nature, because without knowing it you have to accept death as the end.

    All true seekers in fact, have been fighting against death. Bertrand Russell has made a statement that if there were no death, there would be no religion. There is some truth in it. I will not agree totally, because religion is a vast continent. It is not only death, it is also the search for bliss, it is also the search for truth, it is also the search for the meaning of life; it is many more things. But certainly Bertrand Russell is right: if there were no death, very few, very rare people would be interested in religion. Death is the great incentive.

    Bodhidharma renounced the kingdom saying to his father, “If you cannot save me from death, then please don’t prevent me. Let me go in search of something that is beyond death.” Those were beautiful days, particularly in the East. The father thought for a moment and he said, “I will not prevent you, because I cannot prevent your death. You go on your search with all my blessings. It is sad for me but that is my problem; it is my attachment. I was hoping for you to be the successor, to be the emperor of the great Pallavas empire, but you have chosen something higher than that. I am your father so how can I prevent you?”

    “And you have put in such a simple way a question which I had never expected. You say, ‘If you can prevent my death then I will not leave the palace, but if you cannot prevent my death, then please don’t prevent me either.'” You can see Bodhidharma’s caliber as a great intelligence.

    And the second thing that I would like you to remember is that although he was a follower of Gautam Buddha, in some instances he shows higher flights than Gautam Buddha himself. For example, Gautam Buddha was afraid to initiate a woman into his commune of sannyasins but Bodhidharma got initiated by a woman who was enlightened. Her name was Pragyatara. Perhaps people would have forgotten her name; it is only because of Bodhidharma that her name still remains, but only the name — we don’t know anything else about her. It was she who ordered Bodhidharma to go to China. Buddhism had reached China six hundred years before Bodhidharma. It was something magical; it had never happened anywhere, at any time — Buddha’s message immediately caught hold of the whole Chinese people.

    The situation was that China had lived under the influence of Confucius and was tired of it. Because Confucius is just a moralist, a puritan, he does not know anything about the inner mysteries of life. In fact, he denies that there is anything inner. Everything is outer; refine it, polish it, culture it, make it as beautiful as possible.

    There were people like Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, contemporaries of Confucius, but they were mystics not masters. They could not create a counter movement against Confucius in the hearts of the Chinese people. So there was a vacuum. Nobody can live without a soul, and once you start thinking that there is no soul, your life starts losing all meaning. The soul is your very integrating concept; without it you are cut away from existence and eternal life. Just like a branch cut off from a tree is bound to die — it has lost the source of nourishment — the very idea that there is no soul inside you, no consciousness, cuts you away from existence. One starts shrinking, one starts feeling suffocated.

    But Confucius was a very great rationalist. These mystics, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, knew that what Confucius was doing was wrong, but they were not masters. They remained in their monasteries with their few disciples.

    When Buddhism reached China, it immediately entered to the very soul of the people… as if they had been thirsty for centuries, and Buddhism had come as a rain cloud. It quenched their thirst so immensely that something unimaginable happened.

    Christianity has converted many people, but that conversion is not worth calling religious. It converts the poor, the hungry, the beggars, the orphans, not by any spiritual impact on them but just by giving them food, clothes, shelter, education. But these have nothing to do with spirituality. Mohammedanism has converted a tremendous amount of people, but on the point of the sword: either you be a Mohammedan, or you cannot live. The choice is yours.

    The conversion that happened in China is the only religious conversion in the whole history of mankind. Buddhism simply explained itself, and the beauty of the message was understood by the people. They were thirsty for it, they were waiting for something like it. The whole country, which was the biggest country in the world, turned to Buddhism. When Bodhidharma reached there six hundred years later, there were already thirty thousand Buddhist temples, monasteries, and two million Buddhist monks in China. And two million Buddhist monks is not a small number; it was five percent of the whole population of China.

    Pragyatara, Bodhidharma’s master, told him to go to China because the people who had reached there before him had made a great impact, although none of them were enlightened. They were great scholars, very disciplined people, very loving and peaceful and compassionate, but none of them were enlightened. And now China needed another Gautam Buddha. The ground was ready.

    Bodhidharma was the first enlightened man to reach China. The point I want to make clear is that while Gautam Buddha was afraid to initiate women into his commune, Bodhidharma was courageous enough to be initiated by a woman on the path of Gautam Buddha. There were other enlightened people, but he chose a woman for a certain purpose. And the purpose was to show that a woman can be enlightened. Not only that, her disciples can be enlightened. Bodhidharma’s name stands out amongst all the Buddhist enlightened people second only to Gautam Buddha.

    bodhidharma-facing-the-wallThere are many legends about the man; they all have some significance. The first legend is: When he reached China — it took him three years — the Chinese emperor Wu came to receive him. His fame had reached ahead of him. Emperor Wu had done great service to the philosophy of Gautam Buddha. Thousands of scholars were translating Buddhist scriptures from Pali into Chinese and the emperor was the patron of all that great work of translation. He had made thousands of temples and monasteries, and he was feeding thousands of monks. He had put his whole treasure at the service of Gautam Buddha, and naturally the Buddhist monks who had reached before Bodhidharma had been telling him that he was earning great virtue, that he will be born as a god in heaven.

    Naturally, his first question to Bodhidharma was, “I have made so many monasteries, I am feeding thousands of scholars, I have opened a whole university for the studies of Gautam Buddha, I have put my whole empire and its treasures in the service of Gautam Buddha. What is going to be my reward?”

    He was a little embarrassed seeing Bodhidharma, not thinking that the man would be like this. He looked very ferocious. He had very big eyes, but he had a very soft heart — just a lotus flower in his heart. But his face was almost as dangerous as you can conceive. Just the sunglasses were missing; otherwise he was a mafia guy!

    With great fear, Emperor Wu asked the question, and Bodhidharma said, “Nothing, no reward. On the contrary, be ready to fall into the seventh hell.”

    The emperor said, “But I have not done anything wrong — why the seventh hell? I have been doing everything that the Buddhist monks have been telling me.”

    Bodhidharma said, “Unless you start hearing your own voice, nobody can help you, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. And you have not yet heard your inner voice. If you had heard it, you would not have asked such a stupid question.”

    “On the path of Gautam Buddha there is no reward because the very desire for reward comes from a greedy mind. The whole teaching of Gautam Buddha is desirelessness and if you are doing all these so-called virtuous acts, making temples and monasteries and feeding thousands of monks, with a desire in your mind, you are preparing your way towards hell. If you are doing these things out of joy, to share your joy with the whole empire, and there is not even a slight desire anywhere for any reward, the very act is a reward unto itself. Otherwise you have missed the whole point.”

    Emperor Wu said, “My mind is so full of thoughts. I have been trying to create some peace of mind, but I have failed and because of these thoughts and their noise, I cannot hear what you are calling the inner voice. I don’t know anything about it.”

    Bodhidharma said, “Then, four o’clock in the morning, come alone without any bodyguards to the temple in the mountains where I am going to stay. And I will put your mind at peace, forever.”

    The emperor thought this man really outlandish, outrageous. He had met many monks; they were so polite, but this one does not even bother that he is an emperor of a great country. And to go to him in the darkness of early morning at four o’clock, alone…. And this man seems to be dangerous — he always used to carry a big staff with him.

    The emperor could not sleep the whole night, “To go or not to go? Because that man can do anything. He seems to be absolutely unreliable.” And on the other hand, he felt deep down in his heart the sincerity of the man, that he is not a hypocrite. He does not care a bit that you are an emperor and he is just a beggar. He behaves as an emperor, and in front of him you are just a beggar. And the way he has said, “I will put your mind at peace forever.”

    “Strange, because I have been asking,” the emperor thought, “of many many wise people who have come from India, and they all gave me methods, techniques, which I have been practicing, but nothing is happening — and this strange fellow, who looks almost mad, or drunk, and has a strange face with such big eyes that he creates fear…. But he seems to be sincere too — he is a wild phenomenon. And it is worth to risk. What can he do — at the most he can kill me.” Finally, he could not resist the temptation because the man had promised, “I will put your mind at peace forever.”

    Emperor Wu reached the temple at four o’clock, early in the morning in darkness, alone, and Bodhidharma was standing there with his staff, just on the steps, and he said, “I knew you would be coming, although the whole night you debated whether to go or not to go. What kind of an emperor are you — so cowardly, being afraid of a poor monk, a poor beggar who has nothing in the world except this staff. And with this staff I am going to put your mind to silence.”

    The emperor thought, “My God, who has ever heard that with a staff you can put somebody’s mind to silence! You can finish him, hit him hard on the head — then the whole man is silent, not the mind. But now it is too late to go back.”

    And Bodhidharma said, “Sit down here in the courtyard of the temple.” There was not a single man around. “Close your eyes, I am sitting in front of you with my staff. Your work is to catch hold of the mind. Just close your eyes and go inside looking for it — where it is. The moment you catch hold of it, just tell me, ‘Here it is.’ And my staff will do the remaining thing.”

    It was the strangest experience any seeker of truth or peace or silence could have ever had — but now there was no other way. Emperor Wu sat there with closed eyes, knowing perfectly well that Bodhidharma seems to mean everything he says. He looked all around — there was no mind. That staff did its work. For the first time he was in such a situation. The choice… if you find the mind, one never knows what this man is going to do with his staff. And in that silent mountainous place, in the presence of Bodhidharma, who has a charisma of his own…. There have been many enlightened people, but Bodhidharma stands aloof, alone, like an Everest. His every act is unique and original. His every gesture has his own signature; it is not borrowed.

    He tried hard to look for the mind, and for the first time he could not find the mind. It is a small strategy. Mind exists only because you never look for it; it exists only because you are never aware of it. When you are looking for it you are aware of it, and awareness surely kills it completely. Hours passed and the sun was rising in the silent mountains with a cool breeze. Bodhidharma could see on the face of Emperor Wu such peace, such silence, such stillness as if he was a statue. He shook him and asked him, “It has been a long time. Have you found the mind?”

    Emperor Wu said, “Without using your staff, you have pacified my mind completely. I don’t have any mind and I have heard the inner voice about which you talked. Now I know whatever you said was right. You have transformed me without doing anything. Now I know that each act has to be a reward unto itself; otherwise, don’t do it. Who is there to give you the reward? This is a childish idea. Who is there to give you the punishment? Your action is punishment and your action is your reward. You are the master of your destiny.”

    Bodhidharma said, “You are a rare disciple. I love you, I respect you, not as an emperor but as a man who has the courage just in a single sitting to bring so much awareness, so much light, that all darkness of the mind disappears.”

    Wu tried to persuade him to come to the palace. He said, “That is not my place; you can see I am wild, I do things I myself don’t know beforehand. I live moment to moment spontaneously, I am very unpredictable. I may create unnecessary trouble for you, your court, your people; I am not meant for palaces, just let me live in my wildness.”

    He lived on this mountain whose name was Tai… The second legend is that Bodhidharma was the first man who created tea — the name `tea’ comes from the name TAI, because it was created on the mountain Tai. And all the words for tea in any language, are derived from the same source, tai. In English it is tea, in Hindi it is CHAI. That Chinese word tai can also be pronounced as CHA. The Marathi word is exactly CHA.

    The way Bodhidharma created tea cannot be historical but is significant. He was meditating almost all the time, and sometimes in the night he would start falling asleep. So, just not to fall asleep, just to teach a lesson to his eyes, he took out all his eyebrow hairs and threw them in the temple ground. The story is that out of those eyebrows, the tea bushes grew. Those were the first tea bushes. That’s why when you drink tea, you cannot sleep. And in Buddhism it became a routine that for meditation, tea is immensely helpful. So the whole Buddhist world drinks tea as part of meditation, because it keeps you alert and awake.

    Although there were two million Buddhist monks in China, Bodhidharma could find only four worthy to be accepted as his disciples. He was really very choosy. It took him almost nine years to find his first disciple, Hui Ko.

    For nine years — and that is a historical fact, because there are ancientmost references, almost contemporary to Bodhidharma which all mention that fact although others may not be mentioned — for nine years, after sending Wu back to the palace, he sat before the temple wall, facing the wall. He made it a great meditation. He would just simply go on looking at the wall. Now, looking at the wall for a long time, you cannot think. Slowly, slowly, just like the wall, your mind screen also becomes empty.

    And there was a second reason. He declared, “Unless somebody who deserves to be my disciple comes, I will not look at the audience.”

    People used to come and they would sit behind him. It was a strange situation. Nobody had spoken in this way; he would speak to the wall. People would be sitting behind him but he would not face the audience, because he said, “The audience hurts me more, because it is just like a wall. Nobody understands, and to look at human beings in such an ignorant state hurts deeply. But to look at the wall, there is no question; a wall, after all is a wall. It cannot hear, so there is no need to be hurt. I will turn to face the audience only if somebody proves by his action that he is ready to be my disciple.”

    bodhidharma-with-Hui-Ko

    Nine years passed. People could not find what to do — what action would satisfy him. They could not figure it out. Then came this young man, Hui Ko. He cut off one of his hands with the sword, and threw the hand before Bodhidharma and said, “This is the beginning. Either you turn, or my head will be falling before you. I am going to cut my head too.”

    Bodhidharma turned and said, “You are really a man worthy of me. No need to cut the head, we have to use it.” This man, Hui Ko, was his first disciple.

    Finally when he left China, or intended to leave China, he called his four disciples — three more he had gathered after Hui Ko. He asked them, “In simple words, in small sentences, telegraphic, tell me the essence of my teachings. I intend to leave tomorrow morning to go back to the Himalayas, and I want to choose from you four, one as my successor.”

    The first man said, “Your teaching is of going beyond mind, of being absolutely silent, and then everything starts happening of its own accord.”

    Bodhidharma said, “You are not wrong, but you don’t satisfy me. You just have my skin.”

    The second one said, “To know that I am not, and only existence is, is your fundamental teaching.”

    Bodhidharma said, “A little better, but not up to my standard. You have my bones; sit down.”

    And the third one said, “Nothing can be said about it. No word is capable of saying anything about it.”

    Bodhidharma said, “Good, but you have said already something about it. You have contradicted yourself. Just sit down; you have my marrow.”

    And the fourth was his first disciple, Hui Ko, who simply fell at Bodhidharma’s feet, without saying a word, tears rolling down from his eyes. Bodhidharma said, “You have said it. You are going to be my successor.”

    But in the night Bodhidharma was poisoned by some disciple as a revenge, because he had not been chosen as the successor. So they buried him, and the strangest legend is that after three years he was found by a government official, walking out of China towards the Himalayas with his staff in his hand and one of his sandals hanging from the staff — and he was barefoot.

    The official had known him, had been to him many times, had fallen in love with the man, although he was a little eccentric. He asked, “What is the meaning of this staff, and one sandal hanging from it?” Bodhidharma said, “Soon you will know. If you meet my people just tell them that I’m going into the Himalayas forever.”

    The official reached immediately, as fast as he could, the monastery on the mountain where Bodhidharma had been living. And there he heard that he had been poisoned and he had died… and there was the tomb. The official had not heard about it, because he was posted on the boundary lines of the empire. He said, “My God, but I have seen him, and I cannot be deceived because I have seen him many times before. He was the same man, those same ferocious eyes, the same fiery and wild outlook, and on top of it, he was carrying on his staff one sandal.”

    The disciples could not contain their curiosity, and they opened the tomb. All that they could find there was only one sandal. And then the official understood why he had said, “You will find out the meaning of it; soon you will know.”

    We have heard so much about Jesus’ resurrection. But nobody has talked much of the resurrection of Bodhidharma. Perhaps he was only in a coma when they buried him, and then he came to his senses, slipped out of the tomb, left one sandal there and put another sandal on his staff, and according to the plan, he left.

    He wanted to die in the eternal snows of the Himalayas. He wanted that there should be no tomb, no temple, no statue of him. He did not want to leave any footprints behind him to be worshiped; those who love him should enter into their own being — “I am not going to be worshiped.” And he disappeared almost in thin air. Nobody heard anything about him — what happened, where he died. He must be buried in the eternal snows of the Himalayas somewhere.

    This is the man, and there are these three small collections which we are taking as one whole book. These are not his writings, because they don’t show any quality of the man. They are notes of scholarly disciples; hence they are bound to have fundamental and essential faults, misunderstandings, misinterpretations. They are not people of no-mind. Their minds are taking the notes; their minds are choosing the words.

    Bodhidharma was not a man of words, he was a man of action. There is no possibility of him writing a book. A man who never wanted to be worshiped, a man who never wanted to leave any footprints behind him to be followed, is not going to write a book either, because that is leaving footprints to be followed.

    But I have chosen to speak on them because these three small collections are the only writings which for centuries have been believed to be Bodhidharma’s. They contain here and there, in spite of the people who were taking the notes, something of Bodhidharma — something has entered. The task is difficult for any scholar to make a distinction as to which part is Bodhidharma’s and which part is the note taker’s. It is not a problem for me.

    I know from my own experience what can be unpolluted Bodhidharma, and what can be only the mind of a scholar interpreting him. So these are not ordinary commentaries. In a way this is the first effort about Bodhidharma to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

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    “Bodhidharma – The Greatest Zen Master” – Osho

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