Blue Cliff Record 1, Book of Serenity 2

Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku, Biyan Lu) #1
Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #2
Emperor Wu Asks Bodhidharma

Empires of Liang and Wei, 6th Century
Yangtze River (shown) flows through Liang
  • Emperor Wu of Liang, 464-549, reigned 502-549. Liang was a region of southeast China. Wu "was the founding emperor of the Liang Dynasty of Chinese history. His reign, until the end, was one of the most stable and prosperous during the Southern Dynasties" (Wikipedia). He was one of China's earliest Buddhist emperors. He built many temples, translated sutras, and himself gave lectures on Buddhism. See also BCR67
  • Bodhidharma. b. 460? Semi-legendary founder of Chan, born in India and migrated to China.
  • Baozhi (418-524). A Buddhist monk and trusted advisor to Emperor Wu
Yuanwu's Preface (Sato)
When you see smoke on the other side of the mountain, you know immediately there is fire.
When you see horns on the other side of the fence, you know straight away there is an ox.
To understand three when one is raised, or to judge a minute weight at one glance:
This is the every day food and drink of a patch-robed monk.
When one has cut off the myriad streams, one appears in the east and disappears in the west, opposes or complies in all directions, gives or takes away with perfect freedom.
At such time, just say, who lives and acts like this?
Observe well Xuedou's entangling vines.
Wansong's Preface (Wick)
Benka's three offerings did not prevent his being punished:[1] If a luminous jewel were thrown at them, few are the men who would not draw their swords.[2]
For an impromptu guest, there is not an impromptu host; he's provisionally acceptable but not absolutely acceptable.
If you can't grasp rare, valuable treasure, let's toss in a dead cat's head and see.[3]
Sato's Notes: [1] A man named Benka found a stone in which a gorgeous gem was hidden inside. He presented it to King Rei of So, but the king considered this a malicious joke and cut off one of Benka’s foot tendons as a punishment. The same thing happened with King Bu, and Benka lost the tendon of the other foot. Only in the time of King Bun did they discover that the stone did hide a wonderful gem inside.
[2] Once a snake in the castle of Zui was saved by a man named ShukugenyƓ. The snake wanted to thank the savior by presenting him a radiant pearl in the darkness. ShukugenyƓ was terrified and wanted to draw his sword.
[3] The expression “head of a dead cat,” seemingly a symbol for something totally valueless, comes from a dialogue between Master Caoshan and a monk: A monk asked Caoshan, “What is the most precious thing in the world?” Caoshan said, “The head of a dead cat.” The monk asked, “Why is that?” Caoshan, “Because no one can give it a price.”

Case (Sato)
Emperor Wu of Liang asked Great Master Bodhidharma,[4]
“What is the ultimate meaning of the holy truth?”[5]
Bodhidharma said, “Vast and void, no holiness.”[6]
The emperor said, “Who are you facing me?”[7]
Bodhidharma said, “I don't know.”[8]
The emperor did not understand.[9]
Finally, Bodhidharma crossed the Yangtze River...

Book of Serenity continues: and came to the Shaolin Temple. There he sat for nine years, facing the wall.[10]

Blue Cliff Record continues: and came to the Kingdom of Wei.[11]
Later the emperor asked Baozhi about it.[12]
Baozhi said, “Does your Majesty know who that man is?”[13]
The emperor said, “I don't know.”[14]
Baozhi said, “He is the Mahasattva Avalokitesvara transmitting the Seal of the Buddha's mind.”[15]
The emperor regretted what had happened and wanted to send an emissary to invite Bodhidharma back.[16]
Baozhi said, “Your Majesty, don't try to send an emissary to fetch him back.[17]
Even if all the people in the land were to go after him, he would not return.”[18]
[4] This dull fellow speaks up.
[5] What a donkey-tethering stake this is.
[6] Wu considered this answer rather extraordinary. The arrow has flown past Korea. Very clear.
[7] Wu is filled with embarrassment, forcing himself to be astute. As it turns out, he gropes without finding.
[8] Bah! His second reply isn't worth half a cent.
[9] Too bad! Still, he's gotten somewhere.
[11] This wild fox spirit! He can't avoid embarrassment. He crosses from west to east, he crosses from east to west.
[12] A poor man thinks about an old debt. The bystander has eye.
[13] Wu should chase Baozhi out of the country too; Baozhi should be given thirty blows. Bodhidharma has come.
[14] After all this is Emperor Wu's understanding of Bodhidharma's public case.
[15] Boazhi explains haphazardly. The elbow doesn't bend outwards.
[16] After all, Bodhidharma couldn't be held. As I said before, Wu is dull.
[17] When someone in the eastern house dies, someone of the western house joins in the mourning. Better they should be all driven out of the country at once.
[18] Again Baozhi deserves thirty blows. He doesn't know that the great illumination shines forth from under his own feet.

[4] Even getting up at the crack of dawn, he never made a profit at the market.
[5] For the time being turn to the secondary to ask.
[6] Splits his guts and gouges out his heart.
[7] He finds tusks in his nostrils.
[8] "if you see jowls from behind his head..."
[9] A square peg doesn't fit in a round hole.
[10] A house with no surplus goods doesn't prosper.
Xuedou's Verse (Sekida; italics Cleary)
The holy teaching? "Emptiness!"
What is the secret here?
   The holy truths are empty -- how should one discern the point?
Again, "Who stands before me?"
"No knowing!"
   Who is in my presence? After all he says he doesn't know.
Inevitable, the thorns and briars springing up;
Secretly, by night, he crossed the river.
   Henceforth he crossed the river in the dark,
   But how could he avoid making brambles grow?

All the people could not bring him back.
   Even if everyone in the whole country pursued him, he wouldn't come back;
Now, so many years gone by,
Still Bodhidharma fills your mind -- in vain.
   Throughout the ages, he's remembered in vain.
Stop thinking of him!
A gentle breeze pervades the universe.
   Give up remembrance -- what end is there to the pure wind circling the earth?

The master Xuedou looks around:
"The the patriarch there?
   The poet looked around and said, "Is there a Zen master here?
-- Yes! Bring him to me,
And he can wash my feet."
   Then he himself said, "There is. Call him to wash my feet."
Hongzhi's Verse (Wick; italics Cleary)
Emptiness, no holiness --
   Empty -- nothing holy:
the questioner's far off.
   The approach is far off.
Gain is to swing the axe and not harm the nose;
loss is to drop the pot and not look back.
   Succeeding, he swings the axe without injuring the nose;
   Failing, he drops the pitcher without looking back.

In solitude he sits cool at Shaolin;
in silence the Right Decree's fully revealed.
   Still and silent, cooly he sat at Shaolin
   In silence he completely brought up the true imperative.

The autumn's lucid and the moon's a turning frosty wheel;
   The clear moon of autumn turns its frosty disc;
the Milky Way's pale, and the Big Dipper's handle hangs low.
   The Milky Way thin, the Dipper hangs down its handle in the night.
In line the robe and bowl handed on to descendents
   In succession the robe and bowl have been imparted to descendants;
henceforth are medicine to men and devas.
   From this humans and divinities have made medicine and disease.
Yuanwu's Comment
Emperor Wu had put on monk's robes and personally expounded the Light-Emitting Wisdom Scripture; he experienced heavenly flowers falling in profusion and the earth turning to gold. He studied the Path and humbly served the Buddha, issuing orders throughout his realm to build temples and ordain monks, and practicing in accordance with the Teaching. People called him the Buddha Heart Emperor. When Bodhidharma first met Emperor Wu, the Emperor asked, "I have built temples and ordained monks; what merit is there in this?" Bodhidharma said, "There is no merit." He immediately doused the Emperor with dirty water. If you can penetrate this statement, "There is no merit," you can meet Bodhidharma personally. Now tell me, why is there no merit at all in building temples and ordaining monks? Where does the meaning of this lie? When Baozhi said, "This is Mahasattva Avalokitesvara transmitting the Buddha Mind Seal," if Wu had driven him out of the country, this would amounted to something. Tell me, Bodhidharma is Avalokitesvara, Baozhi is Avalokitesvara, but which is the true Avalokitesvara? Since it is Avalokitesvara, why are there two? But why only two? They are legion. Tell me, where is Bodhidharma right now? You've stumbled past him without even realizing it
Wuzu's Comment (Yuanwu)
If only you can penetrate "empty, without holiness," then you can return home and sit in peace.
Baiyan Shouduan's (1025-72) Comment (Yuanwu)
Ordinarily a single arrow fells a single eagle;
Another arrow is already too many.
bodhidharma goes right back to sit before Few Houses Peak;
O Lord of Liang, speak no more of going to summon him.
Emperor Wu's Eulogy upon Bodhidharma's death (Yuanwu)
Alas! I saw him without seeing him, I met him without meeting him, I encountered him without encountering him; now as before I regret this deeply. If your mind exists, you are stuck in the mundane for eternity; if your mind does not exist, you experience wondrous enlightenment instantly.
Wansong's Comment
I say, leaving aside the highest meaning for the moment, what do you want with the holy truths?
The ancients sometimes came forth, sometimes stayed put, sometimes were silent, sometimes spoke; all were doing buddha-work.
Zhaxi's Verse (Wansong)
Willing to endure the autumn frost
So the deep savor of the teaching will last,
Even though caught alive,
After all his is not lavishly praised.
from Heroic March Scripture (Wansong)
If you create an understanding of holiness, you will succumb to all errors.
Hakuin's Comment
The emperor wonders who this is in his presence. At least that's better than pretending he knows! Bodhidharma got out of there heavy of heart, "stirring up a pure breeze with every step." As for Baozhi, he is a guy who, same as Bodhidharma, makes a show of reaching out to help. Everything, meadows, mountains, and all, is the embodiment of compassion.
Tenkei's Comment
The cosmic void is empty; not a particle can stand in it. There's no such thing as ordinary or holy. The emperor doesn't understand Bodhidharma's answer; he grabs onto the words and merely tries to rationalize: "Aren't you a holy man? You can't tell me there is no ordinary or holy!" Ultimately, Bodhidharma does not know Bodhidharma, the emperor doe not know the emperor. When they meet, they do not know each other. Even Shakyamuni Buddha and Vairochana Buddha do not actually know. Is the Buddha's Heart Seal something that can be transmitted, or is it ungraspable? Grab your nose and find out.
John McCrae's Comment
Even the famous exchange between Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, a celebrated mismatch that neatly illustrates the difference between the conventional "Chinese marga model" and the Chan "encounter model" of master-disciple exchange, is not recorded for the first time until 758 or shortly thereafter (in an appendix to a text by Shenhui).
Yamada's Comment
The ultimate meaning of holy reality means the ultimate truth of Buddhism. "Holy reality" is that which transcends both "profane reality" (the truth of the phenomenal world) and "true reality" (the truth of the world of essence). Bodhidharma said, "Vast and void, no holiness." This is the main point of the koan. According to Bodhidharma, "it is like the autumn sky without a cloud, completely clear. No such thing as 'holiness' exists." Thus he is presenting the real fact as "Vast and void, no holiness." The emperor was very surprised. He had been assuming that Bodhidharma before him was a holy man. But Bodhidharma tells him that there is no holiness.
Wick's Comment
What's this vast emptiness? What is this "I don't know"? What does empty mean? It doesn't mean blackness or nihilism or nothingness, and it isn't the emptiness we complain about when we say "I feel empty." Everything is impermanent; nothing is fixed. One's own form is empty of any fixed thing. Realizing this emptiness, experiencing it directly, is one of the most important aspects of our practice. There is no fixed thing that is the self -- nothing to grasp onto, no firm ground upon which to stand, no right understanding to attain. As soon as you think you've grabbed "it," you have lost "it." Realizing "it" directly, tremendous freedom is manifest. When Bodhidharma left the emperor, he spent nine years facing a wall. What was he doing for those nine years? If you understand this koan, you can answer without hesitation.
Yasutani's Verse (Wick)
Holy reality, emptiness
The man, unknowing.
Spring breeze and autumn moon speak heavenly truth.
Reverent monks building temples to no merit.
Emperor Wu, how could you know the willows' new green?
Rothenberg's Verse
The Highest Truths

Bodhidharma secretly crosses the river.
You already know what's on the far side.

When you see smoke, you know there is fire.
When you see horns, you know there's an ox.

"Hmm, the dimwit decides to speak up.
Bah! What he says is not work a cent.
He won't lose the wild fox spirit!"

Cross from west to east, and then east to west.
Let no one know which side you're on.

Inside one phrase you will see through to many.
It takes just one arrow to fell one eagle,
even one more will be more than you need.

Enough already, I'm clear to the other side. I ask:
"What end is there to the pure wind, circling the earth?"
Forget the target, up there in the heights of the truth.
That is one place where emptiness will never find you.
Tova's Verse
Bodhidharma's "Emptiness"

We sit with you,
facing a wall.
The years go by.
Nothing holy,
only heart-felt effort.
All beings
throughout the world
in water or on land
Sturmer's Verse
One giant silverfish
eats through the ancestral library.
His royal highness turns
pages in his sleep --
transparent pages
sparkling with dust motes.
But in the end he fails to find
a single word.
Hotetsu's Verse
The deep meaning of the holy truth is that there is no holy truth.
Therefore, not knowing pervades everywhere
Like a mountain mist, like a speck of mud on a trouser leg --
Like a sincere and pious prayer.

Story BCR1/BOS2

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