Usually built in the mountains, a lot of folks enjoy visiting Korea’s Buddhist Temples for their relaxing atmosphere and serene architecture. Appropriately, most temple buildings are decorated with mystical portraits of Bodhisattvas, pastoral images of the Ox Hearder Parable, or scenes from the life of the Buddha. Occasionally though temple visitors come across violent or gruesome paintings that clash with the otherwise tranquil vibe. In one such image, you might find a monk bowing before a grumpy-looking figure seated in a cave, offering him a severed arm on a leaf! This bizarre and unsettling image actually depicts a famous legend about the Bodhidharma (달마), the First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism (Kr. Seon or 선, Ch. Chan) and the awakening of his successor, Dazu Huike.
As the story goes, Dazu Huike was originally born in China in the late 5th cen. C.E. and became an accomplished Buddhist and Taoist scholar. He was already past 40 when he sought out the Bhodhidharma, who was then practicing his nine years “wall-gazing” in a cave (see part 1). Legends tell that the Bhodhidharma refused to teach Huike at first, hurling insults at him. To prove his sincerity and dedication, Huike waited all night outside the cave in the freezing snow (“Fight Club” anyone?). Finally, in a fit of desperation, Huike picked up his sword, sliced off his own left arm and presented it to the Bodhidharma as a token of his determination! I guess this finally got the Bodhidharma’s attention.
The exchange that followed between them went like this (which I’ll quote from “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts):
“I have no peace of mind,” said [Huike], “Please pacify my mind.”
“Bring out your mind here before me,” replied Bodhidharma, “and I will pacify it!”
“But when I seek my own mind,” said [Huike], “I cannot find it.”
“There!” snapped Bodhidharma, “I have pacified your mind!”
At these words Huike experienced “satori”, or Zen Awakening. (Presumably after putting a tourniquet on his arm) Huike then joined the Bodhidharma in his cave for several years, mastering Dhyana, or concentration meditation, to become one of the Bhodidharma’s chief disciples.
In a further legend, the Bodhidharma was preparing himself for his own passing (or possibly for returning to the west, depending on the version of the story) and needed to choose his successor. He called together his four main disciples to test their level of enlightenment. This is the conversation that followed (appropriated form wikipedia.org):
Bodhidharma asked, “Can each of you say something to demonstrate your understanding?”
Dao Fu stepped forward and said, “It is not bound by words and phrases, nor is it separate from words and phrases. This is the function of the Tao.”
Bodhidharma: “You have attained my skin.”
The nun Zong Chi stepped up and said, “It is like a glorious glimpse of the realm of Akshobhya Buddha . Seen once, it need not be seen again.”
Bodhidharma; “You have attained my flesh.”
Dao Yu said, “The four elements are all empty. The five skandhas are without actual existence. Not a single dharma can be grasped.”
Bodhidharma: “You have attained my bones.”
Finally, Huike came forth, bowed deeply in silence and stood up straight.
Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my marrow.”
The Bodhidharma then presented Huike with his robe and bowl along with a copy of the Lankavatara Sutra, which symbolicallyestablished Huike as his successor and 2nd Partriarch of Zen Buddhism. Huike traveled around China teaching extensively; supposedly well into his 100’s. However, he wrote only three short lines of poetry for posterity (which I’m borrowing from mahabodhisunyata.com) commenting on the book “Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices” purportedly written by the Bodhidharma:
Originally deluded, one calls the many-pearl (referring to the Buddha-dharma) a potsherd
Suddenly one is awakened—and it is [recognized] as a pearl
Ignorance and wisdom are identical, not different.