The White Lotus Discourses on the Zen Master Bodhidharma

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The White Lotus

Discourses on the Zen Master Bodhidharma

Talks given from 31/10/79 am to 10/11/79 am

English Discourse series

11 Chapters

Year published: 1981

The White Lotus

Chapter #1

Chapter title: Lotus rain

31 October 1979 am in Buddha Hall

Archive code: 7910310

ShortTitle: WLOTUS01

Audio: Yes

Video: No











I AM ECSTATIC because just the name of Bodhidharma is psychedelic to me. In the long evolution of human consciousness there has never been such an outlandish Buddha as Bodhidharma -- very rare, very unique, exotic. Only in some small ways George Gurdjieff comes close to him, but not very close, and only in some ways, not in all ways.

There have been many buddhas in the world, but Bodhidharma stands out like Everest. His way of being, living, and expressing the truth is simply his; it is incomparable. Even his own master, Gautama the Buddha, cannot be compared with Bodhidharma. Even Buddha would have found it difficult to digest this man.

This man Bodhidharma traveled from India to China to spread the message of his master. Although they are separated by one thousand years, for Bodhidharma and for such men there is no time, no space -- for Bodhidharma Buddha was as contemporary as Buddha is contemporary to me.

On the surface you are my contemporaries, but between me and you there is a long long distance. We live on different planets. In reality, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Pythagoras, Bahauddin, Bodhidharma -- these are my contemporaries. Between them and me there is no gap either of time or of space. Superficially there is a one thousand years' gap between Buddha and Bodhidharma, but there is not even a single moment's gap in reality, in truth. On the circumference Buddha was already dead for one thousand years when Bodhidharma arrived on the scene, but at the center he is together with Buddha. He speaks the essence of Buddha -- of course he has his own way, his own style, but even Buddha would find it strange.

Buddha was a very cultured man, very sophisticated, very graceful. Bodhidharma is just the opposite in his expression. He is not a man but a lion. He does not speak, he roars. He has not that grace which belonged to Gautama the Buddha; he is rough, raw. He is not polished like a diamond; he is just from the mine, absolutely raw, no polishing. That is his beauty. Buddha has a beauty of his own, very feminine, very polished, very fragile. Bodhidharma has his own beauty, like that of a rock -- strong, masculine, indestructible, a great power.

Buddha also radiates power, but his power is very silent, like a whisper, a cool breeze. Bodhidharma is a storm, thundering and lightning. Buddha comes to your door without making any noise; he will not even knock on your door, you will not even hear his footsteps. But when Bodhidharma comes to you he will shake the whole house from its very foundations. Buddha will not shake you even if you are asleep. And Bodhidharma? He will wake you up from your grave! He hits hard, he is a hammer.

He is just the opposite of Buddha in his expression, but his message is the same. He bows down to Buddha as his master. He never says, "This is my message." He simply says, "This belongs to the buddhas, the ancient buddhas. I am just a messenger. Nothing is mine, because I am not. I am only a hollow bamboo who has been chosen by the buddhas to be a flute for them. They sing; I simply let them sing through me."
When he reached China, the Emperor Wu came to receive him on the borders: A great enlightened person is coming! And of course Wu was imagining him to be something like Gautama the Buddha -- very gentle, graceful, kingly. When he saw Bodhidharma he was shocked. He looked very primitive, and not only that, he looked very absurd, because he was carrying one of his shoes on his head -- one shoe on one foot, the other shoe on his head!

The emperor was embarrassed. Hc had come with his whole court and the queens. "What will they think? And what kind of man have I come to receive?" He tried to overlook it out of politeness. He did not want to ask the question, "Why is this shoe on your head?"

But Bodhidharma would not leave him. He said, "Don't try to overlook it. Ask directly and be straight from the very beginning. I have already read the question in your head."

The emperor was at a loss; he had to ask. Now what to do with such a man? He said, "Yes, you are right, the question has arisen in me. Why are you carrying this shoe on your head?"

Bodhidharma said, "To put things in the right perspective from the very beginning. I am an absurd man! You have to understand it from the very beginning. I don't want to create any trouble later on. Either you accept me as I am or you simply say that you cannot accept me, and I will leave your kingdom. I will go to the mountains. I will wait there for my people to come to me. This is just to show you that I am illogical, I can be as absurd as one can imagine. That is my way of working, that is my way of destroying your mind. And unless your mind is destroyed you will not know who you are. So what do you say?"

The king was at a loss. He had come with a few questions, but whether to ask this man those questions or not? -- because he may say something ridiculous; not only that, he may do something ridiculous.

But Bodhidharma insisted, "It is better that you ask whatsoever you have come to ask."

The king said, "The first question is: I have been doing many virtuous deeds...."

And Bodhidharma looked deeply into the eyes of the king -- a shiver must have gone down his spine! -- and said, "All nonsense! How can you do a virtuous deed? You are not yet aware. Virtue is a by-product of awareness. What virtuous deeds do you mean? You look like a fool -- how can you do a virtuous deed? Virtue follows a buddha, virtue is my shadow." He said, "You can only do vice, not virtue. It is impossible."

The king still tried to make some conversation and get rid of this man as politely as possible; he did not want to offend this man. He said, "By virtuous deeds I mean that I have made many temples for Buddha, many shrines. I have made many ashrams for the Buddhist bhikkhus, sannyasins. I have arranged for thousands of scholars to translate Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. Millions and millions of rupees I have put in the service of Gautam Buddha. What is going to be the result, the consequence, of all my virtue and of all my virtuous deeds? Millions of bhikkhus take food every day from the palace and all over the country. What is going to be the outcome of it?"

And Bodhidharma laughed -- the king had never heard such laughter -- a belly laughter that could shake mountains. He laughed and laughed and he said, "You are simply foolish. All your efforts have been a sheer waste; there is going to be no result out of it. Don't try, and don't imagine that you are going to the seventh heaven as other Buddhist bhikkhus must have been telling you. They have been exploiting you. This is their strategy to exploit foolish people like you. They exploit your greed for the other world, they give you great promises. And their promises cannot be proved wrong because nobody comes back from the other world to say whether those promises have been fulfilled or not. They are exploiters, they are parasites! You have been a victim. Nothing is going to happen out of this which you think is very virtuous. In fact, you will fall into the seventh hell, because a man who lives with such wrong desires, who lives with desires, is going to fall into hell."

The emperor tried to change the subject. He said, "Is there anything holy or not?"

Bodhidharma said, "There is nothing holy, there is nothing unholy. Holiness, unholiness, are our mind attitudes, prejudices. Everything is as it is. This is tathata, suchness: things are simply as they are. Nothing is wrong and nothing is right. Nothing is sin and nothing is virtue."

The emperor said, "You are too much for me and for my people."

Bodhidharma said goodbye, turned back and moved to the mountains. For nine years in the mountains he sat facing a wall. People would come, because this conversation -- if you can call it a conversation -- reached faraway places. "The emperor has been hammered like anything, has been crushed. And this Bodhidharma is really something very strange, but he has a quality... some integrity, some strange perfume surrounds him. He is surrounded by an aura of his own."

People started coming from faraway places to see him, and they would ask him, "Why don't you look at us? Why do you go on looking at the wall?"

And Bodhidharma would say, "I am waiting for the right man. When he comes I will look at him. Otherwise it is all the same whether I look at the wall or I look at your faces. And the wall can be forgiven because it is a wall -- you cannot be forgiven. Hence it is better for me to look at the wall and not to look at you. You have fallen into such unawareness that I would like to shake you out of it. But then you feel angry, then you feel offended. I don't want to bother you. I will turn only towards the man who has the capacity, the courage to be with me, to be my disciple."

And only after many years did one man turn up. He stood for twenty-four hours behind Bodhidharma not saying a single word. Finally Bodhidharma had to ask, "Why are you standing behind me?"

He said, "Now it is you who are starting it. I have come to kill myself if you don't turn towards me."

And he cut his hand off with his sword and presented it to Bodhidharma and he said, "Take it as a token; otherwise I will next cut my head. Turn towards me immediately!"

Bodhidharma had to turn. He looked at the man, smiling, and said, "So you are my disciple! So the man has come for whom I have been waiting!"
Bodhidharma was the first patriarch of Zen, and this man was the second patriarch of Zen, and a new tradition started. A new river was born from the source of Bodhidharma. These fragments were found just at the beginning of this century. They were excavated by M.A. Stein from Tung Huang. These are the notes of some unknown disciples of Bodhidharma. They consist of a question by a disciple and the answer by Bodhidharma. These notes, fragmentary as they are, still are of great significance: they represent the essential core of Buddha's message. It is going to be a little arduous to understand them. Be very attentive and silent because these are not ordinary words. When a man like Bodhidharma speaks, small questions, ordinary questions, are transformed into great inquiries. And whatsoever he says about those ordinary questions is of immense significance. His each word has to be pondered over, meditated upon. This will also give you a little taste of communion between the disciple and the master.

The first thing that you will note is: the question is asked, the answer is given, but the disciple never asks any question about the answer given. The answer has been totally accepted. It is not an inquiry from a student, it is an inquiry from a disciple. So the answer of Bodhidharma does not create any more questions, it simply ends the question. The disciple asks another question, but never raises a question about the answer, concerning the answer.

That is the first thing to be noted. That is a very central part of communion. It is trust, it is faith. It is not belief but it is certainly faith. And there is a difference between belief and faith. When you believe in something, the doubt still persists in you. The belief can only cover it up, it never destroys it: it will rise again and again and again. No belief can destroy your doubt, because belief is in the head and doubt is also in the head. Faith is of the heart, something far superior to the head. The question comes from the head, but the answer is received in the heart, at a higher altitude of your being. And then the question simply disappears from the head. The heart knows how to trust, the heart knows what faith is.

Faith is not against doubt, faith is absence of doubt. Belief is against doubt. Belief represses doubt, faith dissolves it. Belief is like a blind man believing that there is light; faith is like one who has opened his eyes and seen the light. The moment you see the light there is no question of doubting anymore.

Communion means communion of two hearts. The student functions from the head, the disciple through the heart. And only the disciple can understand the master. And when all the questions of the disciple are dissolved he becomes a devotee. Then the head has disappeared totally. Then there is only the heart, functioning in rhythm with the master's heart, in deep accord. This will give you an insight into communion.
The question: WHAT IS BUDDHA-MIND?
It has been asked again and again down the centuries. For twenty-five centuries all those who have become interested in Gautama the Buddha have asked the question: WHAT IS BUDDHA-MIND?

The question is significant -- it is significant because the very question creates a paradox. The buddha-mind is a no-mind. To say anything about the buddha-mind is to say something about no-mind. We live in the mind, the buddha has gone beyond it. He is no more a mind, he is only a no-mind. So the buddha-mind does not mean a certain type of mind, it simply means a transcendence of mind. The question is significant, is very fundamental; it is the beginning of inquiry, real inquiry.

The disciple is not asking, "What is God?" He is not asking, "What is paradise?" He is not asking, "What is sin?" He is asking a very existential question: WHAT IS BUDDHA-MIND? because to understand the reality of the buddha-mind is to understand the very foundation of existence itself.

A buddha-mind is a pure consciousness. It is like a mirror: it simply reflects, it does not project. It has no ideas, no content, no thoughts, no desires, no imagination, no memory. It is present to the everpresent, it lives in the present. And when you are totally in the present, the mind disappears, it loses all its boundaries. A great emptiness arises in you. Of course that emptiness is not empty in the ordinary sense of the word, it is also a kind of fullness -- empty as far as the world is concerned, but full, overfull, flooded, as far as truth is concerned. Empty because all misery has been thrown out, overflowing because bliss has descended in.

WHAT IS BUDDHA-MIND? should be the beginning for all seekers. Asking about God, asking about hell and heaven, are just ordinary things. Asking about the buddha-mind is asking something that, if you can understand it, is bound to transform you, is going to give you a new birth.

The mind is very cunning. It can create such questions which are only distractions from your being. The mind is so subtle it can deceive you. It can make you feel that you are a great seeker because you are asking, "What is God? Who created the world? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life?" And all these questions are stupid! The whole of philosophy consists of such stupid questions.

Buddha again and again says, "I am not a philosopher, I am a physician. I don't want to intellectualize, I want to make you intelligent. I don't want to give you answers to cling to, I want to give you insights in which questions melt, evaporate."

One has to be very aware of the mind, because mind can give you such questions as will lead you into the wrong direction of philosophizing. And then there is no end; you can go on and on forever. Ten thousand years of philosophizing, and not a single conclusion has been arrived at!

Be aware that your mind is a great deceiver. And just as your mind is a deceiver, so are the minds of others. If you ask wrong questions you will get wrong answers. There are people who are always ready to supply whatsoever you demand. It is just the ordinary law of economics: wherever there is a demand there will be a supply. What you demand is not the question. Whatsoever you demand -- the world is a marketplace -- somebody is going to create the supply. You are cunning, others are also cunning. There are more cunning people than you. The less cunning become the followers, the more cunning become the leaders. The less cunning question and the more cunning go on answering.

Buddha says, "I am not interested in your questions unless you ask something existential, unless you ask something in order to be transformed -- not just to be informed, not just to be made more knowledgeable."

Because you ask wrong questions there exist so many teachers in the world, and they are ready with many many answers, with all kinds of answers. And answers come in all shapes and sizes to fit everybody. But remember: there is you and your cunning mind and there are others who are more cunning.
To safeguard his pint while he left the bar for a moment a man left a note, "I have spat in this beer."

When he returned he found another note, "So have I."

Remember, the world is full of cunning people. These cunning people become politicians, priests; they can even pretend to be prophets. You can avoid them only by asking the right question. They can't answer the right question because to answer the right question they will have had to experience something. It cannot be done by borrowed knowledge; it can be done only if they have authentically experienced truth.

This is a beautiful question, the right question:

Bodhidharma answers:
The first thing he says is: Don't be bothered about Gautama the Buddha. YOUR MIND IS IT.

It is not a question about the historical person called Gautama the Buddha. He gives a new turn to the question. He immediately makes it more existential, more personal. The question is no more philosophical, it has become a question about you. You may have asked about Buddha, but in the hands of a Bodhidharma the question is immediately transformed, changed. It becomes an arrow moving towards your heart.

He says:
Buddhahood is not something that happens to somebody else, buddhahood is your potential; it is something that is waiting to happen within you. So the first thing he says: It is your mind. Buddha-mind is not something foreign to you, it is your innermost core, it is your very nature. You are buddhas -- maybe unaware of the fact, maybe fast asleep, but that makes no difference. A buddha asleep is still a buddha. A buddha unaware of his own buddhahood is still a buddha.
It is not somebody else's mind -- because how can you understand somebody else's mind? In the hands of masters like Bodhidharma everything is changed into the concrete, into the personal. It is taken out from its abstraction and made concrete and real.

People enjoy abstract questions because they are safer; they don't touch you, they leave you aside. You can ask about God, you can ask about who created the world and when. And cunning and stupid people are always there -- the cunning to lead and the stupid to be led.

A Christian theologian has even calculated the exact time when the world was created: four thousand and four years before Jesus was born -- the first of January of course, and on Monday. Now how can there be a first of January if there has not been a December before it? And how can there be a Monday if there has not been a Sunday preceding it? From nowhere Monday! From nowhere the first of January! And Christians have believed it, they have believed it so deeply that when Darwin and other scientists discovered the theory of evolution and said that the world has existed for millions of years, Christians were very much offended. Their whole religion was at stake. "The world has existed only for six thousand years, not more than that."

But scientists discovered and proved that this can't be the case, because in the earth they have found bodies of animals, bones of animals, skeletons of animals and men, which are ten thousand years old, twenty thousand years old, fifty thousand years old, one hundred thousand years old. How to explain that?

But as I told you, there are cunning people. Christian theologians even found a way out. They said, "Everything is possible for God. God created the world exactly four thousand and four years before Jesus, but he created bones, skeletons, which appear to be millions of years old just to test the faith of humanity." You see the cunningness? God created those skeletons so that it can be decided who is really faithful to the Christian dogma and who is not. God created those skeletons to see whether you still have some doubt within your being; then the doubt will surface. It is a strategy of God -- and nothing is impossible for him. If he can create the whole world, why can't he create skeletons which only appear to be millions of years old, although they are not?
When I was reading such Christian theologians I was reminded of one of my friends who lives in Bombay but has a factory in Nepal. He creates antiques, he manufactures antiques -- buddha statues. They are manufactured right now in his factory in Nepal. Then they are dipped into acids to disfigure them, then they are buried down deep in the earth for six months, and then they are taken out. With inscriptions in ancient languages, with dates reaching far back -- three thousand years, two thousand years, one thousand years -- in the languages which were prevalent in those days. And then they are sold all over the world.

When I had stayed with this friend for the first time and I saw so many antiques in his house, I said, "From where did you get them?"

He said, "I cannot lie to you -- we manufacture them."

I was puzzled. I said, "You are doing something so Christian? Do you follow the Christian God? He has also done the same thing: he manufactured everything four thousand and four years before Jesus Christ, but with marks, distortions, which can deceive people."

People go on clinging to their dogmas; but the whole thing is because we start by asking wrong questions.

When you come to a master be very alert and ask things which are really a deep concern for you, the ultimate concern for you. Ask things upon which your life and death depend.

Bodhidharma says:
He immediately changes the very flavor of the question. It is no more abstract, nothing to do with Buddha. Buddha may have been, may not have been. He may not be a historical person, who knows; he may never have existed, he may be just a beautiful fiction. But you are not a fiction, you are here, you are present; the question has to be concerned with you.
Now Bodhidharma has started entering in you. He says: The mind can manifest in many ways. The ordinary manifestation is that of insanity: thousands of thoughts and desires and memories running inside, clashing with each other, conflicting. A great war going on... sometimes very hot, sometimes very cold, but the war continues. Awake, asleep, it is always there. You are just a battlefield. This is the ordinary state.

But if you SEE THE SELFSAME ESSENCE OF IT.... What does he mean by 'selfsame essence'? Your ordinary mind changes every moment; it is never the same for two seconds even. One moment you are angry, another moment you are sad, another moment you are happy.... You go on changing, you change so easily; you are a flux. But if you watch this flux, then a totally different kind of mind arises in you: the witnessing.

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