Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bodhidharma's "Outline of Practice"

For various reasons, I have a personal affection for Bodhidharma: he left his country to come teach in another one, and he founded Shaolin Kung Fu and designed the Chi Gong Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing exercises.

We know little things about him. He is very much a legendary figure. But aren't legends and myth often based on reality (Which reality ?). 

Let us say that sometimes around 475 AD, an Indian Buddhist Master came from India to China to teach the Dhyana school of Buddhism. 

Bodhidharma left us a few short texts  - they are likely transcriptions of his teachings as it is doubtful that he could write Chinese. Today I would like to share with you the most known of these texts, entitled "Outline of Practice" 

It is the text of a translation by Red Pine. If you are interested in the other texts, I suggest you purchase the book The Zen teachings of Bodhidharma

Outline of Practice

‘Many roads lead to the Way, but basically there are only two: reason and practice. 

To enter by reason means to realize the essence through instruction and to believe all living things share the same true nature, which isn’t apparent because it’s shrouded by sensation and delusion. Those who turn from delusion back to reality, who meditate on walls, the absence of self and other, the oneness of mortal and sage, and who remain unmoved even by sutras are completely in accord and unspoken agreement with reason. Without moving, without effort, they enter, we say, by reason’.

To enter by practise refers to four all-inclusive practices: suffering injustice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practising the Dharma.’

First, suffering injustice. When those who search for a path encounter adversity, they should think to themselves ‘In countless ages gone by I’ve turned from the essential to the trivial and wandered through all manner of existences, often angry without cause and guilty of numberless transgressions. Now, though I do no wrong, I’m punished by my past. Neither gods nor men can foresee when an evil deed will bear it’s fruit. I accept it with an open heart and without complaint of injustice’. The sutra says ‘When you meet with adversity don’t be upset, because it makes sense’. With such understanding you’re in harmony with reason. And by suffering injustice you enter the path.’

Second, adapting to conditions. As mortals we’re ruled by conditions not by ourselves. All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions. If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame or fortune, it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past. When conditions change, it ends. Why delight in its existence? But while success and failure depend on conditions, the mind neither waxes nor wanes. Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the path.’

Third, seeking nothing. People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something - always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up. They choose reason over custom. They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons. All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. ‘Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity’. To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know peace? Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop imaging or seeking anything. The sutra says ‘To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss’. When you seek nothing, you’re on the path.’

Fourth, practising the Dharma. The Dharma is the truth that all natures are pure. By this truth, all appearances are empty. Defilement and attachment, subject and object don’t exist. The sutra says ‘ The Dharma includes no being because it’s free from the impurity of being, and the Dharma includes no self because it’s free from the impurity of self’. Those wise enough to believe and understand these truth are bound to practise according to the Dharma. And since that which is real includes nothing that is worth begrudging, they give their body, life, and property in charity, without regret, without the vanity of the giver, gift, or recipient, and without bias or attachment. And to eliminate impurity they teach others, but without being attached to form. Thus, through their own practise they’re able to help others and glorify the Way of Enlightenment. And as with charity, they also practise the other virtues to eliminate delusion, they practise nothing at all. This is what’s meant by practising the Dharma.’

Please read and consider carefully. And if you don't agree try to figure out why some guy travelled thousands of miles from India to China 1500 years ago to teach this.
With the help of other masters, we will later try to get more insight in this important text.

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