Zen Teachings by Bodhidharma


Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century and is traditionally credited as the leading patriarch and transmitter of Zen to China.

Translated by Bill Porter, an American author who translates  Chinese texts, primarily Taoist and Buddhist, including poetry and Sūtras under the pen-name Red Pine.


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Everything that appears in the three realms comes from the mind. Hence Buddhas of the past and future teach mind to mind without bothering about definitions. But if they donít define it, what do they mean by mind? You ask. Thatís your mind. I answer. Thatís my mind. If I had no mind how could I answer? If you had no mind, how could you ask? That which asks is your mind. Through endless kalpas" without beginning, whatever you do, wherever you are, thatís your real mind, thatís your real buddha. This mind is the Buddha" says the same thing. Beyond this mind youíll never find another Buddha. To search for enlightenment or nirvana beyond this mind is impossible. The reality of your own self-nature the absence of cause and effect, is whatís meant by mind. Your mind is nirvana. You might think you can find a Buddha or enlightenment somewhere beyond the mindí, but such a place doesnít exist.

Trying to find a Buddha or enlightenment is like trying to grab space. Space has a name but no form. Itís not something you can pick up or put down. And you certainly canít grab if. Beyond mind youíll never see a Buddha. The Buddha is a product of the mind. Why look for a Buddha beyond this mind?

Buddhas of the past and future only talk about this mind. The mind is the Buddha, and the Buddha is the mind. Beyond the mind thereís no Buddha and beyond the Buddha thereís no mind. If you think there is a Buddha beyond the mindí, where is he? Thereís no Buddha beyond the mind, so why envision one? You canít know your real mind as long as you deceive yourself. As long as youíre enthralled by a lifeless form, youíre not free. If you donít believe me, deceiving yourself wonít help. Itís not the Buddhaís fault. People, though, are deluded. Theyíre unaware that their own mind is the Buddha. Otherwise they wouldnít look for a Buddha outside the mind.

Buddhas donít save Buddhas. If you use your mind to look for a Buddha, you wonít see the Buddha. As long as you look for a Buddha somewhere else, youíll never see that your own mind is the Buddha. Donít use a Buddha to worship a Buddha. And donít use the mind to invoke a Buddha." Buddhas donít recite sutras." Buddhas donít keep precepts." And Buddhas donít break precepts. Buddhas donít keep or break anything. Buddhas donít do good or evil.

To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature." Whoever sees his nature is a Buddha. If you donít see your nature, invoking Buddhas, reciting sutras, making offerings, and keeping precepts are all useless. Invoking Buddhas results in good karma, reciting sutras results in a good memory; keeping precepts results in a good rebirth, and making offerings results in future blessings-but no buddha. If you donít understand by yourself, youíll have to find a teacher to get to the bottom of life and death. But unless he sees his nature, such a person isnít a tea6er. Even if he can recite the Twelvefold Canon he canít escape the Wheel of Birth and Death. He suffers in the three realms without hope of release. Long ago, the monk Good Star 21 was able to recite the entire Canon. But he didnít escape the Wheel, because he didnít see his nature. If this was the case with Good Star, then people nowadays who recite a few sutras or shastras and think itís the Dharma are fools. Unless you see your mind, reciting so much prose is useless.

To find a Buddha all you have to do is see your nature. Your nature is the Buddha. And the Buddha is the person whoís free: free of plans, free of cares. If you donít see your nature and run around all day looking somewhere else, youíll never find a buddha. The truth is thereís nothing to find. But to reach such an understanding you need a teacher and you need to struggle to make yourself understand. Life and death are important. Donít suffer them in vain.

Thereís no advantage in deceiving yourself. Even if you have mountains of jewels and as many servants as there are grains of sand along the Ganges, you see them when your eyes are open. But what about when your eyes are shut? You should realize then that everything you see is like a dream or illusion.

If you donít find a teacher soon, youíll live this life in vain. Itís true, you have the buddha-nature. But the help of a teacher youíll never know it. Only one person in a million becomes enlightened without a teacherís help. If, though, by the conjunction of conditions, someone understands what the Buddha meant, that person doesnít need a teacher. Such a person has a natural awareness superior to anything taught. But unless youíre so blessed, study hard, and by means of instruction youíll understand.

People who donít understand and think they can do so without study are no different from those deluded souls who canít tell white from black." Falsely proclaiming the Buddha-Dharma, such persons in fact blaspheme the Buddha and subvert the Dharma. They preach as if they were bringing rain. But theirs is the preaching of devils not of Buddhas. Their teacher is the King of Devils and their disciples are the Devilís minions. Deluded people who follow such instruction unwittingly sink deeper in the Sea of Birth and Death. Unless they see their nature, how can people call themselves Buddhas theyíre liars who deceive others into entering the realm of devils. Unless they see their nature, their preaching of the Twelvefold Canon is nothing but the preaching of devils. Their allegiance is to Mara, not to the Buddha. Unable to distinguish white from black, how can they escape birth and death?

Whoever sees his nature is a Buddha; whoever doesnít is a mortal. But if you can find your buddha-nature apart from your mortal nature, where is it? Our mortal nature is our Buddha nature. Beyond this nature thereís no Buddha. The Buddha is our nature. Thereís no Buddha besides this nature. And thereís no nature besides the Buddha. But suppose I donít see my nature, cant I still attain enlightenment by invoking Buddhas, reciting sutras, making offerings, observing precepts, Practicing devotions, or doing good works?

No, you canít. Why not?

If you attain anything at all, itís conditional, itís karmic. It results in retribution. It turns the Wheel. And as long as youíre subject to birth and death, youíll never attain enlightenment. To attain enlightenment you have to see your nature. Unless you see your nature, all this talk about cause and effect is nonsense. Buddhas donít practice nonsense. A Buddha free of karma free of cause and effect. To say he attains anything at all is to slander a Buddha. What could he possibly attain? Even focusing on a mind, a power, an understanding, or a view is impossible for a Buddha. A Buddha isnít one sided. The nature of his mind is basically empty, neither pure nor impure. Heís free of practice and realization. Heís free of cause and effect.

A Buddha doesnít observe precepts. A Buddha doesnít do good or evil. A Buddha isnít energetic or lazy. A Buddha is someone who does nothing, someone who canít even focus his mind on a Buddha. A Buddha isnít a Buddha. Donít think about Buddhas. If you dont see what Iím talking about, youíll ever know your own mind. People who donít see their nature and imagine they can practice thoughtlessness all the time are lairs and fools. They fall into endless space. Theyíre like drunks. They canít tell good from evil. If you intend to cultivate such a practice, you have to see your nature before you can put an end to rational thought. To attain enlightenment without seeing your nature is impossible. Still others commit all sorts of evil deeds, claiming karma doesnít exist. They erroneously maintain that since everything is empty committing evil isnít wrong. Such persons fall into a hell of endless darkness with no hope of release. Those who are wise hold no such conception.

But if our every movement or state, whenever it occurs, is the mind, why donít we see this mind when a personís body dies?

The mind is always present. You just donít see it.

But if the mind is present, why donít I see it?

Do you ever dream?

Of course.

When you dream, is that you?

Yes, itís me.

And is what youíre doing and saying different from you?

No, it isnít.

But if it isnít, then this body is your real body. And this real body is your mind. And this mind, through endless kalpas without beginning, has never varied. It has never lived or died, appeared or disappeared, increased or decreased. Its not pure or impure, good or evil, past or future. Itís not true or false. Itís not mate or female. It doesnít appear as a monk or a layman, an elder or a novice, a sage or a fool, a Buddha or a mortal. It strives Ďfor no realization and suffers no karma. It has no strength or form. Itís like space. You canít possess it and you canít lose it. Its movements canít be blocked by mountains, rivers, or rock walls. Its unstoppable powers penetrate the Mountain of Five Skandhas and cross the River of Samsara." No karma can restrain this real body. But this mind is subtle and hard to see. Itís not the same as the sensual mind. Every I one wants to see this mind, and those who move their hands and feet by its light are as many as the grains of sand along the Ganges, but when you ask them, they canít explain it. Theyíre like puppets. Itís theirs to use. Why donít they see it?

The Buddha said people are deluded. This Is why when they act they fall into the river of endless rebirth. And when they try to get out they only sink deeper. And all because they donít see their nature. If people werenít deluded why would they ask about something right in front of them? Not one of they understands the movement of his own hands and feet. The Buddha wasnít mistaken. Deluded people donít know who they are. A Buddha and no one else know something so hard to fathom. Only the wise knows mind, this mind call nature, this mind called liberation. Neither life nor death can restrain this mind. Nothing can. Itís also called the Unstoppable Tathagata," the Incomprehensible, the Sacred Self, the Immortal, the Great Sage. Its names vary but not its essence. Buddhas vary too, but none leaves his own mind. The mindís capacity is limitless, and its manifestations are inexhaustible. Seeing forms with your eyes, hearing sounds with your ears, smelling odors with your nose, tasting flavors with your tongue, every movement or state is your entire mind. At every moment, where language canít go, thatís your mind.

The sutras say, "A Tathagataís forms are endless. And so is his awareness." The endless variety of forms is due to the mind. Its ability to distinguish things, whatever their movement or state, is the mindís awareness. But the mind has no form and its awareness no limit. Hence itís said, "A Tathagataís forms are endless. And so is his awareness." A material body of the four elements" is trouble. A material body is subject to birth and death. But the real body exists without existing, because a Tathagataís real body never changes. The sutras say, "People should realize that the buddha-nature is something they have always had." Kashyapa only realized his own nature.

Our nature is the mind. And the mind is our nature. This nature is the same as the mind of all Buddhas. Buddhas of the past and future only transmit this mind. Beyond this mind thereís no Buddha anywhere. But deluded people donít realize that their own mind is the Buddha. They keep searching outside. They never stop invoking Buddhas or worshipping Buddhas and wondering Where is the buddha? Donít indulge in such illusions. Just know your mind. Beyond your mind thereís no other Buddha. The sutras say, "Everything that has form is an illusion." They also say, "Wherever you are, thereís a Buddha." Your mind is the Buddha. Donít use a Buddha to worship a Buddha.

Even if a Buddha or bodhisattva" should suddenly appear before you, thereís no need for reverence. This mind of ours is empty and contains no such form. Those who hold onto appearances are devils. They fall from the Path. Why worship

illusions born of the mind? Those who worship donít know, and those who know donít worship. By worshipping you come under the spell of devils. I point this out because 1 afraid youíre unaware of it. The basic nature of a Buddha has no such form. Keep this in mind, even if something unusual should appear. Donít embrace it, and donít fear it, and donít doubt that your Mind is basically pure. Where could there be room for any such form? Also, at the appearance of spirits, demons, or divine conceive neither respect nor fear. Your mind is basically empty. All appearances are illusions. Donít hold on to appearances. If you envision a Buddha, a Dharma, or a bodhisattva" and conceive respect for them, you relegate yourself to the realm of mortals. If you seek direct understanding, donít hold on to any appearance whatsoever, and youíll succeed. I have no other advice. The sutras say, "All appearances are illusions." They have no fixed existence, o constant form. Theyíre impermanent. Donít cling to appearances and youíll be of one mind with the Buddha. The sutras say, "íThat which is free of all form is the Buddha."

But why shouldnít we worship Buddhas and bodhisattvas?

Devils and demons possess the power of manifestation. They can create the appearance of bodhisattvas in all sorts of guises. But theyíre false. None of them are Buddhas. The Buddha is your own mind. Donít misdirect your worship.

Buddha is Sanskrit for what you call aware, miraculously aware. Responding, arching your brows blinking your eyes, moving your hands and feet, its all your miraculously aware nature. And this nature is the mind. And the mind is the Buddha. And the Buddha is the path. And the path is Zen. But the word Zen is one that remains a puzzle to both mortals and sages. Seeing your nature is Zen. Unless you see your nature, itís not Zen.

Even if you can explain thousands of sutras and shastras, unless you see your own nature yours is the teaching of a mortal, not a Buddha. The true Way is sublime. It canít be expressed in language. Of what use are scriptures? But someone who sees his own nature finds the Way, even if he canít read a word. Someone who sees his nature is a Buddha. And since a Buddhaís body is intrinsically pure and unsullied, and everything he says is an expression of his mind, being basically empty, a buddha canít be found in words or anywhere in the Twelvefold Canon.

The Way is basically perfect. It doesnít require perfecting. The Way has no form or sound. Itís subtle and hard to perceive. Itís like when you drink water: you know how hot or cold it is, but you canít tell others. Of that which only a Tathagata knows men and gods remain unaware. The awareness of mortals falls short. As long as ,theyíre attached to appearances, theyíre unaware that their minds are empty.

And by mistakenly clinging to the appearance of things they lose the Way. If you know that everything comes from the mind, donít become attached. Once attached, youíre unaware. But once you see your own nature, the entire Canon becomes so much prose. Its thousands of sutras and shastras only amount to a clear mind. Understanding comes in midsentence. What good are doctrines? The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words.

Theyíre not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are illusions. Theyíre no different from things that appear in your dreams at night, be they palaces or carriages, forested parks or lakeside Ďlions. Donít conceive any delight for such things. Theyíre all cradles of rebirth. Keep this in mind when you approach death. Donít cling to appearances, and youíll break through all barriers. A momentís hesitation and youíll be under the spell of devils. Your real body is pure and impervious. But because of delusions youíre unaware of it. And because of this you suffer karma in vain. Wherever you find delight, you find bondage. But once you awaken to your original body and mind," youíre no longer bound by attachments.

Anyone, who gives up the transcendent for the mundane, ill any of its myriad forms, is a mortal. A Buddha is someone who finds freedom in good fortune and bad. Such is his power that karma canít hold him. No matter what kind of karma Buddha transforms it. Heaven and hell are nothing to him. But the awareness of a mortal is dim compared to that of a Buddha who penetrates everything inside and out. If youíre not sure donít act. Once you act, you wander through birth and death and regret having no refuge. Poverty and hardship are created by false thinking. To understand this mind you have to act without acting. Only then will you see things from a Tathagataís perspective.

But when you first embark on the Path, your awareness wonít focused. But you shouldnít doubt that all such scenes come from your own mind and nowhere else.

If, as in a dream, you see a light brighter than the sun, your remaining attachments will suddenly come to an end and the nature of reality will be revealed. Such an occurrence serves as the basis for enlightenment. But this is something only you know. You canít explain it to others. Or if, while youíre walking, standing, sitting, or lying in a quiet grove, you see a light, regardless of whether itís bright or dim, donít tell others and donít focus on it. Itís the light of your own nature.

Or if, while youíre walking, standing, sitting, or lying in the stillness and darkness of night, everything appears as though in daylight, donít be startled. Itís your own mind about to reveal itself.

Or if, while youíre dreaming at night, you see the moon and stars in all their clarity, it means the workings of your mind are about to end. But donít tell others. And if your dreams arenít clear, as if you were walking in the dark, itís because your mind is masked by cares. This too is something of" you know. if you so your nature,, you donít need to read sutras or invoke buddhas. Erudition and Knowledge are not only useless but also cloud your awareness. Doctrines are only for pointing to the mind. Once you see your mind, why pay attention to doctrines?

To go from mortal to Buddha, you have to put an end to karma, nurture your awareness, and accept what life brings. If youíre always getting angry, youíll turn your nature against the Way. Thereís no advantage in deceiving yourself. Buddhas move freely through birth and death, appearing and disappearing at will. They canít be restrained by karma or overcome by devils. Once mortals see their nature, all attachments end. Awareness isnít hidden. But you can only find it right now. Itís only now. If you really want to find the Way, donít hold on to anything. Once you put an end to karma and nurture your awareness, any attachments that remain will come to an end. Understanding comes naturally. You donít have to make any effort. But fanatics donít understand what the Buddha meant. And the harder they try, the farther they get from the Sageís meaning. All day long they invoke Buddhas and read sutras. But they remain blind to their own divine nature, and they donít escape the Wheel.

A Buddha is an idle person. He doesnít run around after fortune and fame. What good are such things in the end? People who donít see their nature and think reading sutras, invoking Buddhasí, studying long and hard, practicing morning and night, never lying down, or acquiring knowledge is the Dharma, blaspheme the Dharma. Buddhas of the past and future only talk about seeing your nature. All practices are impermanent. Unless they see their nature people who claim to have attained unexcelled, complete enlightenment" are liars. Among Shakyamuniís ten greatest disciples, Ananda was foremost in learning. But he didnít know the Buddha. All he did was study and memorize. Arhats donít know the Buddha. All they know are so many practices for realization, and they become trapped by cause and effect. Such is a mortalís karma: no escape from birth and death. By doing the opposite of what lie intended, Such people blaspheme the Buddha. Killing them would not be wrong. The sutras say, "Since icchantikas are incapable of belief, killing them would be blameless, whereas people who believe reach the state of Buddhahood."

Unless you see your nature, You shouldnít go around criticizing the goodness of others. Thereís no advantage in deceiving yourself. Good and bad are distinct. Cause and effect are clear. Heaven and hell are right before your eves. But fools donít believe and fall straight into a hell of endless darkness without even knowing it. What keeps them from believing is the heaviness of their karma. Theyíre like blind people who donít believe thereís such a thing as light. Even if you explain it to them, they still don t believe, because theyíre blind. How can they possibly distinguish light?

The same holds true for fools who end up among the lower orders of existence or among the poor and despised. They canít live and they canít die. And despite their sufferings, if you ask them, they say theyíre as happy as gods. All mortals even those who think themselves wellborn, are likewise unaware. Because of the heaviness of their karma, such fools canít believe and canít get free.

People who see that their mind is the Buddha donít need to shave their head" Laymen are Buddhas too. Unless they see their nature, people who shave their head are simply fanatics.

But since married laymen donít give up sex, bow can they become Buddhas? I only talk about seeing your nature. I donít talk about sex simply because you donít see your nature. Once you see your nature, sex is basically immaterial. It ends along with your delight in it. Even if some habits remainí, they canít harm you, because your nature is essentially pure. Despite dwelling in a material body of four elements, your nature is basically pure. It canít be corrupted.

Your real body is basically pure. It canít be corrupted. Your real body has no sensation, no hunger or thirstí, no warmth or cold, no sickness, no love or attachment, no pleasure or pain, no good or bad, no shortness or length, no weakness or strength. Actually, thereís nothing here. Itís only because you cling to this material body that things like hunger and thirst, warmth and cold, sickness appear Once you stop clinging and let things be, youíll- be free, even of birth and death. Youíll transform everything. Youíll possess Spiritual powers " that cant be obstructed. And youíll be at peace wherever you are. If you doubt this, youíll never see through anything. Youíre better off doing nothing. Once you act, you canít avoid the cycle of birth and death. But once you see your nature, youíre a Buddha even if you work as a butcher.

But butchers create karma by slaughtering animals. How can they be Buddhas?

I only talk about seeing your nature. I donít talk about creating karma. Regardless of what we do, our karma has no hold on us. Through endless kalpas without beginning, its only because people donít see their nature that they end up in hell. As long as a person creates karma, he keeps passing through birth and death. But once a person realizes his original nature, he stops creating karma. If he doesnít see his nature, invoking Buddhas wonít release him from his karma, regardless of whether or not heís a butcher. But once he sees his nature, all doubts vanish. Even a butcherís karma has no effect on such a person. In India the twenty-seven patriarchs only transmitted the imprint of the mind.

And the only reason Iíve come to China is to transmit the instantaneous teaching of the Mahayana This mind is the Buddha. I donít talk about precepts, devotions or ascetic practices such immersing yourself in water and fire, treading a wheel of knives, eating one meal a day, or never lying down. These are fanatical, provisional teachings. Once you recognize your moving, miraculously aware nature.

Yours is the mind of all Buddhas. Buddhas of the past and future only talk about transmitting the mind.

They teach nothing else if someone understands this teaching, even if heís illiterate heís a Buddha. If You donít see your own miraculously aware nature, youíll never find a Buddha even if you break your body into atoms.

The Buddha is your real body, your original mind. This mind has no form or characteristics, no cause or effect, no tendons or bones. Itís like space. You canít hold it. Its not the mind or materialists or nihilists. Except for a Tathagata, no one else- no mortal, no deluded being-can fathom it.

But this mind isnít somewhere outside the material body of four elements. Without this mind we canít move. The body has no awareness. Like a plant or stone, the body has no nature. So how does it move? Itís the mind that moves. Language and behavior, perception and conception are all functions of the moving mind. All motion is the mindís motion. Motion is its function. Apart from motion thereís no mind, and apart from the mind thereís no motion. But motion isnít the mind. And the mind isnít motion. Motion is basically mindless. And the mind is basically motionless. But motion doesnít exist without the mind. And the mind doesnít exist without motion. Theres no mind for motion to exist apart from, and no motion for mind to exist apart from. Motion is the mindís function, and its function is its motion. Even so, the mind neither moves nor functions, the essence of its functioning is emptiness and emptiness is essentially motionless. Motion is the same as the mind. And the mind is essentially motionless. Hence the Sutras tell us to move without moving, to travel without traveling, to see without seeing, to laugh without laughing, to hear without hearing, to know without knowing, to be happy, without being happy, to walk without walking, to stand without standing. And the sutras say, "Go beyond language. Go beyond thought." Basically, seeing, hearing, and knowing are completely empty. Your anger, Joy, or pain is like that of puppet. You search but you wonít find a thing.

According to the Sutras, evil deeds result in hardships and good deeds result in blessings. Angry people go to hell and happy people go to heaven. But once you know that the nature of anger and joy is empty and you let them go, you free yourself from karma. If you donít see your nature, quoting sutras is no help, I could go on, but this brief sermon will have to do.