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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.


 Outline of Practice  >>>  The Bloodstream Sermon  >>> The Wake-up Sermon  >>> The Breakthrough Sermon


The essence of the Way is detachment. And the goal of those who practice is freedom from appearances. The sutras say, Detachment is enlightenment because it negates appearances. Buddhahood means awareness Mortals whose minds are aware reach the Way of Enlightenment and are therefore called Buddhas. The sutras say, "Those who free themselves from all appearances are called Buddhas." The appearance of appearance as no appearance canít be seen visually but can only be known by means of wisdom. Whoever hears and believes this teaching embarks on the Great Vehicle" and leaves the three realms. The three realms are greed, anger, and delusion. To leave the three realms means to go from greed, anger, and delusion back to morality, meditation, and wisdom. Greed, anger, and delusion have no nature of their own. They depend on mortals. And anyone capable of reflection is bound to see that the nature of greed, anger, and delusion is the buddha-nature. Beyond greed, anger, and delusion there is no other buddha-nature. The sutras say, "Bu as have only become buddhas while living with the three poisons and nourishing themselves on the pure Dharma." The three poisons are greed, anger, and delusion.

The Great Vehicle is the greatest of all vehicles. Itís the conveyance of bodhisattvas, who use everything wit out using anything and who travel all day without traveling. Such is the vehicle of Buddhas.

The sutras say, "No vehicle is the vehicle of Buddhas."


Whoever realizes that the six senses arenít real, that the five aggregates are fictions, that no such things can be located anywhere in the body, understands the language of Buddhas. The sutras say, "The cave of five aggregates is the hall of Zen. The opening of the inner eye is the door of the Great Vehicle." What could be clearer?

Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen. To know that the mind is empty is to see the Buddha. The Buddhas of the ten directions" have no mind. To see no mind is to see the Buddha.

To give up yourself without regret is the greatest charity. To transcend motion and stillness is the highest meditation. Mortals keep moving, and Arhats stay still." But the highest meditation surpasses both that of mortals and that of Arhats. People who reach such understanding free themselves from all appearances without effort and cure all illnesses without treatment. Such is the power of great Zen.

Using the mind to look for reality is delusion. Not using the mind to took for reality is awareness. Freeing oneself from words is liberation. Remaining unblemished by the dust of sensation is guarding the Dharma. Transcending life and death is leaving home."

Not suffering another existence is reaching the Way. Not creating delusions is enlightenment. Not engaging in ignorance is wisdom. No affliction is nirvana. And no appearance of the mind is the other shore.

When youíre deluded, this shore exists. When you wake tip, it doesnít exist. Mortals stay on this shore. But those who discover the greatest of all vehicles stay on neither this shore nor the other shore. Theyíre able to leave both shores. Those who see the other shore as different from this shore donít understand Zen.

Delusion means mortality. And awareness means Buddhahood. Theyíre not the same. And theyíre not different. Itís ĎList that people distinguish delusion from awareness. When weíre deluded thereís a world to escape. When weíre aware, thereís nothing to escape.

In the light of the impartial Dharma, mortals look no different from sages. The sutras say that the impartial Dharma is something that mortals canít penetrate and sages canít practice. The impartial Dharma is only practiced by great bodhisattvas and Buddhas. To look on life as different from death or on motion as different from stillness is to be partial. To be impartial means to look on suffering as no different from nirvana,, because the nature of both is emptiness. By imagining theyíre putting an end to Suffering and entering nirvana Arhats end up trapped by nirvana. But bodhisattvas know that suffering is essentially empty. And by remaining in emptiness they remain in nirvana. Nirvana means no birth and no death. Itís beyond birth and death and beyond nirvana. When the mind stops moving, it enters nirvana. Nirvana is an empty mind. When delusions dont exist, Buddhas reach nirvana. Where afflictions donít exist, bodhisattvas enter the place of enlightenment An uninhabited place is one without greed, anger, or delusion. Greed is the realm of desire, anger the realm of form, and delusion the formless realm. When a thought begins, you enter the three realms. When a thought ends, you leave the three realms. The beginning or end of the three realms, the existence or nonexistence of anything, depends on the mind. This applies to everything, even to such inanimate objects as rocks and sticks.

Whoever knows that the mind is a fiction and devoid of anything real knows that his own mind neither exists nor doesnít exist. Mortals keep creating the mind, claiming it exists. And Arhats keep negating the mind, claiming it doesnít exist. But bodhisattvas and Buddhas neither create nor negate the mind. This is whatís meant by the mind that neither exists nor doesnít exist. The mind that neither exists nor doesnít exist is called the Middle Way.


If you use your mind to study reality, you wonít understand either your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, youíll understand both. Those who donít understand donít understand understanding. And those who understand, understand not understanding. People capable of true vision know that the mind is empty. They transcend both understanding and not understanding. The absence of both understanding and not understanding is true understanding Seen with true vision, form isnít simply form, because form depends on mind. And mind isnít simply mind, because mind depends on form. Mind and form create and negate each other. That which exists exists in relation to that which doesnít exist. And that which doesnít exist doesnít exist in relation to that which exists. This is true vision. By means of such vision nothing is seen and nothing is not seen. Such vision reaches throughout the ten directions without seeing: because nothing is seen; because not seeing is seen; because seeing isnít seeing. What mortals see are delusions. True vision is detached from seeing. The mind and the world are opposites, and vision arises where they meet. When your mind doesnít stir inside, the world doesnít arise outside. When the world and the mind are both transparent, this is true vision. And such understanding is true understanding.

To see nothing is to perceive the Way, and to understand nothing is to know the Dharma, because seeing is neither seeing nor not seeing and because understanding is neither understanding nor not understanding. Seeing without seeing is true vision. Understanding without understanding is true understanding.

True vision isnít just seeing seeing. Itís also seeing not seeing. And true understanding isnít just understanding understanding. Itís also understanding not understanding. If you understand anything, you donít understand. Only when you understand nothing is it true understanding. Understanding is neither understanding nor not understanding.

The sutras say, "Not to let go of wisdom is stupidity." When the mind doesnít exist, understanding and not understanding are both true. When the mind exists, understanding and not understanding are both false. When you understand, reality depends on you. When you donít understand, you depend on reality. When reality depends on you, that which isnít real becomes real. When you depend on reality, that which is real becomes false. When you depend on reality, everything is false. When reality depends on you, everything is true. Thus, the sage doesnít use his mind to look for reality, or reality to look for his mind, or his mind to look for his mind, or reality to look for reality. His mind doesnít give rise to reality. And reality doesnít give rise to his mind. And because both his mind and reality are still, heís always in samadhi.

When the mortal mind appears, buddhahood disappears. When the mortal mind disappears, buddhahood appears. When the mind appears, reality disappears. When the mind disappears, reality appears. Whoever knows that nothing depends on anything has found the Way. And whoever knows that the mind depends on nothing is always at the place of enlightenment.

When you donít understand, your wrong. When you understand, you re not wrong. This is because the nature of wrong is empty. When you donít understand right seems wrong. When you understand, wrong isnít wrong, because wrong doesnít exist. The sutras say, "Nothing has a nature of its own." Act. Donít question. When you question, youíre wrong. Wrong is the result of questioning. When you reach such an understanding, the wrong deeds of your past lives are wiped away. When youíre deluded, the six senses and five shades are constructs of suffering and mortality When you wake up, the six senses and five shades are constructs of nirvana and immortality.

Someone who seeks the Way doesnít look beyond himself. He knows that the mind is the Way. But when he finds the mind, he finds nothing. And when he finds the Way, he finds nothing. If you think you can use the mind to find the Way, youíre deluded. When you, re deluded, buddhahood exists. When youíre aware, it doesnít exist. This is because awareness is buddhahood.

If youíre looking for the Way, the Way wonít appear until your bodyí disappears. Itís like stripping bark from a tree. This karmic body undergoes constant change. It has no fixed reality. Practice according to your thoughts. Donít hate life and death or love life and death. Keep your every thought free of delusion, and in life youíll witness the beg- inning of nirvana and in death youíll experience the assurance of no rebirth.

To see form but not be corrupted by form or to hear sound but not to be corrupted by sound is liberation. Eyes that arenít attached to form are the gates of Zen. In short, those who perceive the existence and nature of phenomena and remain unattached are liberated. Those who perceive the external appearance of phenomena are at their mercy. Not to be subject to afflictions is whatís meant by liberation. Thereís no other liberation. When you know how to look at form, form doesnít give rise to mind and mind doesnít give rise to form. Form and mind are both pure.

When delusions are absent, the mind is the land of Buddhas. When delusions are present, the mind is hell. Mortals create delusions. And by using the mind to give birth to mind they always find themselves in hell. Bodhisattvas see through delusions. And by not using the mind to give birth to mind they always find themselves in the land of Buddhas. If you donít use your mind to create mind, every state of mind is empty and every thought is still. You go from one buddhaland to another. If you use your mind to create mind, every state of mind is disturbed and every thought is in motion. You go from one hell to the next. When a thought arises, thereís good karma and bad karma, heaven and hell. When no thought arises, thereís no good karma or bad karma, no heaven or hell.

The body neither exists nor doesnít exist. Hence existence as a mortal and nonexistence as a sage are conceptions with which a sage has nothing to do. His heart is empty and spacious as the sky. That which follows is witnessed on the Way. Itís beyond the ken of Arhats and mortals.

When the mind reaches nirvana, you donít see nirvana, because the mind is nirvana. If you see nirvana somewhere outside the mind, youíre deluding yourself.

Every suffering is a buddha-seed, because suffering impels mortals to seek wisdom. But you can only say that suffering gives rise to Buddhahood. You canít say that suffering is Buddhahood. Your body and mind are the field. Suffering is the seed, wisdom the sprout, and Buddhahood the grain. The Buddha in the mind is like a fragrance in a tree. The Buddha comes from a mind free of suffering, just as a fragrance comes from a tree free of decay. Thereís no fragrance without the tree and no Buddha without the mind. If thereís a fragrance without a tree, itís a different fragrance. If thereís a Buddha without your mind, itís a different Buddha.

When the three poisons are present in your mind, you live in a land of filth.

When the three poisons are absent from your mind, you live in a land of purity.

The sutras say, "if you fill a land with impurity and filth, no Buddha will ever appear." Impurity and filth refer to on and the other poisons. A Buddha refers to a pure and awakened mind. Thereís no language that, isnít the Dharma. To talk all day without saying anything is the Way. To be silent all day and still say something isnít the Way. Hence neither does a Tathagata speech depend on silence, nor does his silence depend on speech, nor does his speech exist apart from his silence. Those who understand both speech and silence are in samadhi. If you speak when you know, Your speech is free. If youíre silent when you donít know, your silence is tied. If speech isnít attached to appearances its free. If silence is attached to appearances, itís tied. Language is essentially free. It has nothing to do with attachment. And attachment has nothing to do with language. Reality has no high or low. If you see high or low, It isnít real. A raft isnít real. But a passenger raft is. A person who rides such a raft can cross that which isnít real. Thatís why itís real.

According to the world thereís male and female, rich and poor. According to the Way thereís no male or female, no rich or poor. When the goddess realized the Way, she didnít change her sex. When the stable boy" awakened to the Truth, he didnít change his status. Free of sex and status, they shared the same basic appearance. The goddess searched twelve years for her womanhood without success. To search twelve years for ones manhood would likewise be fruitless. The twelve years refer to the twelve entrances. Without the mind there s no Buddha. Without the Buddha there is no mind.

Likewise, without water thereís no ice, and without ice there is no water. Whoever talks about leaving the mind doesnít get very far. Donít become attached to appearances of the mind. The sutras say, "When you see no appearance, you see the Buddha." This is whatís meant by being free from appearances of the mind. Without the mind thereís no Buddha means that the-buddha comes from the mind. The mind gives birth to the Buddha. But although the Buddha comes from the mind, the mind doesnít come from the Buddha, just as fish come from water, but water doesnít come from fish. Whoever wants to see a fish sees the water before lie sees the fish. And whoever wants to see a Buddha sees the mind before he sees the Buddha. Once youíve seen the fish, You forget about the water. And once youíve seen the Buddha, you forget about the mind. If you donít forget about the mind, the mind will confuse you, just as the water will confuse you if you donít forget about it.

Mortality and Buddhahood are like water and ice. To be afflicted by the three poisons is mortality. To be purified by the three releases" is Buddhahood. That which freezes into ice in the winter melts into water in summer. Eliminate ice and thereís no more water. Get rid of mortality and thereís no more Buddhahood. Clearly, the nature of ice is the nature of water. And the nature of water is the nature of ice. And the nature of mortality is the nature of Buddhahood. Mortality and Buddhahood share the same nature, just as Wutou and Futzu share the same root but not the same season. Itís only because of the delusion of differences that we have the words mortality and buddhahood. When a snake becomes a dragon, it doesnít change its scales. And when a mortal becomes a sage, he doesnít change his face. He knows his mind through internal wisdom and takes care of his body through external discipline.

Mortals liberate Buddhas and Buddhas liberate mortals. This is whatís meant by impartiality. Mortals liberate Buddhas because affliction creates awareness. And Buddhas liberate mortals because awareness negates affliction. There canít help but be affliction. And there canít help but be awareness. If it werenít for affliction, there would be nothing to create awareness. And if it werenít for awareness, there would be nothing to negate affliction. When youíre deluded, Buddhas liberate mortals. When youíre aware, mortals liberate Buddhas. Buddhas donít become Buddhas on their own. Theyíre liberated by mortals. Buddhas regard delusion as their father and greed as their mother. Delusion and greed are different names for mortality. Delusion and mortality are like the left hand and the right hand. Thereís no other difference.


When youíre deluded, youíre on this shore. When youíre aware, youíre on the other shore. But once you know your mind is empty and you see no appearances, youíre beyond delusion and awareness. And once youíre beyond delusion and awareness, the other shore doesnít exist. The tathagata isnít on this shore or the other shore. And he isnít in midstream. Arhats are in midstream and mortals are on this shore. On the other shore is Buddhahood. Buddhas have three bodies: a transformation body a reward body, and a real body. The transformation body is also called the incarnation body. The transformation body appears when mortals do good deeds, the reward body when they cultivate wisdom, and the real body when they become aware of the sublime. The transformation body is the one you see flying in all directions rescuing others wherever it can. The reward body puts an end to doubts. The Great Enlightenment occurred in the Himalayas suddenly becomes true. The real body doesnít do or say anything. It remains perfectly still. But actually, thereís not even one buddha-body, much less three. This talk of three bodies is simply based on human understanding, which can be shallow, moderate, or deep. People of shallow understanding imagine theyíre piling up blessings and mistake the transformation body for the Buddha. People of moderate understanding imagine theyíre putting an end to Suffering and mistake the reward body for the Buddha.

And people of deep understanding imagine theyíre experiencing Buddhahood and mistake the real body for the Buddha. But people of the deepest understanding took within, distracted by nothing. Since a clear mind is the Buddha they attain the understanding of a Buddha without using the mind. The three bodies, like all other things, are unattainable and indescribable. The unimpeded mind reaches the Way. The sutras say, " Buddhas donít preach the Dharma. They donít liberate mortals. And they donít experience Buddhahood." This is what I mean. Individuals create karma; karma doesnít create individuals. They create karma in this life and receive their reward in the next. They never escape. Only someone whoís perfect creates no karma in this life and receives no reward. The sutras say, "Who creates no karma obtains the Dharma." This isnít an empty saying. You can create karma but you canít create a person. When you create karma, youíre reborn along with your karma. When you donít create karma, you vanish along with your karma. Hence, wit karma dependent on the individual and the individual dependent on karma, if an individual doesnít create karma, karma has no hold on him. In the same manner, "A person can enlarge the Way. The Way canít enlarge a person."

Mortals keep creating karma and mistakenly insist that thereís no retribution. But can they deny suffering? Can they deny that what the present state of mind sows the next state of mind reaps? How can they escape? But if the present state of mind sows nothing, the next state of mind reaps nothing. Donít misconceive karma.

The sutras say, "Despite believing in Buddhas, people who imagine that Buddhas practice austerities arenít Buddhists. The same holds for those who imagine that Buddhas are subject to rewards of wealth or poverty. Theyíre icchantikas. Theyíre incapable of belief." Someone who understands the teaching of sages is a sage. Someone who understands the teaching of mortals is a mortal. A mortal who can give up the teaching of mortals and follow the teaching of sages becomes a sage. But the fools of this world prefer to look for sage a away. They donít believe that the wisdom of their own mind is the sage. The sutras say, "Among men of no understanding, donít preach this sutra. And the sutras say, "Mind is the teaching." But people of no understanding donít believe their own mind or that by understanding this teaching they can become a sage. They prefer to look for distant knowledge and long for things in space, buddha-images, light, incense, and colors. They fall prey to falsehood and lose their minds to Insanity.

The sutras say, "When you see that all appearances are not appearances, you see the tathagata." The myriad doors to the truth all come from the mind. When appearances of the mind are as transparent as space, theyíre gone. Our endless sufferings are the roots of illness. When mortals are alive, they worry about death. When theyíre full, they worry about hunger. Theirs is the Great Uncertainty. But sages donít consider the past. And they donít worry about the future. Nor do they cling to the present. And from moment to moment they follow the Way. If you havenít awakened to this great truth, youíd better look for a teacher on earth or in the heavens. Donít compound your own deficiency.