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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
26 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 4 personal satisfaction. No recognition. No mea- surable gain of any sort. And maybe even more important, none of the meaningful connections you believe you have—not with anyone, includ- ing those who guide you, including that man in the doorway. In Bodhidharma’s encounter with Emperor Wu, the redheaded barbarian, just to drive the point home, turns on his heel and goes off to sit in zazen for nine years facing a wall. Facing himself. Facing that staggering loneliness that is so absolutely essential for us if we are to see our true connection with this whole world. Why does he do this? Because he wanted to take full responsibility for his insanity and not dish it out to others. Because he wanted to see it, become intimate with it, and recognize its true nature. It’s nice for Bodhidharma to appear occasion- ally in our training. He’s such a mythical figure that it gives us the freedom to imbue him with the characteristics we need. There’s something so stark and uncompromising about his expression of practice. He also communicates precisely what Hongzhi says in his capping verse: “In silence he completely brings up the true imperative.” In those nine years of silent sitting, Bodhidharma communicated the true imperative. The beginning of the mind-to-mind transmis- sion is already present in Bodhidharma, in that uncompromising spirit and practice and in the teachings that he exemplified, encapsulated in his own words: “Zen is a special transmission outside the scriptures, with no reliance on words and letters, a direct pointing to the human mind and the realization of buddhahood.” His nine years of wall gazing is that direct pointing. Bodhidharma’s reliance on zazen continuously surfaces in Zen literature. One story tells of his encounter with Prajnatara. After recognizing each he repeats, “You give me everything, and I’ll give you absolutely nothing in return.” You remember that Faust made a deal with Mephistopheles in order to have access to unlim- ited knowledge and pleasure, but this deal seems to be in a completely different category. You want to clarify, so you ask, “What do you mean by everything?” And the man says, “Everything that you consider your own.” He pauses for a moment, smiles, and says, “That’s everything.” You reflect for a moment. “Absolutely nothing in return?” you ask. He nods. “Nothing.” By now you recognize whom you’re speaking with, so you try again. “Not even a favorable birth?” The answer is no. Absolutely nothing. By conventional standards, it doesn’t seem like a good deal. It’s not something that you would bring to your board of directors, and it would be difficult to explain to your parents, partner, or children. It’s not such a good deal except for one small thing: everything that you’re about to give up is deeply mired in suffering. Suddenly you realize, standing there, that you’re being offered the deal of a lifetime. As far-fetched as this encounter might be, when we reflect on it, we recognize that our entrance into spiritual practice is predicated on exactly the same premise. Knowingly or unknowingly, by turning our minds to practice, we’re saying that we’re willing to give up every- thing and get absolutely nothing in return. Our search—for our true nature, for perfect freedom, for the end of suffering for all beings—is based on this simple deal. So give up everything that you consider to be yours. Give up all of the energy and ploys sustaining the belief that things belong to you. In return, get nothing. No better you. No bet- ter place to live. No guarantees. No sense of KONRAD RYUSHIN MARCHAJ is the abbot and resident teacher of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York. He received dharma transmission from John Daido Loori Roshi in 2009.