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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
SUMMER 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 29 network of self-making for Bodhidharma to see. When he asks what merit he’s attained, Bodhi- dharma tells him to drop it, to drop all sense of self-definition. Then the emperor asks, “What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?” What is the fundamental meaning of your existence? Of practice? Of the four bodhisattva vows? No meaning whatsoever. Then what do you hold on to? Wu tries to hold on to Bodhidharma. “Who are you?” Sorry, I don’t know. And just in case the emperor wants to hover there, Bodhidharma turns around and walks away. Wu could have followed him, but I suspect he sensed where that would lead: nine years of wall gazing. Maybe he recognized that he wasn’t ready to take respon- sibility at that level. Nine lonely years. Nine years of seeing the texture of suffering. Nine years of seeing how by perpetuating the reality of existent desires and definitions and dharmas, we create that suffer- ing—until there was nonarising. Until there was “Empty—nothing holy.” Until “I don’t know.” Our challenge is to move toward our loneli- ness, to cut through all those layers of clinging. But we do have help along the way. I need your company to be able to sit, first for an hour, so I can then sit by myself for an hour or for a day. So I can face myself with that level of unmitigated honesty and openness. Can we enter zazen by finding our kindheartedness and offering it to others? Is that what will allow us to enter and practice solitude? Everything is supporting us. All of the teachings are saying, “You can do this. You can see into this pain, and you can release it. You can give everything away for nothing.” Nine years later, you again find yourself walk- ing near Times Square. And lo and behold, from a dark doorway, you hear a voice: “Hey buddy, hey lady, I’ve got a deal for you. Oh, hey—it’s you!” He steps forward. “So the deal’s different now, okay? Are you willing to let go of nothing in order to have everything?” You smile. “Sure,” you say, “let’s talk.” exactly that question: Do I live imprisoned, or am I willing to risk my life for freedom? We all live imprisoned, deeply imprisoned, and at times it will feel as if we need to risk everything and give up this life in order to be free. Bodhi- dharma takes no prisoners. The Buddha wants no prisoners. What they want is for us to be com- pletely free—even free of them. That’s why in the exchange with Emperor Wu, Bodhidharma leaves after “I don’t know.” He’s saying, don’t hold on to this. That’s the importance of the bell in dokusan. It’s a good-bye. It’s saying, it’s time to go away now, return back to yourself. Recently, someone describing her first sesshin told me she was experiencing it like a web of fibers extending into the rest of the world; as sesshin was progressing, the fibers were snapping and there was a kind of retraction into herself. As she watched this happen, she realized how completely self-serving most of those connections were—even when they looked like they were about someone else. Magnificent. Probably the most insidious way that we sus- tain our idea of the self is in relationships, in how we situate ourselves in the world. We have an unspoken agreement with each other: “I’ll sustain your sense of self if you sustain mine.” If we do that with enough people, we forget to what degree we are continuously elevating our- selves. And if we’re moving fast enough, the whole mechanism can forever remain invisible to us—until we seclude ourselves, like the Bud- dha did. Like Bodhidharma did. Only when we stop looking outside can we recognize how much seeking we’ve been engaged in. That’s when we can begin to take responsibility. In a sense, that’s what Bodhidharma was try- ing to do with Emperor Wu. He wanted to guide him right through to the bottom, right through to those nine years of wall gazing. Earlier in their dialogue, the emperor was trying to establish him- self as someone who was doing good, who was supporting Buddhism—essentially, laying out his Bodhidharma takes no prisoners. The Buddha wants no prisoners. What they want is for us to be completely free—even of them.