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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 59 |winter 2006 Not long before our visit, a group of Japanese Zen Buddhists had sought and found this impor- tant place. A photo shows them consecrating the ground around the old stupa, and now a new tem- ple is slowly growing here, its boundaries marked by a whitewashed stone wall that snakes around the area in a wide arc. Empty Form Temple was built long before Bodhi- dharma’s arrival here. For a long time it was called Ding Lin (“Meditation Forest”). The Tang emperor Xuan Zong personally renamed it Kong Xiang (“Empty Form”) to commemorate Bodhidharma and his teachings, proof of their renown more than two hundred years after his death in 535. I take in the mountain view from Bodhidhar- ma’s stupa and remember reading that the place once teemed with vegetation and wildlife. Ancient visitors delighted in a long-gone nature park that now exists only in my mind. Not long ago, workers here uncovered a stone stele record from the temple grounds that was inscribed about the year 672. This record says the temple once covered a vast expanse with many square miles of land. Looking around me, I consider how the true-nature beauty of the landscape might be recreated someday to delight future pilgrims. Near Bodhidharma’s stupa, four round-topped stone monuments rise from the dusty slope. The guide explains that they are tenth-century reproduc- tions of originals praising Bodhidharma. It is said that Emperor Wu Di, whose famous meeting with Bodhidharma is recorded in the Blue Cliff Record, wrote the inscription for one of the original monu- ments. Emperor Wu reportedly commissioned one monument here and another at Huike’s grave, direct evidence not only that Bodhidharma existed but also that he was honored in his own age. While scholars debate the actual history of the period, tradition honors Bodhidharma as the first in the line of teachers of Chinese Zen. In Chinese, the term “Zen master” also means “Dhyana mas- ter,” and there was no shortage of these in China before Bodhidharma arrived from India. Many Buddhist priests held that title, among them an Indian Buddhist monk who presided as the first abbot of Shao Lin Temple after construction was finished in 496. A few years later, Bodhidharma arrived at Shao Lin Temple, where he undertook his famous nine-year cave meditation. With many masters predating him, why is Bodhi- dharma called the First Ancestor? And why does his life hold great fascination for many in China, Japan, and now here in the West? Chinese Zen before Bodhidharma consisted of prescribed meditation practices. The change that Bodhidharma symbolizes emerged in fifth-cen- tury China with new Buddhist scriptures that had made their way from India. These sutras, part of Andy Ferguson is the Author oF Zen’s Chinese heritage: the Masters and their teaChings And the creAtor oF the “MAp oF the Zen Ancestors,” A Full color reFerence chArt oF 170 Ancient Zen teAchers. he regulArly leAds Zen sightseeing And prActice tours to Zen MonAsteries in chinA. the Fa-Xiang (“Consciousness Only”) school of Buddhism (also called Yogacara) established by the famed Indian Buddhists Asangha and his step- brother Vasubandhu, reached the height of their influence at about that time. In light of the new scriptures, Zen practice was transformed, becom- ing a sort of stepchild of the Consciousness Only school. Bodhidharma apparently emphasized a particular scripture of this school called the Lan- kavatara Sutra. Bodhidharma’s renown comes from his teach- ing, “Point directly at the human mind, see its nature, and become Buddha,” a dictum long regarded as the taproot of Zen. Zen teachers from early times until now have credited this phrase to Bodhidharma. We find it on hundreds of paintings of him by the famous seventeenth-century Japanese teacher, Hakuin. While what is left of his work does not contain this exact phrase, the writing attributed to Bodhidharma is full of teachings on the importance of observing the nature of mind. Only two teaching generations after Bodhi- dharma, his message is said to have been carried to Vietnam by an Indian monk named Vinitaruci, a student of the third Chinese Zen ancestor, Sen- gcan. Zen teachings thereafter spread throughout China and were established in Korea by the ninth century. Although we usually associate Zen with Japan, it did not take solid root in that country until seven hundred years after Bodhidharma lived in China. How certain are we that teachings and writings attributed to Bodhidharma actually came from him? Before the establishment of Shao Lin Temple, its location was called Shao Shi, or “Few Dwell- ings.” One work usually credited to Bodhidharma is Record of Few Dwellings, which outlines six gates to liberation, including his well-known “Out- line of Practice.” The reference to the place name predating Shao Lin Temple tells us that the text was written while the old name was still in use, perhaps while Bodhidharma was staying there. For this rea- son and others, some scholars think that of all the texts attributed to Bodhidharma, this one is the most likely to have been written by him. Some of the texts attributed to Bodhidharma and other early Zen teachers that emphasize teachings about the nature of mind have yet to be translated into English or are not widely known. Whether or not such texts were in fact written by Bodhidharma, they seem to reflect a widespread perception of his teachings. In content and style, they differ from the later Zen Lamp Records, where the most famous Zen stories are found. They differ even more from the Blue Cliff Record and Wumenguan (Mumonkan) texts, well known in the West, which came from a literary age five or six centuries removed from Bodhidharma. opposite (Top) Bear Ear Mountain, Bodhidharma’s final resting place. (Bottom) Andy Ferguson (left) with Red Pine in front of Bodhidharma’s stupa at Empty Form Temple. photography provided by andy Ferguson