PZI Teacher Archives
Emperor Wu asked the great teacher Bodhidharma, “What is the first principle of the holy teaching?”
Bodhidharma said, “Vast emptiness, nothing holy.”
“Then who are you, standing here in front of me?” asked the emperor.
“I don’t know,” said Bodhidharma.
The emperor didn’t understand.
Bodhidharma crossed the Yangtze River and went to the Kingdom of Wei. Later, the emperor raised this matter with his advisor, Duke Zhi. The advisor asked, “Your Majesty, do you know who that Indian sage was?”
“No, I don’t,” said the emperor. “That was Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, carrying the seal of the Buddha’s heart and mind.”
The emperor felt a sudden regret and said, “Send a messenger to call him back.”
Duke Zhi said, “Your Majesty, even if everyone in the kingdom went after him, he wouldn’t return.”
—The Blue Cliff Record Case 1, & Book of Serenity Case 2
Sesshin is an embrace which allows greater freedom to appear, and it is deeply mysterious. We don’t do it for a particular outcome or we would be constraining ourselves. We are free and easy wandering. In the koan, Emperor Wu wants a method and a first principle of the holy teaching. Bodhidharma answers, There isn’t a principle! You can’t confine it. Chan is trusting uncertainty, it is not something to be believed. Vows from Amanda Boughton, closing words from Tess Beasley. Complete session recorded on October 7, 2022.
Why did Bodhidharma come from the West, and return to the East? Why are we born, and why do we die? Emperor Wu regretted his interview, but no one could bring Bodhidharma back. We all come and go. Jon’s talk, meditations, and student comments & stories. As recorded August 2, 2021.
PZI Fall Sesshin: Allison Atwill asks – What is “my” first principle? A question that does not need an answer but furthers our chasing about! The Emperor in us asks this again and again. But, like Huangbo, we have come “Not for anything else!” – just this perfect life. As recorded October 3, 2020.
The whole thing about Chan is that it’s an improvisational culture. Because we love it? No, because that’s what life is! That’s the good day. Not-knowing is intimately tied to the good day. It’s not an achievement—it’s the gift of the universe, and you are in the universe having received the gift. Poetry, dreams, Linji’s death, and more. As recorded in Winter Sesshin 2020.
David Weinstein examines Emperor Wu’s exchange with Bodhidharma. His question: “What is the first principle of teaching? Vast emptiness, nothing holy.” The Emperor wants to be acknowledged, but….