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
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….