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.”
“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 river and went into the Kingdom of Wei.
Later, the Emperor asked Duke Zhi about this. The Duke said, “Your Majesty, do you know who that was?”
“I don’t know,” said the Emperor.
“That was the bodhisattva Guanyin, bringing the mind seal of the Buddha.”
The Emperor was filled with regret and wanted to send a messenger to ask Bodhidharma to come back.
The Duke said, “There’s no point, Your Majesty. Even if everyone in the country went after him, he wouldn’t return.”
—Blue Cliff Record Case 1, & Book of Serenity Case 2 (translation by John Tarrant & Joan Sutherland, titled: Bodhidharma, the Buddha-Heart Emperor, and the Magical Duke)
Have confidence: just go into the silence. The absolute is always there. Inside it all, there’s freedom. There’s no situation where infinity is not there.
Zhuangzi said, “We wander in borderless vastness; Great Knowledge enters in, and we don’t know where it will ever end.” Dharma talk given by John Tarrant in a Sunday Zen session on February 26, 2023.
“Feeling the time,” is a line from the poet Du Fu—the time is always with us. And it’s always too early to despair. We’re just here. Not wanting anything to be different. Objections are full of knowing! You step out of the way you are perceiving the world, the dream of who you are, you turn the light backward. Recorded February 26, 2023.
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.
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.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 8: Most problems come from “knowing” things that might not be true. If we stop insisting on certainty we might feel anxiety at first, but then an exhilarating freedom might arrive.
Value a sort of play and see if you can break the koan—the koan will be amused. And see it and let it into your heart, and see what comes, or follow it around, or have it follow you. And finally you’ll realize, “Oh, I’m here. I’m free.”
Whatever your condition is, you can see the “I have joy.” Out of that emptiness, out of what seems unpromising—the dark material, the valley spirit, the enigma, out of the mystery, out of what I don’t understand—it just appears. The joy just appears.
Green Glade of Meditation: There is a framework in our practice for relying on emptiness and freedom, not holding pre-set views. Blessing things beyond approval and disapproval. I am you = emptiness. In Zen we shift to “before” the demons grabbed our ankles. You can’t rely on what you believe. We accord with the Dao, we can’t fall out of the dream. PZI Zen online, as recorded July 19, 2020.
So…tonight I want to talk a little bit about the course of the inner work — the dharma work — in terms of this book, the Book of Serenity. And you know, it pretty much is the second case is the one we’re going to mention, about Bodhidharma meets The Emperor Wu.
Yunmen said, “Before or after the full moon, every day is a good day!” The light of sesshin infuses us. In a “good day” the light is in you, just how it is—this is not an achievement, you are in the gift of the universe. The tenderness of the good day. Our whole lives opening to now. You can’t bully the Dao, it’s bigger than you! Not getting in the way of life. Also: Dreams, Linji’s death, and more. Video recorded in Winter Sesshin 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….
John Tarrant speaks on undoing, unfinding, and unknowing as pathways to awakening, and exploring the mind’s often dubious reasons for the way things are.