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Thread: The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma

  1. #1

    The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma

    Has anyone read this book before? I'm trying to read it now and finding it difficult to plow through. I'm currently reading "The Bloodstream Sermon" trying to make heads or tails out of it.

    Maybe it's too advanced for this beginner!

  2. #2
    Hi Jigetsu,

    Yes, and it is wonderful. We have had a couple of threads on Bodhidharma before that I will quote and link to. There are a few things to keep in mind in reading the book.

    First, most of the story of "Bodhidharma" is a legend built up over the centuries, a paradigm that is meant to inspire and instruct on the path. His life is much like that of "Moses" leading the children over the Red Sea ... a story of liberation that may not have happened as historical event, but inspires us to liberation too today. Little is known about him, most of the stories of Bodhidharma ... such as his meeting with "Emperor Wu" ... were not added to his biography until centuries later, probably by story tellers wishes to embellish and teach a lesson. Here is more on the topic, by a scholar, if you wish ...

    Only one of the writings in that book might arguably actually be by Bodhidharma, the "Two Entrances and Four Practices". Red Pine, in another good book "Zen Baggage", comments on his earlier Bodhidharma translations, "How much of it was actually by Bodhidharma is unknown, but even scholars agree that the one called [Two Entrances and] Four Practices was most likely his." In his "The Bodhidharma Anthology", Jeffrey Broughton writes, "For decades discussion [by scholars] both Japanese and Western, has concentrated on the Two Entrances [and Four Practices], and has come to the consensus that only this text can be attributed to Bodhidharma." Historian John McRae agrees ...

    Even then, the case is far from strong, and based on much supposition. Further, it is hard to say that "Zen" even yet existed, or that that writing is even particularly a "Zen (Chan in Chinese) text", perhaps being at most what is known as proto-Chan. I once wrote an essay over at ZFI in which I found some Shikantaza flavor in it, but was really reaching a bit ( The other texts in the book, such as the "Bloodstream Sermon" were written centuries after the time of Bodhidharma, by some authors from later Zen schools. They can be a bit hard to understand because one needs to know both Zen and Mahayana "lingo" and philosophical ideas to know what is being expressed in them. However, Red Pines footnotes and introduction in the book are very helpful in that regard.

    Here is more on Bodhidharma the Legend, including the Bodhidharma Action Figure ...

    I hope that helps.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-18-2013 at 05:01 AM.

  3. #3
    Its my favorite next to "Realizing Genjokoan", read it 2 years ago or so, I think I approached it rather like poetry, some parts made much sense to me. Large parts not made sense to me, but thats ok, I think, as long as a few seeds make it. Nothing to advice, just enjoy Jigetsu,

  4. #4
    Thanks for the links here Jundo - made todays reading interesting.
    I enjoyed the ZFI essay - and the discussion leading on from it.



  5. #5
    I have this text also and rather like it myself. It is also a favorite equal to branching streams by suzuki roshi
    Sat today

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