The twenty-eighth Patriarch, Great Master Bodhidharma, was the first Patriarch of the Buddhist Way to go to China. He was sent to China by his Master, Venerable Hannya Tara. Travelling from India by sea, the difficult voyage took three years. Bodhidharma went to China due to his great compassion, and his wish to transmit the Buddha Dharma. Great Master Bodhidharma possessed the Eye Treasury of the True Dharma, and so he left his country in order to save people suffering in delusion.

Arriving in the year 520 A. D. Bodhidharma was welcomed by the Emperor Wu of Liang. Their meeting and the dialogue that took place between them was recorded and forms the first case in the Blue Cliff Records, a well-known Buddhist text.

The Case

Emperor Wu of Liang asked Great Master Bodhidharina, "What is the first principle of the Buddha Dharma?"

Master Bodhidharma replied, "Emptiness, no holiness."

The Emperor asked again, "Who is this standing before me?"

Bodhidharma replied, "No knowing."

The Emperor did not understand the answer, Bodhidharma, realizing their minds did not harmonize, left the Emperor, travelling to the North, across the Yangtze River. Bodhidharma settled at the Shaolin temple.

The Emperor afterwards spoke of the meeting to the priest Shiko. Shiko said, "Do you know in fact who this person is?"

The Emperor said, "No knowing."

Shiko said, "This is the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin, (Kanzeon Bosatsu), the bearer of the Buddha-Mind seal." The Emperor was full of regret and wanted to call Bodhidharma back. However Shiko said, "It is no use to send a messenger. Even if all the people went, Bodhidharma would not turn back."

This is the record of the well-known meeting of the First Patriarch of China and the Emperor Wu of Liang.

Great Master Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth Patriarch of the Buddhist Way, descending from the Original Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha. In order to transmit the Dharma, Master Bodhidharma sat facing the wall for nine years. Owing to his constant practice, the Buddha Dharma has been transmitted for over 2500 years to the present day.

Concerning Great Master Bodhidharma there is a story of his teaching and the Buddha Nature. While Bodhidharma was still living in India there lived a king named Iken who criticized Buddhism. King Iken did not think highly of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Master Bodhidharma wanted to convert King Iken to Buddhism.

So Bodhidharma sent a disciple of his named Haradai as his envoy to preach the Dharma to the King. The monk Haradai met King Iken, and the King asked Haradai, "You speak of the Buddha Dharma or the Buddha. Will you please show me the Buddha?"

The monk Haradai replied, "Seeing into one's nature is Buddha."

King Iken asked, "Have you seen into your nature?"

Haradai replied, "Yes, surely, I have seen my Buddha nature."

Iken asked, "Where is the Buddha nature?"

Haradai replied, "The Buddha nature is the functions."

King Iken asked, "What are the functions?"

Haradai said, "There are eight functions that appear,"

The King asked, "Please show them to me.

Haradai spoke, "From the womb the body appears.

In the world it appears as a human being.

In the eye it is seeing.

In the ear it is hearing.

In the nose it is smelling.

In the mouth it is talking.

In the hand it is holding.

In the foot it is walking."

This was the reply by the monk Haradai to the King Iken when asked about the Buddha nature. The King was an unbeliever. However, hearing these words concerning the Buddha nature, he was converted and thereafter he wholeheartedly supported Buddhism.

And from these teachings of the Buddha nature we can see that it is not something that is far away from us. The practice and study of the Buddhist Way is to make these teachings one's own. Then one will realize that from the beginning there was nothing lacking and nothing in excess.



Shobogenzo The Eye and Treasury of the True Law.
Translated by Kosen Nishiyama
Distributed by Nakayama Shobo 1988

Two Zen Classics Mumonkan and Hsekiganroku
Translated by Katsuki Sekida
Publisher John Weatherhill New York and Tokyo 1977