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The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma, Bodhidharma

North Point Press, November 1, 1989,
Translated by Red Pine

If, as in a dream, you see a light brighter than the sun, your remaining attachments will suddenly come to an end and the nature of reality will be revealed. Such an occurrence serves as the basis for enlightenment. But this is something only you know. You can’t explain it to others.

I’m sitting in the garden on an incredibly beautiful spring day. It’s 8 A.M. But time doesn’t matter. The sun is slowly moving the flowers open. The grass is wet with dew beneath me. I hear water trickling down the brook stones that lead to the river. Birds dart up and down against the soft blue. I see the silk threads left by night spiders that connect the grass stalks and flower stems. The tree leaves with their new green are silent, but uncurl slowly—too slow for the eye to see—and fold out from their thick taught branches. Patches of crisp snow lie high above on the mountains. Everything is moving. Passing. Everything is threaded.

All appearances are illusions. They have no fixed existence, no constant form. They’re impermanent. Don’t cling to appearances and you’ll be one with the Buddha.

Watching the garden and river I am thinking about how the sun crawls gingerly across the sky. I’m thinking of the oily feathers on the backs of swans as they float effortlessly down the river. How a bee bounces back and forth from plant to flower. I’m thinking of the day ahead of me. The hot coffee in a cup that warms my lap. I wipe sleep from my eye and try to remember exactly what it was I dreamt the night before. A woman with a dog walks down the path. I can hear the neighbor’s window open. There is traffic in the distance. The reflection of the river moves in flashes against the white façade of the village walls. Pink blossoms break from the apple boughs and fall to the earth. They scatter the path like colored confetti. A dog barks. The birds sing above in the trees. The town seems full but it is empty.

The mind’s capacity is limitless, and its manifestations are inexhaustible. Seeing forms with your eyes, hearing sounds with your ears, smelling odors with your nose, tasting flowers with your tongue, every movement or state is your mind.

There is nowhere I need to go. Not work. The car. The drive. The distance. Everything is here. I think of my family and friends thousands of miles away across the ocean. My father deep in sleep on the other side of the world where the sun isn’t shining (like here). My brother and nieces and nephews all fast asleep. Friends just getting up here. Friends Just going to bed there. Different continents. Different countries, different sides of the earth that really don’t matter where they are. I think of the lighted streets of cities bright and buzzing with nightlife. The empty and quiet cobblestone streets of a small village here. The thick forest on the hill up above the river and the castle from 800 years ago that is no longer there. I think of the fisherman just bringing his boat out onto the river. The sun just coming up. The moon dim and half-round on the far corner of the sky.

And then I think of my aunt who is dying in her hospital room on this most gorgeous of all spring days. My uncle in the room next to her confused with dementia. All the aged and all the passing. I think of the time when I was small and how my aunt and uncle both held my hand and put me to bed between them while camping near a lake on the other side of the earth. I can still feel how warm their bodies were and the sun going down near the big lake where I was born. Born in a time that seems a thousand years ago—but no, only yesterday. I am still small and they are still young. The insects and blossoms and river and sky all meld together. Their bodies now frail. And leaving. Their flames fading. I think of all the love they have given me over the years. Like the warmth of a thousand summer suns. I can feel it in the grass that warms beneath me, from my own body heat. Beating madly within the little hearts of birds. It circles the earth and plunges up and out of the ground. And I remember what another friend (also dying) told me about snowdrops, how they push up and melt the snow from their own plant body heat. And I think to myself how amazing that is. How simply fucking amazing! Birth. Life. Death. The passing of time. The leaving of loved ones. This delicate and sadly beautiful earth that could one day suddenly break and split but possibly blossom again only to crack and shatter again. It is all so horribly sad but so horribly beautiful. And you can never detach the two. Can’t have one without the other. Sadness and beauty. The seeds of death growing furiously in the fierce and thick and sweet stems of life. Amazing. All. And each. Amazing.

But bodhisattvas know that suffering is essentially empty. And by remaining in emptiness they remain in nirvana. Nirvana means no birth and no death. It’s beyond birth and death and beyond nirvana. When the mind stops moving, it enters nirvana. Nirvana is an empty mind. Where delusions don’t exist, Buddhas reach nirvana. Where afflictions don’t exist, bodhisattvas enter the place of enlightenment