(Huike offering his severed arm to Bodhidharma. As an offering to be trained by the Master.)
Probably one of the most interesting and myth based characters of early Buddhism in China is the monk Bodhidharma who was originally from India, described as”The Blue-Eyed Barbarian“, brought a version of Buddhism known as Ch’an to mainland China, which was not entirely influenced by Chinese Taoism of the time, but rather it fused its direct connection to the Mayan sultra Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra which was essentially the doctrine that described emptiness and stillness as the highest aspects of the human mind, thus deep mediation is encouraged as noted by what the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra describes as “mind-only” that there is only the “void: translated (summary) as:
“…he must recognise and be convinced that all things are to be regarded as forms seen in a vision and a dream, empty of substance, un-born and without self-nature; that all things exist only by reason of a complicated network of causation… As to the third; he must recognise and patiently accept the fact that his own mind and personality is also mind-constructed, that it is empty of substance, unborn and egoless…”
This was stressed as the building blocks of Ch’an and Zen Buddhism, the clarity of thoughts with no thoughts. The unborn and original mind has to be sourced from the still mind, in a practice emptying and filling the mind at the same time. All actions processed with a detachment of burden. Bodhidharma if legend is correct, isolated himself in a cave for nine years meditating in the direction of the inner cave wall. What is significant and impressive about this feat, is, if looked at from a discipline of understanding reality one should not be consumed by it, in other words essentially turning your back on reality (time) and its past and futures. In meditation you can control time by lessening its imprint on the mind. That was essential for the cultivation of the early Ch’an philosophy of Buddhism. To live in now-time, not to seek what is not there, as that will lead to delusions. To what Bodhidharma was quoted in saying:
“. . . the fools of this world prefer to look for sages far away. They don’t believe that the wisdom of their own mind is the sage . . . the sutras say, “Mind is the teaching.” But people of no understanding don’t believe in their own mind or that by understanding this teaching they can become a sage. They prefer to look for distant knowledge and long for things in space…”
These early reported sayings from the 5th Century Monk, were important in leading into the establishments of Ch’an Buddhism which later morphed into what is known as Japanese Zen Buddhism. It is the tampering down the wandering mind, that one could see all they need to within, but they could also see what is within the outside and see it as the same. From the stars in the night sky to the flower in a field. This is the removal of dualities whilst remaining still that is within now. The self is then contented and time does not become the burden of the mind. “Within” is used, as a guide, that everything can be found within the self. Not to be seeked from beyond that cannot be reached.
The famous image of Bodhidharma as the 1st Patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism sitting within the cave, with his soon-to-be 2nd Patriarch Dazu Huike standing outside, in an apparent pleading to be taught by the Master Bodhidharma, within its legend, Huike cuts off his left arm and offers it to Bodhidharma as a sign of devotion to the Master. What is interesting about this image, you can see the tension between the two as the Master and the need of an aspiring pupil , whether myth or not, it is Bodhidharma who does not turn and face Huike, but rather has him stand there in the snow at the entrance of the cave. It is a strained and powerful image of Master and Student, viewed as the filtering of who would be capable in developing and teaching the Ch’an philosophy throughout 5th and 6th Century China. Later within the history of Bodhidharma, Huike does eventually become a disciple of this charismatic and powerful Indian Monk, who later, after an incredibly simple, yet poignant ceremony in which Bodhidharma is to choose from his five disciples who will take his rob and bowl, a traditional observance of the student which in turn will replace the Master. As one of those five disciples was the persistent devotee Dazu Huike, that after Bodhidharma asked each of his pupils of what they were to say to demonstrate their understanding of his teachings. With each verbal answer, Bodhidharma would reply with analogy that they have received his physical essence, from which it would be his skin, flesh and bones. It was Huike who stepped forward in front of the Master who then bowed in silence, stood up straight to which Bodhidharma says “you have attained my marrow.” From that point Dazu Huike becomes the 2nd Patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism.
A significant historic milestone in the beginnings of Ch’an in China which and in a lot of ways Dazu Huike emanates this charismatic, mysterious and possible flawed and troubled figure who within his legacy was able to perpetuated and spread the importance of what we now know as Zen.