Zen Practice: a Place in the Cave for Everyone
I was talking with my friend and brother monk Jikan Sensei, about the legend of Huike, the Second Ancestor, who went to Bodhidharma’s cave and asked for teaching. Bodhidharma is said to have ignored him, and left him waiting outside in the snow. Finally, Huike cut off his own arm and presented it to Bodhidharma as evidence of his seriousness, and Bodhidharma accepted him as a student. I remarked to Jikan that I hope the story is apocryphal, and that I agree with the poet and great master Ikkyu, who wrote:
don’t wait for the man standing in the snow to cut off his arm help him now
Jikan said, “If that story is true, I hope Bodhidharma apologised to Huike.”
Stories like that of Huike’s arm-chopping, or Mahakashyapa’s enlightenment when the Buddha silently held up a flower instead of giving a talk, are about drama, not Dharma. Even if Mahakashyapa really did get it at that moment, what about all the other monks who were sitting there who didn’t get it? Zen is a way of immediacy, a pragmatic, life-centred method of enlightenment here and now, and it includes everyone who wants it enough to show up and do the work. When it becomes a club, an identity, something that awards rank and plays favourites, it’s no longer Zen.
The cave is spacious enough to contain the entire universe, so let’s leave no one standing outside in the snow.
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