THE ESSENCE OF MAHAYANA PRACTICE (with Annotation)

BY MASTER BODHIDHARMA

Translated from Chinese by the Chung Tai Translation Committee


COMPLETE TITLE: "GREAT MASTER BODHIDHARMAS ESSENTIAL DISCOURSE ON

ENTERING THE MAHAYANA PATH BY PRINCIPLE AND BY PRACTICE"


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To enter the Great Way there are many paths, but essentially they are of two means: by Principle and by Practice.

 

Entering the Way by Principle means to awaken to the Truth through the doctrine, with a deep faith that all sentient beings have the same true nature. Obscured by the fleeting dust of delusions, this nature cannot manifest itself. If one can relinquish the false and turn to the true, fix the mind in “wall meditation”, understand that there are neither self nor others, that mortals and saints are equal and one—abiding this way without wavering, clinging not even to the scriptures, then one is implicitly in accord with the Principle. Being non-discriminative, still, and wu-wei is to Enter by Principle.

 

Entering by Practice means following four practices that encompass all other practices. They are: accepting adversity, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and acting in accordance with the Dharma.

 

菩提達磨大師略辨大乘入道四行觀          

夫入道多途,要而言之,不出二種:一是理入,二是行入。

理入者,謂藉教悟宗,深信含生同一真性,但為客塵妄想所覆,不能顯了。若也捨妄歸真,凝住壁觀,無自無他,凡聖等一。堅住不移,更不隨文教,此即於理冥符;無有分別,寂然無為,名之理入。

行入謂四行,其餘諸行,悉入此中。何等四耶。一報冤行,二隨緣行,三無所求行,四稱法行。

 

[Annotation]

Mahāyāna大乘: The “Great Vehicle,” one of the two traditions of Buddhism (the other is Theravāda), it emphasizes the path to Buddhahood, perfection of wisdom and unconditional compassion.

Bodhidharma菩提達磨大師: The 28th Patriarch of Zen from
India, who came and founded the Zen school of Buddhism in
China (and therefore is the first Zen Patriarch of China). This
current text is one of the very few records we have of his
teaching.  

Enter the Great Way: “Great Way” refers to the Mahayana path, the path to become a Buddha and enlighten countless others. To enter the Great Way is to truly understand what it means to become a Buddha.

Two means: Even though many methods of Buddhist practice are possible, they all employ one of two means: either by gaining a direct understanding of the highest Truth (“by Principle”), or by using various practices that lead up to the final understanding of the highest Truth (“by practice”). Sometimes the two means are combined.

By Principle: This is the quintessential Zen practice, the “gateless gate”, the method of “directly seeing one’s nature and becoming a Buddha.”

Doctrine: Here it refers to the canon of Buddhist teaching: the Dharma; the scriptures and their commentaries; the philosophy.

Deep faith: Faith based on correct understanding of the Dharma, faith based on unbiased reasoning and experiences, as opposed to faith based on superstitions or unfounded beliefs.

Sentient beings: All living beings with sentience, that is, living beings that can feel, are aware, have consciousness. All sentient beings (including animals and other beings invisible to the human eye, but excluding plants, rocks, water, etc.) can become Buddhas.

Same true nature: Though the appearances of sentient beings are different, due to their past karma, their sentience, which is variously referred to as “mind,” “consciousness,” “awareness,” or “Buddha nature,” is fundamentally equal in nature. To be enlightened is to personally experience this fact.

Fleeting dust of delusions: The original mind is like a mirror covered with the dust of delusions; therefore its reflections (of reality) are unclear and distorted. What we take as our “body and mind”—form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness are the fleeting dust, impermanent, defiling, obscuring our true nature. Ignorance, greed, anger, pride, jealousy, and other vexations are also “fleeting dust of delusions.”

Wall meditation: “Wall” represents firmness, resolve, immovability, stability. “Fix the mind in wall meditation” means to practice meditation so that the mind is unaffected by all afflictions and distractions, so that it can gain the clear vision to penetrate delusions.

Neither self nor others: The separation or boundaries between oneself and others (or the external world) is illusive.

Mortals and saints: Mortals are ordinary beings, subject to rebirth in samsara (world with suffering). Saints are arhats, bodhisattvas and Buddhas who have attained liberation, are pure in mind and actions and are deathless.

Abiding this way: To be mindful of this Principle without being affected by doubt or vexations.

Cling not to scriptures: The scriptures are important as guidance to enlightenment, but there is always a danger of interpreting them too literally, of misinterpretation, or of studying them as philosophy without practicing the teaching. None of the above will lead to true understanding.

Implicitly in accord: Even though one may not fully understand the Principle yet, by always keeping this teaching in mind and acting accordingly, one is in harmony with the Way, leading to enlightenment.

Non-discriminative: Do not discriminate with bias or distortion.

Still: Stillness means free from disturbances. An unenlightened mind is constantly disturbed by greed, anger, selfish interests, etc. A mind of absolute stillness is nirvana.

Wu-wei 無為: Free from forced effort (but not necessarily no-action), free from clinging and attachments, unconditioned, absolute. It also means inner peace obtained by having no desires, with the understanding that we are intrinsically complete and lacking nothing.

Four practices: All other, more “tangible” Buddhist practices, are in essence one of the following, or a combination of the following, four practices.  


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