| Namo Fundamental Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha |
南 無 本 師 釋 迦 牟 尼 佛
Sutra Opening Gatha
開 經 偈
The Dharma, infinitely profound and subtle,
Is rarely encountered even in a million kalpas.
Now we are able to hear, study, and follow it,
May we fully realize the Tathagata’s true meaning.
| || || |
The Essence Of Mahayana1 Practice
by Master Bodhidharma2
Complete title: “Great Master Bodhidharma’s Essential Discourse
on Entering the Mahayana Path by Principle and by Practice”
Translated by the Chung Tai Translation Committee
From the Chinese by
The First Patriarch Bodhidharma, 6th Century
Annotations: May 2008
Prior English translations by Red Pine and Andy Ferguson
were used as references.
Download PDF Version
To enter the Great Way3 there are many paths, but essentially they are of two means4: by Principle and by Practice.
Entering the Way by Principle5 means to awaken to the Truth through the doctrine6, with a deep faith7 that all sentient beings8 have the same true nature9. Obscured by the fleeting dust of delusions10, this nature cannot manifest itself.
If one can relinquish the false and turn to the true, fix the mind in “wall meditation11”, understand that there are neither self nor others12, that mortals and saints13 are equal and one—abiding this way14 without wavering, clinging not even to the scriptures15, then one is implicitly in accord16 with the Principle. Being non-discriminative17, still18, and empty of effort19 is to Enter by Principle.
Entering by Practice means following four practices20 that encompass all other practices. They are: accepting adversity, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and acting in accordance with the Dharma.
What is the practice of accepting adversity? When suffering, a practitioner of the Way should reflect: “For innumerable kalpas21, I have pursued the trivial instead of the essential22, drifted through all spheres of existence23, created much animosity and hatred, maligned and harmed24 others endlessly. Even though now I have done no wrong, I am reaping the karmic consequences25 of past transgressions26. It is something that neither the heavens27 nor other people can impose upon me. Therefore I should accept it willingly, without any resentment or objection.” The sutra says, “Face hardships without distress.” How? With thorough insight28. With this understanding in mind, you are in accord with the Principle, advancing on the Way through the experience of adversity. This is called the practice of accepting adversity.
Second is the practice of adapting to conditions29. Sentient beings are without a self30, being steered by karmic conditions. Suffering and joy31 are experienced together as a result of causes and conditions. Any reward, blessing or honor32 is a consequence of past causes; nothing remains when the necessary conditions are exhausted. So what is there to be joyful about? Knowing that success and failure depend on conditions, the mind remains unmoved by the wind of joy, experiencing neither gain nor loss33. This is to be in harmony with the Way. Therefore it is called the practice of adapting to conditions.
Third, to seek nothing. Ordinary people, in their perpetual ignorance, crave and form attachments34 to everything, everywhere. This is called seeking. The wise are awakened to the Truth, and choose reason over convention35; even though their forms follow the law of causality36, their minds are at peace and empty of effort. Since all existence is empty37, there is nothing to be desired. Blessing and Darkness38 always follow each other. This long sojourn39 in the Triple Realm40 is like living in a burning house41; to have a body is to suffer42, how can one attain peace? Those who understand this renounce all mundane existence43, cease desires, and stop seeking44. The sutra says, “To seek is to suffer, to seek nothing is bliss.” It follows that to seek nothing is to truly follow the Way. This is the practice of seeking nothing.
Fourth, to act in accordance with the Dharma45. The principle of intrinsic purity46 is the Dharma. By this principle, all forms and characteristics47 are empty, without defilement and attachment, without self or others. The sutra says, “In the Dharma there are no sentient beings, because it is free of the impurities of sentient beings48. In the Dharma there is no self, because it is free of the impurities of self.” When the wise believe in and understand this principle, they should also act in accordance with the Dharma. There is no parsimony in the Dharma, so practice the giving of body, life, and possessions without any reservation. Understand and achieve “triple emptiness49”, with no reliance and no attachment. One liberates others without becoming attached to form, thus removing impurities. This benefits oneself, benefits others, and also glorifies the bodhi path50. Dana51 is perfected this way; so are the other five paramitas. In order to relinquish delusions, one practices these six perfections52, yet nothing is practiced. This is to act in accordance with the Dharma.
三 .無所求行者。世人長迷，處處貪著，名之為求。智者悟真，理將俗反，安心無為。形隨運轉，萬有斯空，無所願樂。功德黑暗，常相隨逐，三界久居，猶如火宅， 有身皆苦，誰得而安。了達此處，故捨諸有，止想無求。經曰：有求皆苦，無求即樂。判知無求，真為道行。故言無所求行。
稱 法行者。性淨之理，目之為法。此理眾相斯空，無染無 著，無此無彼。經曰：法無眾生，離眾生垢故；法 無有我，離我垢故。智者若能信解此理，應當稱法而行。法體無慳，身命財行檀捨施，心無吝惜。脫解三空，不倚不著，但為去垢，稱化眾生而不取相。此為自行， 復能利他，亦能莊嚴菩提之道。檀施既爾，餘五亦然。為除妄想，修行六度，而無所行。是為稱法行。
DEDICATION OF MERITS
Reach every part of the world;
Sentient beings large and small
All attain enlightenment.
10 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 which is impermanent and defiling, obscuring our true nature. Ignorance, greed, anger, pride, jealousy, and other afflictions are also the “fleeting dust of delusions.”
45 act in accordance with the Dharma. Finally, this practice of six perfections (paramitas) brings one’s action and mind back to the ultimate, essential Principle described at the beginning.
46 intrinsic purity. All dharmas (lowercase dharma means any phenomenon) are neither good nor bad, beyond dualistic discrimination. Therefore it is called “intrinsic purity;” this purity is absolute, like the empty space, which can neither be contaminated nor cleansed.
47 forms and characteristics相. The Chinese word 相 (xiang) means forms, marks, or appearances; it is extended to mean all perceived characteristics of any phenomenon.
48 impurities of sentient beings ….of self. Ordinary sentient beings have the deep-rooted delusion of an inherent, unchanging self, which develops into the ego and subsequently gives rise to greed, anger, ignorance, pride, and a host of false views; they then lead to the suffering of sentient beings. Being delusions, these false views and vexations have no real substance. Therefore, all dharmas are intrinsically “free from all impurities.” To act with this understanding of no-self is to act in accordance with the Dharma.
49 triple emptiness. The highest form of dana (see #51 below) is to give without the concept of the giver, the receiver, and the given, because all are empty. Then one can truly give without expectations, without the ego being involved. This is the perfection of dana, or dana paramita.
51 dana. Charity. The first of the six paramitas (perfections) practiced by a bodhisattva. There are 3 types of generosity: giving of material, giving of solace (comfort, protection, removal of fear, etc.), and giving of Dharma.
52 six perfections波羅蜜多. Paramitas, the practice that can bring one to liberation. Literally, “to the other shore.” To become a buddha, the bodhisattva practices the six paramitas: perfection of charity (dana), moral conduct (sila), tolerance (ksanti), diligence (virya), meditation (dhyana), and, most important of all, wisdom (prajna). The practice of the six paramitas can remove our impurities/ delusions, which are originally empty, so in the end, nothing is gained and nothing is lost. Still, one then becomes a buddha; without the practice, the buddha nature is latent and one is an ordinary sentient being imbued with suffering.