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Lions Roar : July 2006
“WHY DOES THE WESTERN BARBARIAN have no beard?” This barbarian is Bodhidharma, who came from the West, from India, bringing Buddhism to China. The famous koan, “Why did Bodhidharma come to the East?” is a metaphor for the question, “What is Zen?” We say that Zen is life. So, what is this Zen? If it’s life itself, then what’s the point of talking about bringing it from one country to another? What is being transmitted? These are the questions embedded in this koan. Of course, Bodhidharma is not some figure who lived many years ago. Bodhidharma is us, all of us. It’s our teachers who came to America from Japan, from the West, carrying the torch of dharma. It’s all of us coming from wherever we came from. Why did we come here? What are we carrying? What are our teachers carrying? What is it that we want to receive? And what is it that we don’t want to receive? There are a number of ways of looking at koans. One way is using them to illustrate points. Another, which has to do with actual koan practice, is to become the koan. In this case, become the beard! Become Bodhidharma! To pass the koan is to experi- ence the state that’s being presented—being Bodhidharma. This condition of being brings us to the abiding place of all buddhas. This abiding place, this source, is what the koan wants us to experience. It is the state of nonduality, the state of not- knowing, the state of non-separation. The sixth patriarch of Zen, Huineng, defines zazen as the state of mind in which there is no separation between subject and object: no space between I and Thou, you and me, up and down, right and wrong. This abiding place is the state of at-one-ment, of being one, of being buddha. This is a very difficult place to be in. It’s the place where we don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. It is the place of just being, of life itself. How many of us can say that we are open to all the ways of all lives, of all beings and non-beings and spirits? How many of us can admit that we don’t know the answer, the right way? Zen is a practice that pushes us to experience, to realize, to actu- alize, what is. For me, zazen is a form of bearing witness to life, to all of life. As human beings, each one of us is denying something. Each one of us is aware of certain aspects of life that we do not want to deal with, usually because we are afraid of them. Sometimes society is in denial about certain things and we go along with that. Zazen in its true state allows us to bear witness to all life. When we bear witness, we learn, we open to what is. There’s a healing process in that. So in terms of our koan, being Bod- hidharma, being the beard, means that we see all the problems, all the food that gets stuck in the beard and the molds that grow there. We learn how to clean the beard, how to comb it, how to become one with it—how to be Bodhidharma. Taking care is a tremendous healing and learning. The beard teaches us that. And the things we deny teach us. We don’t go to them to teach them; they teach us. They teach when we can listen and bear witness. Many years ago in L.A., I had an experience in which I felt— I saw—the suffering of the hungry spirits. I was surrounded by all kinds of suffering beings. Almost immediately I made a vow to serve them, to feed them. How do we feed them? “Raising the bodhi mind, the supreme meal is offered” are words in our liturgy. That’s the food for the hungry spirits. Raising the bodhi mind, the awakened mind, the supreme meal is offered. So there are two parts of our practice: One is raising the bodhi mind, ascending the mountain. The other is offering, descending the mountain. What good is it if we just make ourselves more holy? What’s the point? The point is to serve, to offer, to be the offering. Out of our zazen, out of our bearing witness, the offer- ing will arise. Of itself the fruit is born. We don’t have to worry about what to do. When we become the state of unknowing, fruit will be born. In fact, that’s what already is. We can appreciate all the fruit in this wonderful garden that some call “the universe.” There was a priest from Korea who worked with children who were retarded orphans. What was beautiful to me was that he said the children he worked with were buddhas. Through the monastery, he ordained the children: he ordained them so he could take care of the buddhas. Not so he could make the children into something people would accept. He accepted each child as he or she was—as the Buddha—and he served and took care of them. It could also be said that in the eyes of the Buddha, we are all retarded. Bodhidharma’s Beard A teaching by Roshi Bernie Glassman on bearing witness to all of life, including the sufferings we usually close our eyes to. Was he using unconventional upayas, or had he simply for- saken the dharma for activism? Fleet Maull, the founder and executive director of the Prison Dharma Network and another student of Glassman’s, says, “He was primarily living the life of a social activist for some years. And yet he knows his stuff when it comes to the dharma. Bernie knows his stuff in his bones. He was Maezumi’s senior dharma heir and worked with him on all the translations. I think it would be fair to say that he is one of the two best-trained Zen people in the West.” When I asked Glassman how he felt about the commonly held notion that he’d left Zen for social activism, he said, “Yeah, well, I never thought I went away from Zen.” Zen, of course, being everything. IN 1986, EARLY IN the tumultuous Greyston years, Glassman met Sandra Jishu Holmes, a Zen student who would later be- come his dharma heir and second wife. (Glassman and his first wife were divorced in 1988.) Together Holmes and Glassman built the Greyston mandala. By all accounts, Holmes worked very hard under Glassman, who was, by his own admission, as SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 38