CUTTING OFF YOUR ARM ON A SNOWY MORNING

Bodhidharma, known as Daruma-San in Japanese, came from India to China after traveling for three years. The teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha were handed down from master to disciple just as water is transferred from one vessel to another without any leakage. The Dharma Lamp was passed from Shakyamuni to Mahakashapa, from Mahakashapa to Ananda, and eventually down to Bodhidharma, who was the twenty-eighth generation of this lineage.

The intrepid spirit needed to set out for an unknown country at a time when transportation had not been developed and, moreover, to do it at an advanced age is something which an ordinary man who guards his body and life would not even think of. But this is the noble practice of Buddhas, who from their great compassionate hearts wish to faithfully transmit the Truth and save deluded sentient beings.

Emperor Wu of Liang found out that Bodhidharma had arrived in Kwangchow on September 21, 520, and dispatched an emissary to invite him to what is now Nanking. The emperor inquired of Bodhidharma, “I have up until now built temples, had sutras copied, and supported monks and nuns. What merit is there in these things?”

Bodhidharma curtly replied, “No merit!”

This greatly disappointed Emperor Wu, who was expecting a favorable answer.

The shallow thinking of ordinary people would have dictated flattering the Emperor, but for Bodhidharma, who had vowed to save deluded sentient beings, there was not the slightest intention of flattering or compromising with anyone.

When Bodhidharma met Emperor Wu, who was called “The Son of Heaven of the Buddha Mind”, he realized that the emperor was nothing more than a Buddhist fanatic who was seeking temporal gain. So, Bodhidharma crossed the Yangtze River, entered the country of Wei, settled down at Shao Lin Temple, sat down facing a wall and practiced zazen for nine years. The people of the area referred to him as “The wall-gazing Brahmin”.

On the ninth day of December a monk-in-training called Shen-kuang (Shinko, in Japanese) came looking for Bodhidharma. A deep snow had covered the mountains and Shen-kuang had to break a trail through the snow as he tried to follow the path, but finally he arrived at Bodhidharma’s wall. The winter night on the high mountain peak was so cold that even the joints of the bamboo cracked, and it seemed impossible to stand outdoors, but Bodhidharma did not even turn around to look. Shen-kuang stood stock-still throughout the night without sleeping, sitting, or resting. The falling snow drifted up to his waist; his tears froze into beads of ice; and his robes froze to his body so that he became like a block of ice. His whole body was rigid with cold, but the mind which seeks the Way was burning brightly.

Finally, as the night was turning to dawn, Bodhidharma turned and asked, “You’ve been standing in the snow a long time. What is it you’re looking for?”

“I have a request. Please have mercy on me and show me the true Buddhist teachings!”

But Bodhidharma’s answer to Shen-kuang’s tearfully earnest entreaty was colder than ice. “One seeks the Buddha’s teaching at the risk of one’s life. It is a waste of time for an ignorant person of little virtue to carelessly and conceitedly seek the teachings of the Buddha.”

Hearing this, Shen-kuang made his resolve even firmer. Taking a sharp sword he cut off his left arm at the elbow and presented the severed arm to Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma realized that this very Shen-kuang was a person worthy of succeeding to the teachings and allowed him to be a disciple.

In this manner, Bodhidharma became the first patriarch of Chinese Zen, and Shen-kuang (later known as Huike, or Eka in Japanese) became the second.