June 16, 2023 - Bloodstream

This is a commentary on the final paragraphs of Bodhidharma’s Bloodstream sermon as translated by Red Pine which I wrote while on an airplane from Austin to Berlin by way of Washington DC.

Hence the sutras tell us to move without moving, to travel without traveling, to see without seeing, to laugh without laughing, to hear without hearing, to know without knowing, to be happy without being happy, to walk without walking, to stand without standing. And the sutras say, ’Go beyond language. Go beyond thought.’ Basically, hearing, seeing, knowing are completely empty. Your anger joy or pain is like that of a puppet. You can search but you won’t find a thing.

According to the sutras, evil deeds result in hardships and good deeds result in blessings. Angry people go to hell and happy people go to heaven. But once you know that the nature of anger and joy is empty and you let them go you free yourself from their karma. If you don’t see your nature, quoting sutras is no help. I could go on but this brief sermon will have to do.

  • The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma, pg. 45

This is pointing to the empty dwelling place at the center of experience. Everyone in action knows this place without knowing that they know it, because it’s unknowable. All acts leaves tracks in the snow pointing backwards to this no-thing, this fundamental mind. The sage is one who cultivates a relationship and trust with this no-thing which is everything. His acts are fundamentally no different except he knows they are empty of themselves, like a sweater turning itself inside out.

The empty dwelling place is formless Samadhi, where deluded views and enlightened views are both empty of themselves, fake. This doesn’t mean taking delusion as real, investing in it, cultivating it, or building a life on top of it. It doesn’t mean piercing it, trying to see it as empty. Both are just empowering delusion. This also doesn’t mean taking enlightenment as real, cultivating it, investing in it, and definitely doesn’t mean not cultivating it either.

It means knowing I am a puppet. In each motion there is recognition of this formless space, because each motion emerges from and returns to it. Where do these myriad objects, movements, cultivations, thoughts, feelings come from and where do they go? Wholehearted practice means playing the fool completely without forgetting oneself. Remembering oneself means recognizing that there is no one to remember. You can enter just by asking “Who is seeing? What is laughing, hearing, knowing, happy, walking, standing, right now?”

Freedom from phenomena is knowing that phenomena and my experience of them are inseparable. There has never been a single phenomena which I don’t come to know about except through my self. No separation at all. This includes all phenomena, deluded or enlightened, and all actions and their effects, whether they originate from self or other. When knowing becomes just knowing, with no separation between the knower and the known, everything is perfectly open and perfectly known. It’s not there is no knower anymore, there never was one, just this knowing happening right here and now.

This is the space I found myself in after the Quest in Kentucky. It is perfect safety and perfect exposure at the edge of my life. Can you give yourself the gift of imperfection today, and rest in the mind of the formless? Can you just rest in your own naturalness?

Through a happy accident Bodhidharma is transmitting formless samadhi as dhyana, chan, zen. Maybe formless samadhi is exactly this, zen (dhyana) without boundaries. It’s therefore no wonder that we’ve become the precept school. A strong vessel is required to hold this wild and boundless energy, one built from the Bodhisattva precepts. The sword of formless wisdom is razor sharp, and once unsheathed one is as likely to lose a limb as their head. A strong and well-trained form is required to always strike at the neck.