Chapter 1: Emptiness, Not Holiness
Emperor Wu Asks Bodhidharma
Emperor Wu of Liang asked Bodhidharma, “What is the first principle of the holy teachings?”
Bodhidharma said, “Emptiness, no holiness.”
“Who is this standing before me?”
The emperor did not grasp his meaning.
Thereupon Bodhidharma crossed the river and went to the land of Wei.
The emperor later spoke of this to Shiko, who said,
“Do you in fact know who this person is?”
The emperor said, “No knowing.”
Shiko said, “This is the Bodhisattva Kannon, the bearer of the Buddha’s Heart Seal.”
The emperor was full of regret and wanted to send for Bodhidharma, but Shiko said, “It is no good sending a messenger to fetch him back. Even if all the people went, he would not turn back.”
Setcho put it like this:
The holy teaching? “Emptiness!”
What is the secret here?
Again, “Who stands before me?”
Inevitable, the thorns and briars springing up;
Secretly, by night, he crossed the river.
All the people could not bring him back.
Now, so many years gone by.
Still Bodhidharma fills your mind - in vain.
Stop thinking of him!
A gentle breeze pervades the universe.
The master looks around:
“Is the Patriarch there? - Yes! Bring him to me,
and he can wash my feet.”
This verse seems to contain the essence of Zen ( “No knowing.” Is this why you have called Zen the only living religion?
Maneesha, before you asked the question, the trees have heard it.
It is one of the most fundamental things to be remembered by all of you that a religion is living only when there is no organized doctrine, no system of beliefs, no dogma, no theology. When there is just this silence and the trees enjoying the dance in the breeze, in your heart something grows. It is your own, it does not come from any scripture; nobody can give it to you because it is not knowledge.
That is the greatest difference between all the religions on one side and Zen on the other side. All religions except Zen are dead. They have become fossilized theologies, systems, philosophies, doctrines, but they have forgotten the language of the trees. They have forgotten the silence in which even trees can be heard and understood. They have forgotten the joy that has to be natural and spontaneous to the heart of every living being.
The moment the experience becomes an explanation, an expression, it breathes no more; it is dead - and all over the world people are carrying dead doctrines.