Great Master Bodhidharma – Remembered

Republishing this from 2013. Tomorrow, October 15, 2017, at Shasta Abbey we celebrate the Festival of Great Master Bodhidharma. How time does fly.


Beyond this mind there’s no Buddha anywhere. The endless variety of forms is due to the mind, but the mind has no form and it’s awareness no limit. Unaware that their own mind is Buddha people look for a Buddha outside the mind. To seek is to suffer. When you seek nothing you’re on the path. To give yourself up without regret is the greatest charity.

Words drawn from: The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Translated by Red Pine

Today we remembered Bodhidharma during a ceremony dedicated to him and his teachings. The above was read out at the start of the ceremony for all to hear. It struck a chord.

Listen and Make a Difference

The service Samaritans offer is so amazing. Here is a snippet of what it’s like to be at the other end of the telephone. The link I’ve provided is to the UK organization. They need volunteers.

It’s often challenging. Sometimes it’s desperately sad. Sometimes it’s uplifting. Every now and then it’s very funny. It’s one of the most satisfying things I do, it’s made me a better listener and I’m now a lot more grateful for all the good things in my own life. It’s put me in contact with the most extraordinary range of people and every so often I go home after a shift knowing that someone has been helped at a crucial moment in their life by hearing me say, “Do you want to tell me a bit more about that?

So says a volunteer with the Samaritans in an article in The Guardian article titled, Desperate people are calling the Samaritans and getting an engaged tone. We need your help.

Of course one can make a difference to a persons life by being prepared to listen even when not troubled. We all appreciate being fully heard. And not judged. That too is a Bodhisatva action.

The Healing Buddha

Yakushi (Bhaishajaguru, The Buddha of Healing) by Enkū (1628-95). Brooklyn Museum.
Up to now I’ve tended not to write a lot about the more devotional aspect of Buddhism, however here I go! The custom within our religious Order is to celebrate, in the form of a ceremony, a number of Bodhisattva’s. This Sunday it is the turn of Bhaisajya-guru Tathagata, commonly referred to as the Medicine Buddha.

So. Bhaisajyaguru is known as the (“King of Medicine Master and Lapis Lazuli Light”), and is the Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Bhaisajyaguru then is a ‘doctor’ who cures dukkha (suffering) using the ‘medicine’ of his teachings. participating in a ceremony, or other kinds of religious devotions or practices does not cure physical or mental aliments or pain. Not in the ordinary sense of the word cure anyway.  That’s magical thinking. The ‘illness’ that’s cured is dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness).

The intention when attending a ceremony is not to get something for oneself or for others, a healing for example. It’s an offering, an act of generosity. The offering is actually spiritual ‘merit’ generated when entering  into and participating whole heartedly – in anything really. At the end of a ceremony the merit is offered for the benefit of all beings. And you may well ask. How does that work? The short answer is that merit ‘works’ because of the teaching of Anatta, non-self. Non separation of selves. No gaps.

What is the medicine? What is the teaching of this particular Bodhisattva? I’ve been looking into it! There’s a lot to get through and I’d not claim to have studied in depth. The subtext of the teachings coming out of the Medicine Buddha Sutra is that devotees shall be relieved of all that they do not wish to have (suffering caused through natural disasters, starvation for example.) and to have all that they wish for (“to have the inexhaustible things that they require, and relieving them from all pains and guilt resulting from materialistic desires”). One of five aspects of suffering is described thus: union with what is disliked is painful, separation from what is liked is painful, not to get what one wants is painful. There it is – suffering, or an aspect.

Understood from the point of view of faith, the teaching that cures suffering is to know, while heading into daily life challenges, there is nothing fundamental wrong, missing or out of place. Life is not a mistake nor is death. We already have within ourselves what is need to take the next step.  And, and especially AND meditation and devotional practices, be they Buddhist or not, are not a panacea.

And don’t you love this?
The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning “sky,” “ether,” or “space,” was originally the word for “hole,” particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan’s vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, “having a good axle hole,” while duhkha meant “having a poor axle hole,” leading to discomfort.
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