Bodhidharma lived in the 5th or 6th century. He is traditionally thought of as the
man who brought Buddhism to China and is called the First Ancestor in
China. The “Outline of Practice”
is his best known sermon. I was refreshingly
surprised at how current this treatise feels to me. It is truly an outline of how Buddhist practice manifests in
a human’s life. I am going to
paraphrase from the sermon so we can get a sense of how to understand it.
There are two ways to enter a Buddhist life.
Entering by principle
Entering by practice
1. Entering by principle.
The first way is to enter by experiencing the principle or
eternal essence. I like the
interpretation of emptiness, which unpacks it as - that which lacks inherent
existence. Lacking inherent
existence means each form is not a separate unit of life. There is no unit independent from others. You can extrapolate that by saying emptiness
is truly the expression for interdependence. It is acknowledging unity by seeing that there is no unit
that is not interdependent with everything else. We are a unified whole or a network of functioning.
We can experience “the principle” (suchness or emptiness) in
We can experience the principle by a silent,
nondiscriminating, inactive moment of meditation.
Or we might experience the principle by truly
Forsaking the idea of others as opposed to the self. Or by seeing that so-called ordinary
reality and the mystery itself, all naturally and inherently co-arise. They are not ever separated.
The Second avenue for entering the Way is through
practice. Bodhidharma lists four
practices that enable this actualization of the Way.
Entering by practice
Enduring the results of past actions
Practice of acting according to conditions
Practice of seeking nothing
Practicing the dharma.
Enduring the results
of past actions
is the practice of accepting the karma from your past.
There is nothing you can do about your
past actions but accept their consequences.
This is an indication of the First Noble Truth.
Katagiri Roshi called it the sacred act
of accepting suffering.
suffering that is occurring in this moment is the energy of this moment
produced by conditions in the past. As Pema Chodron often says, over and
“Learn how to stay.
Stay, stay, stay with the energy of the
I learn, especially
through meditation, to increase my capacity to stay with the feelings of the
If these feelings are
allowed to be experienced, they will release themselves.
I have learned to trust that last
Experience will release
Bodhidharma wrote, “Upon meeting hardship, do not grieve, but
just recognize from whence it came.”
Practice of acting
according to conditions.
We live in a world of ever-changing
Worldly Winds are constantly blowing: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, success
and failure, praise and blame.
no matter what condition we find ourselves in, we can practice equanimity.
Bodhidharma said, “Unmoved by (the Eight Worldly Winds) pleasure, we are steadfastly in
accord with the Way.”
Practice of seeking
This is a very
moment is whole and complete in and of itself, then there is nothing to seek.
Every moment is connected with the Whole.
And yet our discursive thinking is always wanting more.
Our ego-centric minds are inherently
Our practice encourages us
to go against the trend of human life and let go of covetousness and
Bodhidharma encourages us
to let go of our thoughts, which interpret everything as not enough, and stop
This sutra says, “To seek is but bitterness, Non-seeking is
dharma. It behooves us to keep
in our minds continuously the teaching.
We need deep familiarity with the main teaching of the inherent
emptiness of all things. Everything is constantly changing and therefore, there
can be no centralized self, or no separate independent unit of existence. Because everything is constantly in
motion, the boundaries between “things” become porous and each “thing” influences
the other. If we have enough
concentration to keep this in the forefront of our minds, how we act and relate
to our so-called ordinary life changes.
This is deeply transformative.
Practice has a quality of vow in it. We vow to over and over, notice when we
are off, and return to the teaching.
Notice when we are distracted and return to this moment. Notice when we are turning the wheel of
the three poisonous minds; greed, anger and ignorance, and return to the dharma
If we can do this, each step of our life IS the
essence. Each step turns samsara
Labels: Bodhidharma's outline of practice, buddhist practice, emptiness, inter-being, interdependence, interdependent co-arising, Karma, Katagiri Roshi, Pema Chodron