What is the meaning of “Bodhidharma came from the west”?

Flower of Emptiness: 9 talks on Shobogenzo Kuge

Dōgen says,

The place where the principle of one flower penetrates is, “I originally came to this land to transmit the Dharma and save deluded living beings.”

As five fingers are a part of one hand, if we see we can exist only as a part of one hand, we see other beings are within this system called one hand.

When we see everything is connected, that awakening of interconnectedness is the foundation of the Buddhist bodhisattva vow to save all beings.

If we think we are separate and if we think, “I am a great person, I am such an enlightened person, and all other beings are deluded, so I have to go to China to teach all those deluded people” — that is arrogance.

So what is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the west? The Dharma was already there in China. If that was so, Bodhidharma coming from China was something extra, and Bodhidharma was a deluded and arrogant person. Why did Bodhidharma have to come to China to teach that Dharma which is already in China? Why did he have to transmit something which is already there?

Dōgen’s sentence is his answer to this question. What does this Dharma transmission of saving human beings mean?

It means when we see the interconnectedness, our way of life should be the way we can offer something in order for these five skandhas to benefit. One hand as a collection of five fingers, these are called all living beings. So our practice of bodhisattva vow is not, “I have wealth, and there are many poor people, so I give what I own to those in need.” But the bodhisattva vow is to share everything because I am part of it. To share things with all beings is the motivation not only for Bodhidharma but for the bodhisattva vow. To offer something we can, whatever we have, no matter how small. This vow of offering things to share with all beings came from the awakening of this reality that one hand is five fingers, five fingers is one hand, one flower opens as five petals. We awaken to the basic reality of independent origination.

Listen to the talk:

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi

> Other albums by Shōhaku Okumura


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