One monk asked, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?” The master said, “Had he had any meaning, he could not even have liberated himself.” The monk asked, “If he had no meaning, how could the Second Patriarch attain the Dharma?” The master said, “To attain is not to attain.” The monk asked, “If it is not to attain, then what is the meaning of not attaining?” The master said, “It is because you are running about seeking everywhere and cannot put your heart at rest that the patriarchs say, ‘How lamentable it is for a man with his head on his shoulders to look for his head!’ If on hearing this you return your own light to yourself, don’t look anywhere else for it, and come to have no work to do at that moment by realising that your body and your mind do not differ from the patriarchs and the Buddha, that is called attaining the Dharma.
To attain enlightenment means to realise that everything is empty. The Emptiness is called by many other names such as the true-Self and the Buddha. So, enlightenment is said to be seeing the true-Self. When everything is empty, not only Bodhidharma, the Second Patriarch and the Dharma but the Buddha is also empty. Master Rinzai who gave this talk is empty, and even we who are reading this writing are empty as well. We are not different from one another but all the same as emptiness. There is no Dharma or enlightenment to attain and no one to attain the Dharma. This is why Rinzai said that there is no meaning.
Everything we see and hear is not real but consists of imaginary figures created by our minds. To teach this, the Buddha said in the Diamond Sutra, “If you see everything as a dream, you will see the true-Self.” Many ancient masters would compare all things to the horns of a rabbit, or the hairs of a turtle so that they might explain that things are not substantive but imaginary. This is why Rinzai said that to attain is not to attain. Our trying to see the true-Self while we are the true-Self itself is no better than a man with his head on his shoulders looking for his head. The moment we realise that everything is empty, we feel that there is no work to do, nothing to gain or lose. Therefore, the enlightened man is often referred to as a man of leisure.
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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