Rinzai 225

Rinzai came to the memorial pagoda of Bodhidharma. The incumbent asked, “Old Venerable, will your first bow be to the Buddha or to the Patriarch?” Rinzai said, “I shall bow neither to the Buddha nor to the Patriarch.”

The incumbent asked, “What feud is there between you, old Venerable, and the Buddha and Patriarch?” Rinzai shook his sleeves and left.


It is not certain whether the incumbent asked Rinzai the question because he really didn’t know, or because he wanted to test Rinzai. Rinzai’s answer ‘I shall bow neither to the Buddha nor to the Patriarch’ meant that he was not deluded by the illusions of the Buddha and the Patriarch since he knew that everything is empty. The incumbent asked Rinzai why he didn’t pay homage to them even though they deserved his respect since he enjoyed the realm of enlightenment thanks to their teaching. Hearing the question, Rinzai shook his sleeves and left.

Was he rude and impolite, or did he show his respect to them? This episode presents us with a question ‘What is the right way to respect the Buddha and Patriarchs heartily?’. One day a monk asked his master who always taught his students to kill the Buddha, “Sir, why do you always tell us to kill the Buddha when we make our living thanks to him?” The master answered, “Because that is the way to venerate him.” The core of Buddhism is not to worship, or pray to the Buddha but to recognise the Buddha in our daily life without being deluded by the illusion of the Buddha.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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