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Empty, without holiness

zenffzenff Veteran
edited June 2013 in Philosophy
I want to write down some personal notes on koans.
This is my first shot at the first case of the Blue Cliff Record. It feels like kicking in an open door. This isn’t a difficult case is it?
I chose “advanced ideas” because koans are weird and frustrating.

“Empty, without holiness.”

In the first case of The Blue Cliff Record, Emperor Wu asks Bodhidharma: “What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?”
Bodhidharma says: “Empty, without holiness.”

In the commentary it is explained that the question was not as weird as it sounds. In fact it referred to a specific and abstruse point of Buddhist philosophy that the Emperor had discussed before with various Buddhist scholars. Basically it is about the identity of relative and absolute.
So maybe he was testing Bodhidharma; or maybe he wanted to show that he knew a thing or two about Buddhism; or he wanted to have another profound intellectual discussion on the subject. We don’t know that.
We just know that in the story Bodhidharma didn’t go along with it. He bluntly pointed out that this sophisticated idea is empty and that there’s nothing holy in it.

His remark is like a bomb blowing up the mental construction that underlies the question. It’s not an attempt to put the final card on the roof of the house of cards; it is intended to make the house of cards collapse. As such it can be applied in different situations. What about this magnificent new piece of music? Empty, without magnificence. What about this huge trauma in my life? Empty, without a trace.
Empty, without joy. Empty, without importance. Empty, without good or bad. Empty, without whatever anyone was putting in there. Empty, without marks.

In his encounter with Emperor Wu, Bodhidharma does that same thing a couple of times. The Emperor asks about the merit of his many efforts to promote the Dharma. Bodhidharma says “There is no merit.” Here too he knocks down the house of cards.
“Who is facing me?” Answer “I don’t know.” Bodhidharma knocks down the mental construction (in this case the mental construction of identifications) that underlies the question.
The emperor is puzzled and asks another teacher about the meaning of this encounter with Bodhidharma. That shows he didn’t see what Bodhidharma was doing and so probably he didn’t see the mental fabrications in his own mind either.

There’s a lesson in this Koan. When we (the Emperor) meet the Truth (Bodhidharma) our mental fabrications don’t get crowned; they get knocked over. That’s all there is to it. Bodhidharma doesn’t return; his work is finished. He isn’t coming back; neither for reconstructing the delusional notions he destroyed nor for laying the foundations for new ones.
JeffreylobsterBeej

Comments

  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Trying to be open to existence Samsara Veteran
    "What is the first principle of the holy teaching"?
    "Emptiness, no holiness."
    To really say anything doesn't touch it, it's mist, it's fog, the note I blow in a flute, like this life, it can't be held or grasped. At most we can experience it right now and then it fades. Even "Emptiness, no holiness" limits and boxes up what can't limited and be boxed up.
    What is the note I play from a flute before my understanding?
    zenff
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    That's a shorter comment.
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    Here's a somewhat wider story of Bodhidharma and the emperor. I have no clue whether it is true or not, whether it is an accepted part of Zen tale-telling, but I like it.
    zenff
  • Go back the way you came.
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    genkaku said:

    Here's a somewhat wider story of Bodhidharma and the emperor. I have no clue whether it is true or not, whether it is an accepted part of Zen tale-telling, but I like it.

    This is what I got:
    Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist.
    Brilliant!

    This which you wanted to post . . . not so illuminated but then I expect very little from the rebranded nitous oxide addict Oshoe (master of the shoe) and his ontourage of dilatante orange people . . .
    http://genkaku-again.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-am-wild.html

    Maybe I have no idea . . .
    :buck:
  • BeejBeej Human Being Veteran
    I am wild. :rocker:

    And empty...
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    That shows he didn’t see what Bodhidharma was doing and so probably he didn’t see the mental fabrications in his own mind either.
    Then Bodhidharma was maybe not a very skilful Bodhi? Or too empty to be full of it?
    Expression can be at and beyond the level of emperors of Dharma.

    "Emptiness, no holiness" limits and boxes up what can't limited and be boxed up.
    What is the note I play from a flute before my understanding?

    Who is more naked under their robes?

    . . . sometimes you have to be there
    . . . but then do you want music, blowing, notes or more fluting?

    :wave:
  • There is no such thing as "emptiness" or "holiness", that is the answer to that piece of ancient literature.
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    @lobster -- I don't know what Internet ingenuity is going on with that blog post which is just my assessment of some Rajneesh writing that requires me to log in to his site ... something I would prefer not to do. The tale, as I recall it, was as well told as any other Zen story, so I don't much care what the source was.
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    wondering said:

    There is no such thing as "emptiness" or "holiness", that is the answer to that piece of ancient literature.

    You are so negative.
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Trying to be open to existence Samsara Veteran
    . . . but then do you want music, blowing, notes or more fluting?
    All it sounds pretty good :D
    lobster
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    The flute is fine; the Emperor is okay; I don't know what Bodhidharma's problem is.
    lobster
  • zenff said:

    wondering said:

    There is no such thing as "emptiness" or "holiness", that is the answer to that piece of ancient literature.

    You are so negative.
    I guess you are in some superior position to judge ME...,...what a shame.
    In truth there is no such thing as "emptiness" there is only that which is referred to as emptiness. Same goes for holiness. Basic Buddhism 101.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    It's true. Emptiness of emptiness.
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    It's sort of true. We can't take a dogmatic position here.

    The victorious ones say that emptiness
    Undermines all dogmatic views,
    Those who take a dogmatic view of emptiness
    Are said to be incurable.

    (Nagarjuna http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Emptiness#The_Emptiness_of_Emptiness)
    Maybe I just sensed a kind of dogmatic negativity. Not particularly in you @wondering, but in me also; in Buddhist discourse in general.
    I’m in no position to judge anyone at all; I also wasn’t all that serious about it, to be honest.
  • Why add frost to snow?
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