THE TWELFTH PATRIARCH, BODHISATTVA ASHVAGOSHA
by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
The Bodhisattva was from Varanasi. He visited the Eleventh Patriarch. He went to visit the Eleventh Patriarch, to bow to him and asked, "I wish to recognize the Buddha. What is he? I would like to recognize the Buddha. What is the Buddha?"
The Patriarch, the Eleventh Patriarch answered, "You wish to recognize the Buddha: it is your not recognizing. You wish to recognize the Buddha? He is just your not recognizing." He didn't know the Buddha. "If you want to recognize the Buddha, then you still don't recognize him." So he said, "In your wish to recognize the Buddha, the Buddha is your not recognizing. Your not recognizing is just the Buddha."
He, the Twelfth Patriarch, said, "Since I don't recognize the Buddha, how do I know it is?" He said, "Since I don't recognize the Buddha how am I to know that it is the Buddha?"
The Patriarch, the Eleventh one said, "Since you don’t recognize the Buddha, how do you know it is not?" He said, Since you do not recognize the Buddha, how do you know that your not knowing is not the Buddha?" The two of them were carrying on a debate. "Since you don't recognize the Buddha, how do you know this is not the Buddha?"
The Bodhisattva suddenly woke up. The Bodhisattva is Ashvagosha, who suddenly had penetrating insight; he woke up. To wake up means to cease sleeping, to get up. The Patriarch shaved his head and took him across. The Eleventh Patriarch shaved his head and saved him, and then said, "Before this person was the king of Vaishali who utilized his psychic powers. He was a king who used his powers of spiritual penetration and transformation: to divide his body into silkworms. He divided his body into many silkworms. And afterwards the populace obtained clothing. To start with the people in that country had no clothing, so he transformed into numerous silkworms which made a great amount of silk so they could have clothes. He was a horseman born in Central India. He lamented and was thus named "Horse Neigh," (Ashvagosha). He always neighed like a horse. He lamented like a neighing horse and was thus named Horse Neigh Bodhisattva.
"The Thus Come One predicted, previously the Buddha had made a prediction, 'Six hundred years after my extinction there will be a worthy one who will take across immeasurable numbers of people. He will succeed me in the teaching.’ He is a person who will transmit the Mind Seal of all Buddhas. Now is just that time." The Eleventh Patriarch said this. He verified, "The present is just that time referred to by the Buddha." Accordingly he bestowed the Dharma upon him. He transmitted the Mind Seal Dharma to him.
After he met Kapimala, he entered the Aroused Dragon Samadhi. He entered the samadhi of an aroused dragon. He rose up into space. He leapt into space, like the mark of the sun disc, just like the sun, and manifested extinction. He perfected extinction, he entered Nirvana.
A praise reads:
In the past life he used psychic powers
To give the unclad clothing.
What is the Buddha like?
Like vegetables are leeks.
How was he enlightened?
The proper eye is hard to see.
From afar the Buddha bestowed a prediction.
That he would wear his eyes above his brows.
When he was a king in the past he utilized psychic powers and gave clothing to people who had none. What is the Buddha like? Like a vegetable being a leek. How did he become enlightened? The Proper Dharma Eye Treasury is hard to perceive. In the distant past the Buddha made a prediction that his eyes would be above his eyebrows. This is a saying of the Ch’an School.
Another verse of praise says:
Courageous and vigorous, he cultivated good roots.
Throughout measureless kalpas past, he took beings across.
Becoming silkworms to spit up silk was the Bodhisattva’s vow.
The horse’s neigh of lament was the Bodhisattva’s style.
He passed on the Buddhas’ mind seal, transmitting the Great Vehicle
And perpetuated the sages’ bright lamp, proclaiming the Perfect
In both India and China all looked up to him
As a sun in empty space and in the Dharma Realm.
Bodhisattvas cultivate good roots and so do Patriarchs. He both cultivated good roots and took across beings. He turned into many silkworms, which spit up silk so the people could have clothing. This is a vow made by a Bodhisattva. He used the neigh of a horse to respond to living beings so that they would wake up. This is how he worked. He passed on the Buddhas’ Mind Seal and transmitted the Dharma of the Great Vehicle. He carried on the bright lamp of the sages and lectured perfect and wonderful doctrine. Everyone looked up to him. He was seen in empty space and the Dharma Realm as being just like the sun in the sky.