Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth patriarch in India. Well, why didn't he stay in India and be a patriarch? Why did he go to China? The Buddha had already predicted that it would happen that way. The Buddha made a prophecy that at the time of the twenty-eighth patriarch the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma will be transmitted to China.
Patriarch Bodhidharma went by ship to China. At that time the Buddhism that existed in China was questionable. The Buddhadharma seemed to exist but really didn't. Why do I say that? It's because people only dealt with Buddhism on a superficial level. Few recited the Sutras or studied and lectured them and bowing in repentance was virtually non-existent. It was just a few scholars who considered Buddhism to be a subject for research and debate.
Consider Dharma Master Shenguang, who later became the Second Patriarch Huike, lectured on the Sutras and spoke the Dharma at that time. He got tremendous responses from his Sutra lectures. When he spoke, heavenly flowers would shower down. Now of course not just anyone could see those heavenly flowers, but there were those with good roots who had opened the Heavenly Eye. There are Five Eyes and Six Spiritual Penetrations. Some people had opened the Five Eyes; but no one had attained the Six Spiritual Penetrations. Anyway, there were those who could see heavenly maidens scatter flowers and golden lotuseswell up from the earth while Great Master Huike was explaining the Sutras. Dharma Master Shenguang would sit there upon a golden lotus and explain the Sutras. Would not you say that was a pretty special atmosphere in which to be investigating the Sutras?
Patriarch Bodhidharma saw that in China there were those whose roots in the Great Vehicle Dharma were ripe and that he should take the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma to China. Fearing neither the distance nor the hardship of travel, he went to China. Now what do you suppose happened when he got to China?The Chinese looked down on foreigners at that time and called them barbarians--in this case a barbarian monk. He didn't talk like that, he didn't speak the same languge. The children would run away when they saw the barbarian monk coming. Why? Well, his long beard scared them. What about the adults? As soon as they saw the children running away, they jumped to the conclusion that the Indian was probably a kidnapper and warned their children not to get near him. You see? Not to speak of rescuing adults, he couldn't even save the children. Nobody dared approach him.
Since no one in Guangzhou recognized that he was a patriarch, he didn't stay on in Guangzhou but went on to Nanqing. When he got to Nanqing he went to listen to Dharma Master Shenguang lecture on the Sutras. When he arrived, the Dharma Master was lecturing, and so the Patriarch Bodhidharma listened. After the lecture he asked a question: “Dharma Master what are you doing here?”
Dharma Master Shenguang answered,“
I'm lecturing on the Sutras.”
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, “Why are you explaining the Sutras?”
Dharma Master Shenguang said, “I lecture on the Sutras to teach people how to end birth and death!”
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, “So you teach people to end birth and death, do you? Well, what'the method for ending birth and death? As to the sutras you lecture, what's black is the words and what's white is the paper. What do you use to teach people to end birth and death？”
When Dharma Master Shenguang heard that, he was left speechless. He thought, “What do I use to teach people to end birth and death?” That made him furious. He got angry. Look at that! When he lectured sutras flowers rained down from the heavens and a golden lotus welled up from the earth, yet he still could lose his temper. That's why I said Buddhism seemed to be there, but wasn't.What happened when he got angry? He took out his weapon.
What was his weapon? It was a string of recitation beads. However, his recitation beads were not like my stars and moon Bodhi” which are quite light. His recitation beads were made of iron--hard and heavy. Why did he have recitation beads like that? They served as his weapon. Now he had encountered Patriarch Bodhidharma and gotten mad at the things he said. Let me tell you that when this Dharma Master got angry, it was terrible. It was like being hit by a tidal wave or caught in a landslide.“You are slandering the Dharma!” he shouted, and then cracked Patriarch Bodhidharma across the face with his beads.
Patriarch Bodhidharma was caught off guard. It hadn’t occurred to him that the Dharma Master would be so violent. Anyway, it ended up that two of Patriarch Bodhidharma’s teeth got knocked loose.
He was a sage, and there’s any old saying about what happened if someone knocks out the teeth of a Patriarch--a sage--and he spits those teeth out on the ground. The saying goes...now don't ask me if this is true or not, I'm just telling it like I heard it. Let's get it clear first that I don't want you to ask why.There isn't any reason. It's just an old saying--no reason for it. Anyway, it's said that if he spits them out on the ground, it won't rain at that place for three years.
Patriarch Bodhidharma thought, “Suppose it really doesn’t rain for three years, imagine how many people will starve to death! I came here to save people, not to kill them!” And so he swallowed them as if they were a couple of oil cakes. After swallowing them, he left. When a foreigner is bullied, he just as to let it go. Although someone had knocked two of his teeth out, he couldn’t report it to the authorities or file a suit against Dharma Master Shenguang. Left-home people have to be patient. How much the more should he, a patriarch, forebear. And so he just left and made his way to Henan.
The parrot was trapped in a cage, however, the bird was much smarter than Dharma Master Shenguang. It recognized that Bodhidharma was a patriarch, and called out,
Mind Come from the West,
Mind Come from the West,
Please teach me how to get out of this cage!”
Patriarch Bodhidharma hadn't found a single person who understood him, but he met a parrot who recognized him.
When Patriarch Bodhidharma heard the parrot's request for instruction he was delighted. And so he taught the bird a method--a provisional one, not an actual one. He said,
To escape the cage,
To escape the cage,
Stick both legs out straight and close your eyes.
That is the way to escape the cage.“
It was like a secret devise, an esoteric dharma, and so he whispered it. In explaining this to you, my voice is probably a lot louder than Patriarch Bodhidharma's was at the time. I'm sure he must have whispered it. Why? Well, if he said it out loud, someone might have heard him and then the method wouldn't work. From this we can see that the Patriarch was very dedicated and cautious.
Having been taught the method, the parrot said,“Fine. Now I know what to do. I understand how to get out of this cage.” Then, when the parrot saw his owner coming from afar, he put the method into use, stretching out his legs and closing his eyes, he waited for his owner to come near. Every day when the owner returned, he always came to check on his bird and play with it. He was extremely fond of his parrot. He would talk to it and
returned and saw the bird, he was shocked to the point of tears. What was wrong? The bird was lying on the floor of the cage unmoving. The owner was more frantic than if his own son had died. He opened the door of the cage and placed the bird in the palm of his hand, grasping it lightly. It was still warm; the body hadn’t cooled yet. That was because it was only pretending to be dead, and so of course its body temperature hadn’t cooled off. Well, the owner turned his hand this way and that looking at the bird, which didn’t move. Turning his hand this way and that, he saw that the bird really did seem to be dead, except that the body was warm. Slowly the owner opened his palm to have a better look. Well, what do you suppose happened? The parrot was instantly alert and phlrrrttt! it flew away. The parrot had escaped from its cage!
But we are still in a cage. How do we get out of our cage? You shouldn't think that we people are free. Don't mistake the meaning of freedom. Don't assume that freedom means being able to eat when you want to, drink alcohol when you want to, or do whatever else you feel like, including not following the rules. That's ridiculous! That's a misinterpretation of freedom. To be truly free, you must be free of birth and death, and then, if you wish to fly into space you can fly into space, and if you wish to burrow into the earth, you can burrow into the earth. If you can do that, you will gain the kind of freedom that the little bird gained.
Dharma Master Shenguang knocked out two of that Indian monk's teeth, and since the monk didn’t retaliate, the Dharma Master figured he had the advantage; that he'd won the victory. He'd put a barbarian monk in his place. But not long after he struck the barbarian, the Ghost of Impermanence, wearing his today. King Yama is inviting you to go. The time has come for you to die.”
When Dharma Master Shenguang heard that he cried, “What? I still have to die? When I lecture the Sutras I speak so well that flowers drift down from the heavens and a golden lotus wells up from the earth, and yet I still haven't ended birth and death? Tell me,” he asked the Ghost of Impermanence, “is there anyone in this world who has ended birth and death?”