Patriarch Bodhidharma hadn’t taught or transformed anyone when he had arrived China. Now, he met someone who really understood what he was all about and it was the parrot. He said, “People can’t even come up to birds nowadays.” Patriarch Bodhidharma was very delighted and said, “You want me to teach you how to escape from the cage? I will instruct you now.” He then told the bird a method to escape from the cage.
“To escape the cage, to escape the cage,
Straighten out your two legs.
Shut your two eyes.
This is the way to escape the cage.”
Upon hearing this, the bird understood. Therefore when it heard its owner returning home and saw that he was about one hundred feet away, the bird pretended to be dead. It stuck out its two legs and closed its eyes.
Since its owner was so fond of the parrot, he would check on the bird after he returned home each day. The parrot would usually welcome him and say, “Why did you come home so late? You should have come home earlier. I miss you so much!” The owner would be lulled by these words. However, there was no greeting from the bird today. He hurried to the parrot whose two legs were stuck out straight and whose eyes were shut tight. When he saw this he opened the cage and held the bird in his hand not worrying that it might fly away. He looked at the bird; its eyes were totally shut and the legs were stiff. He thought, “Why doesn’t the bird open its eyes?” He kept staring at it. “It must be dead since its eyes are no longer open.” He opened up his palms to try to check what illness the parrot had died from. He inspected the bird once again. After inspecting it, he opened his palms and the parrot flew away. It had escaped the cage and gained its freedom.
Every one of us is in a cage of the four elemental forces that bind us and prevent us from being liberated. None of us wants to obtain freedom and escape from the cage of the four elemental forces, which are earth, water, fire and wind. How can we be freed from the cage of the four elemental forces? We should learn this very same method of escaping from the cage. Then we will have a way out and can regain our freedom just like the bird did. Now, we are not liberated and have no freedom. Is it the case that we can’t even compare to a bird? Therefore, the Second Patriarch, wearing one shoe and one sock, chased after Bodhidharma and when he was walking in front of him, he said, “Patriarch, would you please be compassionate and teach me a way to escape the cage as well?” Bodhidharma replied, “No, no, no.” shaking his head and waving his hands. The Second Patriarch pursued Bodhidharma all the way to Bear Ear Mountain in Luoyang.
It’s not certain whether Bodhidharma had previously been angry or he simply wanted to ignore Shen Guang. He meditated facing a rock wall. He just sat there and paid no attention to what Shen Guang said. Shen Guang called out names like “Master, Patriarch, and Holy One” many times. Bodhidharma replied with no words. Or it could have been that there was a language barrier between them, so that Shen Guang didn’t understand the Sanskrit that Bodhidharma spoke. Because of this, Shen Guang knelt behind Bodhidharma for nine years, which was the duration of time that Bodhidharma meditated while facing the wall.
Why did Shen Guang do this? He was seeking the Dharma in order to be liberated, so that he could escape the cage of earth, water, fire and wind. During those nine years, Bodhidharma said only three words to Shen Guang, namely, “No, no, and no.” Shen Guang’s every request was denied. So he knelt for nine years while Bodhidharma meditated for nine years.
Finally, one day, Shen Guang was knelt there shivering from the cold, and said, “Patriarch, please be compassionate and transmit the Dharma to me. Transmit the Way to me. I want to leave this cage.”
Bodhidharma said, “Take a look at the sky. What’s falling from it?”
“The snow is.”
“What color is the snow?” asked Bodhidharma.
“The snow is white,” Shen Guang replied.
“If you would like me to transmit the Way to you, fine. I’ll do it when red snow falls from the sky.”
Shen Guang thought, “Now I’m stuck! How could the snow turn red?” He thought about it over and over and had an idea. Perhaps it was time for him to inherit the Patriarchate. He saw that Bodhidharma had a precept knife on the wall. The knife wasn’t used to kill people, but in an absolutely critical situation, it could be used to kill oneself. This would be when one was put in a situation that would cause one to violate the precepts. Then, Patriarch Shen Guang, or rather, Dharma Master Shen Guang, took down the precept knife and sliced off one of his arms. The blood gushed forth from the wound and stained the snow red. He took the red snow to Bodhidharma and said, “Patriarch, please take a look. Red snow has now fallen from the sky.”
Actually, the snow had turned red because of his blood. Bodhidharma saw that Shen Guang had sliced off his arm in order to seek the Dharma. That was a sign of ultimate sincerity. As a result, Bodhidharma transmitted the Dharma to him.
After the Dharma transmission, the Second Patriarch, Shen Guang said, “My mind is in pain. Please pacify my mind.” Bodhidharma said, “Bring me your mind and I will pacify it for you.” Shen Guang searched within himself and tried to find his mind. He searched throughout all of space and the Dharma Realm and still couldn’t find his mind. He said, “I’ve searched for my mind, but it cannot be found.” He meant that his mind could not be found in any location. Bodhidharma replied, “I have already pacified your mind.”
The special circumstances today were made possible by Professor Xuanwei Shi. I hope you draw near to Master Xuan Wei frequently. I know this Dharma Master really well. He is considered an eminent monk in contemporary Buddhism; very erudite and cultivated. I hope that you don’t miss this opportunity to come and listen to the
Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, which teaches people how to become Buddhas. If you listen to the
Lotus Sutra often, you will realize anuttara-samyaksambodhi, the utmost proper and equal, right enlightenment. These are my expectations for you.
To be continued