Letter from the Abbott: The Bodhidharma Method

Bodhidharma transmitted the essence of Zen from India to China in the sixth century. When he met with China's Emperor, a devout Buddhist who had built temples and translated sutras, the Emperor asked what merit there was in all he had done. Bodhidharma responded, “No merit whatsoever.” 

The Emperor then asked what the holy principle of Buddhism was and Bodhidharma said, “No holiness, vast emptiness.” When the Emperor asked who it was standing before him, Bodhidharma said, “No knowing.” 

The Emperor couldn’t understand so Bodhidharma left for the Shaolin temple where he sat in a cave, facing the wall for nine years and acknowledging no one. One evening, a man named Huike stood through the night outside of Bodhidharma's cave seeking to speak with him. By morning, snowfall reached his knees. Still, Bodhidharma sat facing the wall. 

Finally, Huike cut off his arm and presented it to Bodhidharma who then said, “What do you want?” Huike said, “My mind is not at peace. Please pacify it for me, Master.” Bodhidharma said, “Bring me your mind, and I’ll pacify it for you.” Huike responded, “I’ve searched for it for many years, but I can’t find it.” Bodhidharma replied, “There. I’ve pacified it for you.” 

With this Huike was enlightened, becoming the Second Patriarch, and Bodhidharma completed his mission to transmit the essence of Zen to China.

Sometimes I am asked for the business plan for Chozen-ji. When I was young, I futilely tried many times to come up with something but Zen training at Chozen-ji is a hard sell. Now I say I’m following the Bodhidharma method, or as Honda Roshi says, “Train hard. The rest is up to Heaven.” The results are better. 

Chozen-ji’s reach is getting wider globally and deeper locally with serious students undertaking 3 Week Live-in Intensives and Sesshin. Different groups like the UH Swim Team—which won both the women’s and men’s title this season for the first time—the US Japan Council Under 40 Leaders, the Japan America Society and the Hawaii Asia Pacific Alliance have visited us to learn about Zen training. Chozen-ji members went to Kahoolawe to plant trees, and Chozen-ji-supported Hui Aloha were honored by the Honolulu City Council for their work addressing the state's homelessness and affordable housing crises. We even made a short promotional video for social media. 

Clearly, sitting facing the wall does not mean not doing anything. It means enjoying mysterious wonder.

Of course, not everyone enjoys themselves when they come to Chozen-ji. Some people come with set expectations of what Zen training should be and are disappointed. We are told we should explain more, be friendlier, and scold less. When I think of Bodhidharma, however, I am resolved only to sit harder. 

For some people, coming to Chozen-ji feels like coming home. With these folks we have a karmic connection, and we are committed to providing them the depth and intensity of training that will enable them to meet the existential issues in their lives and develop to their full potential. 

I thank all of you who’ve made donations to support this commitment, particularly the participants of our Zen and Sake Dinner, but even more so the people who come to our work days—scrubbing the mats in the Dojo, clearing the overgrown vegetation, and taking garbage to the dump. All this plus hard training cultivates the unique vibration of Chozen-ji.

Office Admin