This is the text of Bodhidharma's "Outline of Practice" Translated by Ven. Dr. Wonji Dharma, Guiding Teacher-Five Mountain Zen Order and some of Red Pine's "The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma."
This is what I based the first talk in the Bodhidharma series from September 2015. The italic text below is my commentary, which is largely my takeaway from the text. As such, you may agree with it, you may not. My interpretations are what I came up with upon reading the text for the first time in a few years, and I'd forgotten what a formative text it is, and how much of our practice today comes directly from Bodhidharma. His teachings are reworking of previous Sutras, putting them in a skillful way for his students of that time in China, approximately 1,600 years ago. A couple of my favorite lines I've highlighted as bold text.
"MANY methods lead to the Path; however, fundamentally there are only two: reason and practice. To enter by reason means to realize the essence through instruction and to trust that all living things share the same true nature, yet this is not apparent because our normal perception is shrouded in sensation and delusion".
- When we start our practice, a tree is a tree, and only ever a tree. We strive for the permanence that certainty brings us. We want that tree to be a tree, and the “me” to be “me” and to stay “me” even more. If the tree loses its leaves during the autumn, maybe it makes us sad. But our true sadness comes when we see that our own “leaves” are starting to fall.
- Once we are reminded that all beings share a True Nature, that all we see is constantly changing, changing, changing, even from one moment to the next we can choose how we approach this dilemma: We can either deny it, and continue to live in delusion with all the struggle that brings, or we can have faith in our teacher and that the Dharma is just the way things are.
"Those who return from delusion back to this moment, who meditate in presence, the absence of self and other, the oneness of worldly being and sage, and who remain unmoved even by scriptures are in complete and non-conceptual agreement with reason. Without moving, without effort, they enter, we say, by reason".
- Realization of the Absolute, the acceptance of the Absolute
- In the Absolute, there is no duality—self/other, worldly being/sage
- No clinging to previous beliefs, including scriptures
- Before thought--Not-intellectual, intuitive only, not-conceptual
"To enter by practice refers to four all-inclusive practices: Experiencing injustice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practicing the Dharma.
"First, is the experience of injustice: When those who embark on the Path encounter adversity, they should resolve that, “In the countless moments of my life gone by, I’ve turned from the essential to the trivial and wandered through all manner of conceptualizations, often angry without cause and guilty of numberless transgressions.
"This moment, though I do no wrong, I am allowing my past to control my present. Neither gods nor men can foresee when an incorrect deed will bear its fruit. I accept it with an open heart and without complaint of injustice. The Sutras say, “When you meet with adversity don’t be upset, because it makes sense.” With such understanding, you are in harmony with reason. In addition, by experiencing injustice you enter the Path".
- Akin to First Noble Truth—“Injustice”= Struggle/dissatisfaction—“dukkha.”
- Speaking of karmic consequences; unwholesome intentional actions will bear the fruit of those actions—when, where, how are not of our choosing.
- Living in the past by regretting the karmic outcome, taking it personally, “Oh, why me? The world is out to get me,” is a symptom of not paying attention! This moment is here because it is dependent on all causes and conditions to this point. When karma manifests in the here&now, it is in the here&now that we have the opportunity to act…or not, depending on the situation, relationship and correct function.
"Second, adapting to conditions. As worldly beings, we are ruled by conditions, not by our momentary perceptions. All the uneasiness and joy we experience depend on conditions. If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame or fortune, it is the fruit of a seed planted by some unforeseen events. When conditions change, the situation changes, therefore, why do we delight in its existence? Nevertheless, while success and failure depend on conditions, our true self neither waxes nor wanes. Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the Path".
- Akin to 2nd Noble Truth—there is a cause for this feeling of dissatisfaction—our karma.
- Even “good” results are temporary because they depend on causes & conditions.
- “True Self” in not conditional. It’s been here all along. In truth, it didn’t come, and it won’t go. It’s just clouded by layers and layers of delusion. Our small “I” is what comes and goes, thinking that all depends on us, when we are what depends on all else.
"The third method is seeking nothing. People of this world are deluded. They are always longing for something-always, in a word, seeking. However, the wise wake up. They choose reason over construct. They fix their minds on the transcendent and experience their bodies changing with the seasons. All phenomena are transparent. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms of existence is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to experience discomfort and sometimes suffering. Does anyone with a body know peace? Those who understand this realize that all that exists is constantly changing and stop Imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to experience disappointment.” “To seek nothing is harmony.” When you seek nothing, you are on the Path".
- Akin to 3rd Noble Truth—there is a cessation possible.
- "Seeking” is to be in a constant state of dissatisfaction with the present moment.
- To seek nothing is to be absorbed in what it present: Our actions, our environment, our thoughts about them. That determines what we do in this moment, and determines what will come in the next moment.
- Not to be “here,” is to be living in fantasy. Where else is there?
"The fourth method is practicing the Dharma. The Dharma is the truth that all true natures are of themselves pure. Within this truth, all appearances are transparent. Defilement and attachment, as well as subject and object do not exist. The sutras say, “The Dharma includes no being because it is free from the conceptualization of being, and the Dharma includes no self because it is free from the adulteration of self.” Those wise enough to trust and understand these truths are bound to practice according to the Dharma. In addition, since that which is real includes nothing worth begrudging, they give their body, life, and property in charity, without regret, without the separation of giver, gift, or recipient, and without bias or attachment. Moreover, to eliminate adulteration they teach to others and without becoming attached to form; through their own practice, they are able to help others and glorify the Dao of awakening. Moreover, as with charity, they practice the other virtues. Nevertheless, while practicing the six virtues to eliminate delusion, they practice nothing at all. This is what is meant by practicing the Dharma".
- Akin to 4th Noble Truth--what to do, how to behave, in order to get out of our self-imposed struggle.
- The way is “The Way,” i.e. practicing the Dharma.
- From the Diamond Sutra—pointing to the Absolute
- All beings are no-beings (out of convenience, they are called “beings.”)
- Self is no-self, thus is it called “self.”
- Intuitive “before thought” response to situations leads to no need for thought. One is being generous, as there is no alternative to which it could be compared. There is only, “How may I help you?”
- The Six Perfections are only “perfections” when there are “afflictions.” When all afflictions are seen to be transparent, there are no “real” afflictions, and only what we’d call “correct” function is present.
- Do we have to think about breathing? There is only breathing.
- When practicing the Dao, there is likewise only practicing.
- Although this is the one section that doesn't end with "the Path," when truly realizing the Dharma, one also realizes that there is no "Path," that everything is the "Path."
Click on the title to listen to the Dharma talk from September 3, 2015.