I would rather die a meaningful death than to live a meaningless life.
– Corazon Aquino
Something Of Me Behind
Once in awhile there have been single individuals who had the quality of true religion; for example, Bodhidharma. One of the most lovable human beings, he went to China Fourteen hundred years ago. He remained for nine years in China and a following gathered around him. But he was not a man belonging to the stupidity of the so-called religions.
Formally he was a Buddhist monk, and China was already converted to Buddhism. Thousands of Buddhist monks had already reached China before Bodhidharma, and when they heard Bodhidharma was coming, they rejoiced, because Bodhidharma was almost equal to Buddha. His name had reached them long before he came. Even the king of China, the great Emperor Wu, came to receive Bodhidharma on the boundary of China and India.
Wu Was the medium to transform the whole of China into Buddhism, to convert it from Confucius to Gautam Buddha. He had put all his forces and all his treasures into the hands of Buddhist monks, and he was great emperor. When he met Bodhidharma he asked, ”I have been waiting to see you. I am old, and I am fortunate that you have come after all; all these years we have been waiting. I want to ask a few questions.”
The first question he asked was: ”I have devoted all my treasures, my armies, my bureaucracy – everything that I have – to convert this vast land to Buddhism, and I have made thousands of temples for Buddha.” He had made one temple to Buddha in which there were ten thousand statues of Buddha; the whole mountain was carved. Because ten thousand Buddhas had to be carved, the whole mountain was finished – carved into Buddhist statues, so the whole mountain became a temple. He asked, ”What will be my benet in the other world?”
That’s what the other monks were telling him, ”You have done so much to serve Gautam Buddha that perhaps when you reach the other world, he himself will be standing there to welcome you. And you have earned so much virtue that an eternity of pleasures is yours.”
Bodhidharma said, ”All that you have done is absolutely meaningless. You have not even started on the journey, you have not taken even the first step. You will fall into the seventh hell – take my word for it.
The Emperor Wu could not believe it: ”I have done so much, and this man says “You will fall into the seventh hell’!”
Bodhidharma laughed and he said, ”Whatsoever you have done is out of greed, and anything done out of greed cannot make you religious. You have renounced so many riches, but you have not renounced them unconditionally. You are bargaining; it is a business. You are purchasing in the other world. You are putting your bank balance from this world into the other world, transferring it. You are cunning: because this world is momentary – tomorrow you may die – and these other monks have been telling you the other world is eternal…. So what are you doing? Giving momentary treasures to gain eternal treasures? Really a good deal! Whom are you trying to deceive?”
When Bodhidharma spoke to Wu in this way, before all the monks and the generals and the lesser kings who had come with Wu and his whole court, Wu was angry. Nobody had spoken in this way to him before. He said to Bodhidharma, ”is this the way for a religious person to talk?”
Bodhidharma Said, ”Yes, this is the only way a religious person talks; all other ways are of people who want to cheat you. These monks here have been cheating you; they have been making promises to you. You don’t know anything about what happens after death; nor do they, but they have been pretending that they
Wu asked, ”Who are you to speak with such authority?”
And do you know what Bodhidharma said? He said, ”I don’t know. That is one point that I don’t know. I have been into myself, I have gone to the very center of my being and come out as ignorant as before. I do not know.” Now this I call courage.
No religion has been courageous enough to say, ”We know this much, and that much we don’t know; perhaps in the future we may know. And beyond that there is a space which is going to remain unknowable forever.”
After nine years, when Bodhidharma was returning to India, he gathered four of his chief disciples and he asked them, ”Condense religion into a single statement so that I can know whether you have understood me or not.”
The first one said, ”Compassion is religion. That is Buddha’s basic message: compassion.”
Bodhidharma said, ”You have my bones, but nothing else.”
The second disciple said, ”Meditation. To be silent, to be so utterly silent that not a single thought moves inside you: that is the essence of religion.”
Bodhidharma said, ”You have my flesh, but nothing more; because in what you are saying, you are only repeating my words. In your eyes I don’t see the silence; on your face I don’t see the depth that silence brings.”
The third one said, ”It cannot be said. It is inexpressible.”
Bodhidharma said, ”You have my marrow. But if it cannot be said, why have you used even these words? You have already said it. Even in saying “It cannot be said, it cannot be expressed,’ you are saying something about it; hence I say you have only the marrow.”
He turned towards the fourth. There were tears in the disciple’s eyes and he fell at Bodhidharma’s feet. Bodhidharma shook him and asked him again and again, ”What is religion?” But only tears of joy… his hands holding his feet in gratitude. The disciple never spoke a single word, not even that it cannot be said, it is inexpressible.
Bodhidharma hugged him and said, ”You have me. Now I can go in peace because I am leaving something of me behind.”
Once you accept the unknown, whatsoever it brings, and accept it with deep gratitude, complaints disappear, grumbling disappear, and what remains is sheer joy.
Excerpted From Ignorance To Innocence CH: 11