Bloodstream of Practice

by Bodhidharma

Everything that gives rise in the three realms comes from the mind. Buddhas transmit mind to mind throughout time, beginningless and endless, without bothering with words.

But if they don’t use words, how can they define mind? That’s your mind asking. When I answer, that’s my mind. If I had no mind, how could I answer? If you had no mind, how could you ask?

Throughout beginningless and endless kalpas, wherever you are, whatever you do, it’s your primordial mind, your inherent buddha.

The mind is the buddha. Beyond this mind, you’ll never find another buddha. To search for enlightenment or nirvana outside this mind is pointless, insane and impossible. The nature of the self, your innermost mind, is neither cause nor effect. The dharma is what’s meant by mind. The innermost nature of mind is nirvana. If you try to find buddha nature or enlightenment elsewhere other than the mind, you won’t find it.

Where is enlightenment or buddha in this mind, you might ask? Trying to locate it would be like trying to grasp space. Space may have a name, yet it has no form. It is not something you can grab or release. Beyond this mind you’ll never get to see a buddha. Buddha gives rise in your mind.

What all buddhas of the past and future ever talk about, is this mind. The mind is buddha, and buddha is the mind. Beyond this mind there is no buddha. Beyond buddha there is no mind. If you say there’s buddha beyond this mind, show me where it is? Since there is nothing outside the mind, why delude yourself? You can never truly know your real mind if you keep on deceiving yourself. Being entrapped by forms and illusions, you’re never free. It must be a helpless situation. Buddha has nothing to do with it. It is your deluded mind prevents you from realizing that your own mind is buddha. If only you could see you own mind is buddha, you wouldn’t look for a buddha outside the mind.

Buddha doesn’t enlighten buddha. If you use your mind to look for a buddha, you won’t see one. Buddha doesn’t worship buddha either. And don’t use your mind to invoke buddha either. Buddha doesn’t recite sutras. Neither does buddha keep precepts or break precepts. Simply, buddha doesn’t keep or break anything, doesn’t do good or evil.

To find a buddha, you have to realize your nature. Once you see your nature, you are a buddha. It is useless to just invoking the names of buddhas if you don’t see your nature. And it is the same with reciting sutras, making offerings, or keeping precepts. Invoking the names of buddhas may bring about good karma, while reciting sutras gives you better understanding, making offerings leads to future blessings, and keeping precepts results in good rebirth – but you still don’t get to see the buddha, as long as you don’t see your own nature.

If you can’t realize it by yourself, you’ll have to find a teacher. Be sure to find one who has realized his/her own nature. A person who never sees their own nature isn’t qualified to be a teacher. Even if you can recite the Twelvefold Canon, you are still entrapped in samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Death, suffering in the three realms endlessly.

Once upon a time, a monk named Good Star was able to recite the entire Sutras, yet he couldn’t escape the Wheel, because he never realized his nature. If this was the case with someone as well-learned as Good Star, then nowadays those who recite only a few sutras and consider themselves enlightened ones are fooling themselves. It’s useless reciting sutras without seeing your mind.

If you want to find buddha, the only thing you need to do is seeing your mind. The nature of your mind is buddha. A buddha is free and at ease. Free of plans, free of calculations, free of strives. If you don’t go inward to realize your nature, but running around all day seeking it outwardly, you’ll never succeed. Although ultimately you will see there is nothing to find – to reach such a perfect understanding, you need to have a legitimate teacher and practice diligently. The matter of life and death is the only thing that matters. Don’t spend this lifetime in vain. Don’t live in self-deception. You may be materially rich, having mountains of jewels and rivers of helpers, but you should realize that they are only illusion – at the moment of death when you finally shut your eyes and wake up from the dream, what is to be found?

If you don’t feel the urgency to find a teacher and study hard, you’ll pass this lifetime empty-handed. Although you are born with the buddha-nature, without the help of a genuine teacher you’ll never realize it. Only one in a million might become enlightened without help.

If you happen to be someone who is blessed with an innate realization superior to anything that can be taught, then you don’t have to find a teacher. Otherwise, be humble and by all means study hard.

There are deluded people who can’t tell white from black, yet they are unwilling to learn, and they even start teaching others. They proclaim that they are spreading the Buddha Dharma, while in fact they are blaspheming the Buddha and the Dharma. They talk eloquently, like the rain going nonstop, but their preaching is of devils, not of buddhas. Such ‘teacher’ is the King of Devils, and their followers are the Devil’s minions. They are bringing their followers to sink further into the Samsara of Birth and Death. It is all because they are not yet buddhas themselves, however they call themselves buddhas.

They commit the biggest sin by being a liar, deceiving others into further illusion and confusion. As long as they haven’t realized their own true mind, their preaching of the Twelvefold Canon is unhelpful, merely the preaching of devils. Without the wisdom gained through seeing one’s own nature, the teachers and their followers are doomed to repeat the cycles of birth and death.

Anyone who sees their own nature is a buddha; whoever doesn’t is a mortal. However, you can’t find your buddha-nature elsewhere away from your mortal nature; our mortal nature is our buddha-nature. Beyond the mind there’s no buddha. Buddha is your nature. There’s no buddha other than this nature, and there’s no nature other than buddha.

Suppose I don’t see my nature, can’t I still attain enlightenment through invoking the names of buddhas, reciting sutras, making offerings, observing precepts, practicing devotions and doing charity works? No, you can’t.

Why not? Because if you attain anything at all through those ways, it would be conditional and karmic, which results in retribution, still being subject to birth and death. To attain enlightenment, you have to see your nature. Unless you see your nature, all the theory about cause and effect is nonsense. Buddhas don’t practice nonsense. A buddha is liberated from karma, free of cause and effect. It is impossible for a buddha to hold on to any intention, any action, any thought, or any view. To say a buddha strives for anything is to slander a buddha. A buddha isn’t dualistic. The nature of a buddha’s mind is empty, neither pure nor impure, therefore no cause nor effect.

A buddha doesn’t observe precepts either. A buddha doesn’t do good or evil. A buddha is neither hardworking nor being lazy. A buddha does nothing, not even plans to be a buddha. A buddha is not a buddha. Don’t even name a buddha as buddha. If you don’t know what I am talking about right here right now, you don’t see your own mind.

People who don’t see their own mind but try to practice thoughtlessness all the time are fools. They merely fall into mindlessness, not mindfulness. They’re like drunks, can’t tell good from bad. If you intend to achieve the state of thoughtlessness, you have to see your mind first, only then you can put an end to mundane concerns. It is impossible to attain enlightenment without seeing your nature.

Some people claim karma doesn’t exist, that since everything is empty, it isn’t wrong if you do bad things, therefore they commit all sorts of evil deeds. Such people fall into a hell of pitiful darkness with no foreseeable future of release. A wise person would not do this to themselves.

But if all the time a person’s every movement or non-movement is the mind, then why doesn’t one see this mind when one’s body dies? Because the mind is always present, you just don’t see it. But if the mind is right here, why don’t I see it? To answer your question, let me ask you this – do you ever dream? Yes, of course. When you dream, is that you? Yes, it’s me. And what you’re doing and saying in the dream – is it different from you? No, it isn’t.

It’s because this mind is your dharma body, and your dharma body is this mind. Throughout all the kalpas, beginningless and endless, this mind has remained the same. It has never lived or died, never appeared or disappeared, never increased or decreased. It is neither pure nor impure, neither good nor evil, neither becoming nor leaving, neither true nor false, neither male nor female, neither monk nor layperson, neither old nor young, neither sage nor fool, neither buddha nor mortal.

And it strives for no realization, nor does it suffer karma. It has neither caliber nor form. It is like space – you can’t grasp at it, neither can you lose it. Its movements can’t be blocked by walls, mountains or rivers. It can freely penetrate the Mountain of Five Skandhas and cross the River of Samsara with ease. No karma can restrain this dharma body.

But this mind is very subtle, extremely elusive. It is not the same as the sensual mind. Everyone longs for catching a glimpse of this innermost true nature of the mind. There are as many people as the grains of sand along the Ganges who move their hands and feet chasing its light in vain. When you ask them about it, they can’t explain exactly what it is. They’re born with it, it’s theirs to use all along, why is it so difficult?

The Buddha said all sentient beings are deluded. When they act out of their delusions, they fall into the River of Endless Rebirth. When they try to get out, they sink even further. It’s all because they don’t see the true nature of their mind. Deluded people don’t know who they are, and they don’t see what is right in front of them. Only the wise know this mind. This mind is called dharma-nature, liberation, the Unstoppable Tathagata, the Incomprehensible, the Sacred Self, the Immortal, or the Great Sage. Its names may vary but not its essence. Buddhas vary too, but none is ever separate from one’s own mind.

The mind has unlimited capacity. The mind has inexhaustible manifestations. When your eyes see forms (or your ears hear sounds, or your nose smells odors, or your tongue tastes flavors …), it is all due to your mind. Every movement or state comes from your mind. That’s why it’s said, “A buddha’s forms are infinite, and so is a buddha’s wisdom.”

The endless variety of forms comes from the mind. The mind has the ability to make distinctions and applications, which is part of the mind’s awareness. The mind has no form itself and its awareness has no limit.

Troubles come from our material body of the four elements (earth. water. fire. air). A material body is subject to birth and death. While one’s dharma body exists without existing, just like a buddha’s body is beyond birth and death. The sutras say, “People should know that they are all born with the buddha-nature, which is something they forever have.”

Buddha-nature is one’s innermost mind. Our innermost mind is our true nature. This nature is the same as the mind of all buddhas. Buddhas of the past and future only transmit this mind. Beyond this mind there’s no buddha to find. Deluded people don’t realize that their own mind is the buddha. They keep searching outside. They are busy all the time, invoking the names of buddhas, worshipping buddhas, and wondering – where on earth is the buddha? Don’t indulge in such illusions. Just work on realizing your own mind. Beyond your own mind there’s no other buddha. The sutras say, “Everything that has form is an illusion.” And the sutras also say, “Wherever you are, there’s a buddha.” Your mind is the buddha. Buddha does not worship buddha.

In meditation, if a buddha or bodhisattva should suddenly appear before you, remember to maintain empty and unmoved. The true nature of mind is empty, entertaining no form whatsoever. A mind that holds onto appearances is deluded, falling from the right Path. Since the illusions (of buddhas or bodhisattvas) are born of the mind, why worship your own mind? People who worship don’t know; those who know don’t worship. If you insist to worship, you fall under the spell of devils. I put stress on this because I am afraid that you don’t know. The intrinsic nature of all buddhas has no form – keep this in mind. Even if something unusual should appear, neither embrace it nor fear it. At the appearance of spirits, demons, or divine beings, simply remember that the fundamental nature of your mind is empty. All appearances are illusions. Don’t hold on to anything.

If you give rise to any thought or view, envisioning buddhas or bodhisattvas, conceiving reverence for them, you relegate yourself to the realm of mortals. If you want to attain direct realization, never hold on to any appearance whatsoever. Apart from this, I have no other advice.

All appearances are illusions – they are impermanent, having no fixed reality, no constant form. Don’t cling to appearances, and thus you’ll be of one mind with the Buddha. The sutras say, “That which is free of all forms is the buddha.”

Then again, why shouldn’t we worship buddhas and bodhisattvas? Because devils and demons possess the power of manifestation. They can manifest as bodhisattvas in all sorts of guises. None of their manifests are true buddhas. The true buddha is your own mind. Don’t misdirect your worship.

The word buddha is Sanskrit meaning aware or awakened. Every movement or state of your body – perceiving, responding, arching your brows, blinking your eyes, waving your hands or shifting your feet – it is all your miraculously aware nature. This nature is the mind. The mind is the buddha. The buddha is the path. The path is Chan (Zen).

The word Zen remains a puzzle to both mortals and sages alike. Seeing your nature is Zen; otherwise, it is not Zen.

Even if you can explain thousands of sutras and shastras, as long as you haven’t seen your own nature, it is just the teaching of a mortal, not the teaching of a buddha. The true Way is subtle and sublime. It can’t be expressed in language. Of what use are scriptures? If you see your own nature, you instantly find the Way, even if you can’t read a word.

One who sees one’s nature is a buddha. A buddha’s body is intrinsically pure and unpolluted. Everything a buddha says is a direct expression of the buddha’s mind. Being fundamentally empty, a buddha has no use for words, let alone the Twelvefold Canon.

The Way is inherently perfect. It doesn’t require perfecting or proving. The Way is subtle, formless and nameless. It is like when you drink water: you know how hot or cold it is, but you can’t describe it precisely to others. Only a buddha knows, all men and gods alike are unaware. Mortals are ignorant, that’s why they cling to forms. As long as they remain attached to appearances, they don’t realize that the nature of their mind is empty. By clinging to the appearance of things, they lose the Way.

Once you realize that everything comes from the mind, you won’t remain attached. As long as you are still attached, you haven’t truly realized. Once you see your own nature, the entire Twelvefold Canon becomes merely prose. Its thousands of sutras and shastras are only fingers pointing to a clear mind. Once you attain realization in midsentence, what good are the rest of the doctrines?

The ultimate Truth is beyond language. Doctrines are just words, not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are illusions, not different from the things you see in your dreams at night. Even if you see palaces, carriages, forests, lakes, pavilions in your dream, don’t get carried away. Never conceive any delight for such things – they only lead to rebirth. Keep this in mind when you approach death. Don’t cling to appearances, then you’ll be able to break through all barriers. A moment’s hesitation will put you under the spell of devils.

Your dharma body is empty and impervious. However, you’re unaware of it because of delusions. Therefore, you suffer karma in vain for countless kalpas. Wherever you find delight, you find bondage. Once you awaken to your primordial mind and original body, you are no longer bound by attachments.

If you give up the transcendent for the mundane, in any of its myriad forms, you are a mortal. A buddha finds freedom in both the transcendent and the mundane; no karma can hinder a buddha. No matter what kind of karma shows up, a buddha transforms it. Heaven or Hell has no difference to a buddha, whose enlightened mind penetrates everything, inside and out. While the obscured mind of a mortal is cloudy and dim.

If you can’t see clearly, don’t do anything. Once you act, you wander through birth and death, having no refuge. Poverty and hardship are created by false thinking. If you can see your own mind and act without acting, you will then see things from a buddha’s perspective.

As a beginner on the Path, you may find it difficult to focus your mind. If you see all sorts of strange scenes in your dreams, just remember that they all come from your own mind and nowhere else. If one day, as in a dream you see a light brighter than the sun, your remaining attachments will suddenly come to an end, and the nature of reality will reveal itself. Such an occurrence serves as the basis for enlightenment. But this is something only you know. You can’t explain it to others.

Or while you’re walking, standing, sitting, or lying in somewhere quiet, you may see a light – it’s the light of your own nature. No matter how bright or how dim it is, neither tell others about it, nor focus on it.

Or while you’re walking, standing, sitting or lying in the darkness of night, everything around appears as though in daylight, don’t be startled. It’s your own mind about to reveal itself.

Or while you’re dreaming at night, you see the moon and stars in all their clarity – it means the working of your mind are about to end. Don’t tell others. Or maybe your dreams aren’t clear, as if you’re walking in the dark – it’s because your mind is still obscured by worries and attachments. This too is something only you know.

If you see the nature of your mind, you don’t need to read sutras or invoke the names of buddhas. Erudition and knowledge are not only useless but also cloud your awareness. Doctrines are only fingers pointing to the mind. Once you see your mind, why pay attention to the fingers?

To go from mortal to buddha, you have to put an end to karma, focus on nurturing pure awareness, meanwhile accept whatever life brings. If you get angry, you turn your nature against the Way. Buddhas move freely through birth and death, appearing and disappearing at will. Karmas or devils can’t do anything to them.

Once mortals see their mind, all attachment ends. Your mind doesn’t go on hiding, but you can only find it when you are mindful. It is right here right now. If you really want to see it, don’t hold on to anything. Just put an end to karma and nurture your awareness. All remaining attachment will cease to exist. Realization comes naturally. You don’t have to struggle or strive.

Fanatics are always striving. The harder they try, the farther they stray away from the Buddha’s teaching. All day long they invoke buddhas and read sutras, while remaining blind to their own divine nature. They don’t get to escape the Wheel this way.

A buddha is free and idle. A buddha doesn’t run after fortune or fame. What good are those things in the end? Unenlightened people think acquiring knowledge is practicing the Dharma, but they are blaspheming the Dharma. All buddhas of the past and future only talk about seeing the nature of mind. All practices are provisional. Unless you see your own nature, otherwise you are a liar claiming you have attained enlightenment.

Ananda was the most knowledgeable among Shakyamuni’s ten greatest disciples, but he didn’t know the Buddha. All he did was study and memorize. Arhats don’t know the Buddha either. They are just busy with so many practices that they become trapped by cause and effect. Such is a mortal’s karma: no freedom from birth and death.

Heaven and Hell are right before your eyes. Fools don’t believe it and fall straight into a hell of endless darkness without even knowing it. What keeps them from believing is the heaviness of karma. They’re like the blind who don’t believe there’s such a thing as light. In ignorance they can’t either live or die. Despite their sufferings, they say they’re as happy as gods. All mortals are likewise ignorant, including those who think themselves wellborn. Due to the heaviness of their karma, such fools can neither believe nor can they get freed.

Even if you don’t shave your head, you are a buddha as long as you realize that your mind is the buddha. People who shave their head but never see their nature are merely fanatics.

Another question – if married laymen don’t give up sex, can they still become buddhas? Once you see your nature, sex is insignificant. It ends along with your delight in it. Even if some habit remains, it doesn’t matter anymore, since your nature is essentially empty. Despite dwelling in a material life of four elements, your nature is fundamentally pure. It cannot be corrupted. Your real body has no sensation, no hunger or thirst, no warmth or cold, no ill or sickness, no love or attachment, no pleasure or pain, no good or bad, no lack or excess, no weakness or strength – there is simply nothing. It’s only because you cling to this material body that things appear.

Once you stop clinging, just let things be, then you are free even of birth and death. You’ll transform everything. You’ll have unobstructed spiritual powers. You’ll be at peace wherever you are. If you doubt this, you can never see through anything. You’re better off doing nothing. Once you act, you can’t avoid the cycle of birth and death. But once you see the nature of your mind, you’re a buddha even if you work as a butcher.

But butchers create karma by slaughtering animals. How can they be buddhas? Once you see your nature, karma has no hold on you. It’s only because people never see their own nature throughout beginningless and endless kalpas, that they end up in hell. As long as you don’t see your own nature, you keep repeating the cycles of birth and death. Once you realize your original face, you stop creating karma, and thus you’re freed from the cycle. If you don’t see your nature, invoking the names of buddhas won’t release you from your karma, whether you’re a butcher or not. Once you realize your true nature, all doubts vanish. Even a butcher’s karma has no effect on an enlightened person.

Before me, the twenty-seven patriarchs in India only transmitted the imprint of the mind. The only reason I’ve come to China is to transmit the instantaneous teaching of the Mahayana – that this mind is the buddha. I don’t talk about precepts, devotions, ascetic practices such as immersing yourself in water or fire, treading a wheel of knives, eating one meal a day, or never lying down. Those are provisional teachings. Once you recognize the inconceivable nature of your mind, yours is the mind of all buddhas. All buddhas of the past and future only talk about transmitting this mind. They teach nothing else. As long as he gets this point, even an illiterate is a buddha.

Buddha is your real body, your original mind, which has no form, no character, no cause, no effect, no tendons, no bones. It is just like space. You can’t grasp it. It is not the mind of materialist or nihilist. No mortal or deluded being can fathom it. Only buddhas know it.

But this mind isn’t somewhere outside the material body of four elements. We can’t move without this mind. Without this mind the body has no awareness by itself. Like a grass or a stone, the body has no consciousness without this mind. So how does it move? It is the mind that moves.

Perception and conception, language and movement – they are all functions of the mind. Even so, the mind neither moves nor functions, because essentially its functioning is emptiness and emptiness is essentially motionless.

Therefore, the sutras tell us to move without moving, to travel without traveling, to see without seeing, to laugh without laughing, to hear without hearing, to know without knowing, to be happy without being happy, to walk without walking, to stop without stopping. The sutras say, “Stop talking and thinking. Seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing are essentially empty.” Your anger, delight, pain or itch are as empty as that of a wooden puppet – you can search all over, but you won’t find anything.

The sutras also say, “Bad deeds result in hardships, good deeds bring about blessings; resentful people go to hell, joyful people go to heaven. But if you know that the nature of anger and joy is both empty, and you don’t hold on to any, you free yourself from karma.” However, if you don’t see your own nature, quoting sutras is no help. I could go on, but let’s end it here.