Why Did the Bodhidharma Go To China?
This is a classic Zen koan—a question that eludes simple, linear answers, frustrating the mind so that it eventually stops thinking and starts experiencing directly and clearly. To even understand what the question means requires a little background.
The Bodhidharma is the legendary figure who first brought Buddhism from India, where it originated, to China, where it found a welcome home due to the background of Taoism there. Since the Bodhidharma was known as an awakened one or Buddha, when we ask why he did something, we are in essence asking what the mind of an enlightened person is like.
There are many mystifying answers to this question handed down to us by Zen masters. One answer that is relatively approachable is this:
Look at the cypress tree in your back yard.
When you see with the eyes of a Buddha, with the mind of a Buddha, you really see. You don’t just see the tree and dismiss it thinking, “Oh, I know what that is. It’s a cypress tree,” as thought that were the beginning and end of the matter. You see deeply.
You may remember those 3D picture that were popular some years ago. To get the 3D effect, you had to relax your eyes, and focus your vision a few inches behind the picture. Then, all of a sudden, the depth of the picture suddenly emerges, perhaps unstably at first until you really get the hang of it.
To see with the eyes of a Buddha, with the mind and heart of a Buddha, take a look at a tree. Let go of the thinking. Let go of any words that come up. See the tree in such a way that you see a process, not a static thing. The image before you is merely a cross section in time of that life process. See the tree in such a way that you also notice that the presence of the tree implies everything else in the universe. If you remove the rain from the tree, the sunshine and soil, the seed that is the inheritance of its predecessors, the tree is no longer there. Look deeply into the tree and see the miracle of life that it truly is.
Maybe then you will know why the Bodhidharma went to China.