whereisbuddha1

IN MY OFFICE THERE IS A SCROLL with Japanese calligraphy and a painting of Zen master Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma is a fat, grumpy-looking man with bushy eyebrows. He looks as if he has indigestion.  The calligraphy reads, “Pointing directly at your own heart, you find Buddha. “

Bodhidharma brought Zen Buddhism from India to China. He was well known for being fierce and uncompromising.  There is a story about how he kept nodding off during meditation, so he cut off his eyelids. When he threw them on the ground, they turned into a tea plant, and then he realized he could simply drink the tea to stay awake! He was uncompromising in that he wanted to know what was true, and he wasn’t going to take anybody else’s word for it. His big discovery was that by looking directly into our own heart, we find the awakened Buddha, the completely unclouded experience of how things really are.

Japanese Bodhidharma by Kaiseiki, early 20th century, courtesy of H. Neill McFarland.
Japanese Bodhidharma by Kaiseiki, early 20th century, courtesy of H. Neill McFarland.

In all kinds of situations, we can find out what is true simply by studying ourselves in every nook and cranny, in every black hole and bright spot, whether it’s murky, creepy, grisly, splendid, spooky, frightening, joyful, inspiring, peaceful, or wrathful.  We can just look at the whole thing. There’s a lot of encouragement to do this, and meditation gives us the method. When I first encountered Buddhism, I was extremely relieved that there were not only teachings, but also a technique I could use to explore and test these teachings. I was told from day one that, just like Bodhidharma, l had to find out for myself what was true.

However, when we sit down to meditate and take an honest look at our minds, there is a tendency for it to become a rather morbid and depressing project. We can lose all sense of humor and sit with the grim determination to get to the bottom of this stinking mess. After a while, when people have been practicing that way, they begin to feel so much guilt and distress that they just break down, and they might say to someone they trust, “Where’s the joy in all this?”

So, along with clear seeing, there’s another important element, and that’s kindness. It seems that, without clarity and honesty, we don’t progress. We just stay stuck in the same vicious cycle. But honesty without kindness makes us feel grim and mean, and pretty soon we start looking like we’re sucking on sour lemons. We become so caught up in introspection that we lose any contentment or gratitude we might have had. The sense of being irritated by ourselves and our lives and other people’s idiosyncrasies becomes overwhelming. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on kindness.

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