When Bodhidharma went to China, he met with the Emperor. The meeting is usually recounted in this way:

The Emperor said to Bodhidharma 'I have built hundreds of temples, what is my merit? Bodhidharma answered, 'no merit'. The Emperor  then asked, 'What is the highest truth?' Bodhidharma replied 'Unfathomable emptiness'. The emperor then asked, 'Who are you?' Bodhidharma replied, 'I don't know'.

So in its usual rendering, the Emperor is portrayed as a self satisfied bumbler, being put right by Bodhidharma, fearlessly speaking truth to power.

But, in classical Chinese it is impossible to say if a sentence is a question or a statement. So we can look at this exchange differently.

The words 'what' and 'who' are synonymous with suchness, emptiness. So the Emperor is simply living his life as a Buddhist Emperor, acknowledging that his only merit is suchness. And because this merit extends everywhere, it is 'no merit'.

And the Emperor's final statement is not 'who are you?' but rather You are Who, that is: you are a person of suchness. And Bodhidharma's response is suchness isn't our personal possession.

Bodhidharma then left, going to Shaolin temple and sat facing the wall for 9 years.

What wall was he facing?

Whose eyes are seeing that wall?

Who are you?


From the perspective of the self, the body and the world are within the mind. In a spiritual practice concerned with gain, even though we try to lever ourself into a different  position, our head always gets stuck.

From the perspective of Buddhism, the mind is within the body. The body is within vast space. But if we do not make this vast space real, it is "Buddhism", and we're just back to the mind again.

When we closely examine our experience Now, isn't that experience like space? Likewise the body; balanced in space, like a windchime. When we experience our breath Now isn't it the dynamic interplay of space 'outside' and space 'inside'? In all these cases, melding, intermingling. They are not the same, and not separate. When we sit down to practice, the space which we occupy doesn't disappear. When we leave, the space does not reappear. We carry it with us. And it us.


Space is both the trope and reality of Buddhism. It makes possible freedom, expression, experience and unfolding.

When we start to practice, we can't find space anywhere. Our mind feels Ike a mass of disgruntled demons, packed into a cellar. One part moves, and the rest move, in reaction.

We might imagine space in Newtonian terms, or as an absence, but that's not what's meant.

It is both figurative and real. It is not absence. Even though there are many of us in this room, it is full of space: above our head, in front of our heart, behind us. The space holds us.

This space holds all things. But not as something there before being. If there was no space, there would be no life. If there was no life, then there would be no space. If all the fish go, the ocean vanishes. If all the birds go, the sky collapses.


In traditional Buddhist terminology, there are three aspects to meditation. The first is stilling the mind. The second is samadhi (balance/ concentration), and the third is vipassana (insight); they are often thought of as sequential.

In our practice, they're not sequential; they arise together.

You can't still the mind with the mind. You can only still the mind by locating it within the body. This body, the body of awareness. And this body has no boundaries. It is one piece. It is like space.

Yet even so, we need to have actual experience that when we sit, body, mind and all beings are this one piece samadhi. It's not enough just to believe it. When we sit together, we actually experience this, and this felt experience can gradually seep out to all existence, like a hand moving through water, infinitely.

And this One Piece is Zenki, full dynamic functioning. It isn't static in any way. It is vibrantly alive, and all its facets are free to express and experience themselves, through this sitting. And this is insight.


Book Of Serenity, Case 52

The case: Master Sozan asked Master Toku, "The Buddha's true body is just like space. Manifesting its form according to circumstances, it is like the moon in water. How do you understand it?"

Toku said, "It's like a donkey looking down a well (seeing his own reflection)"

Sozan said, "You aren't quite there"

Toku said, "Well, how do you understand it?"

Sozan said, "It's like the well looking up at the donkey"

To have any understanding of these stories, two things are essential. First, we need to take the image seriously, not see it as code, or immediately try to convert it into something else. The image is the whole picture. Second, we need to be keenly aware of our own tendency towards dualism. So, in this first image, we might think there are three things: the moon, the moonlight and the water. But there's only two, our mind wants to insert a moon when none is there. Likewise, in all the images concerning mirrors - a way of talking about differentiation within wholeness- we want to insert the owner of the reflection.

The image of the moon in water is a very old one. It's originally a way of describing the relationship between the mind and awareness/insight. When the mind is still, we can see things as they are. But it keeps being creatively reinterpreted, so here Sozan is using it as a way to describe the complete inter penetration of wholeness/Buddha and differentiation/myriad things.

Toku takes an image which is very traditional and beautiful, and brings it down to earth. The donkey - this practitioner - is looking down the well of all things, right to the bottom, and sees that he is not separate from anything.

But there is a risk: if we just think from this perspective, our minds can insinuate the self back into the picture, and then people can make absurd statements like "I am all existence", when really, the whole Universe is expressing itself through this donkey. This donkey. This donkey -

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