The quotation above is a translation of the last two lines of the gatha of Dharma transmission by Punyamitra, the 26th Indian Buddhist Patriarch, given to his successor Punyatara, the 27th Patriarch, in a succession of patriarchs following the death of Shakyamuni (Gautama Buddha), the ‘enlightened one’.
The 27th Patriarch likewise, upon his imminent release, transmitted the Dharma to his successor, the 28th Indian Patriarch, Bodhidharma who ultimately left India around 500 CE to introduce the Dharma to China, as Chan Buddhism (later, Zen, in Japan). He thus became the first Buddhist patriarch of that country, and another succession of Patriarchs began there.
The present account is about the Indian Patriarchs.
I have as my main reference the Records of the Transmission of the Lamp, the first of its 30 volumes.
As I read through the book, I recorded the four-line poems purportedly enunciated shortly before the death of Shakyamuni and the succeeding Patriarchs. Before each poem, or gatha, is a record of conversation between the Patriarch and others which, many times, included other poems.
My recording of the final gathas was an attempt to get at the essence of what the Patriarchs were ‘transmitting’, both to their successors and the world.
Here are a few more quotes to take us toward an understanding of what was, and continues to be, transmitted by Buddhist teachers.
Everyone must awaken the Dharma to themselves
Having awoken to it, nothing is not Dharma
– Second Patriarch
The Heart is like the realm of empty space
– Seventh Patriarch
As it is said to one who seeks—
That since there is nothing to acquire in the Dharma
Why cherish certainties one way or another?
– Nineteenth Patriarch
The heart flows with the cycles of the ten-thousand things
These cycles are truly mysterious
Follow the flow and know,
The True Nature is without joy or sorrow
– Twenty-second Patriarch
When speaking truly about knowing-awareness
The Knowing-awareness is all Heart
Since it is heart that is Knowing-awareness,
Knowing-awareness is the present moment
– Twenty-fourth Patriarch
The sage talks of knowing awareness
In the world it is neither right nor wrong
As I realize the True Nature now
It is neither a path nor a principle
– Twenty-fifth Patriarch
In Heart-ground are all seeds
Due to phenomena principle also arises
Fruit ripened is Bodhi completed
The flower opens and worlds arise
– Twenty-seventh Patriarch
Two excerpts from the extensive text which introduces the biographies and utterances of the Patriarchs:
“Emptiness may be better understood as Relatedness… Buddhism is based on a spiritual ‘practice of relativity’ applicable in any life situation. Quite simply the practice functions as if everything were related to everything else.”
“… if everything is related to everything else, then there cannot exist a self-subsisting essence of any kind that could be called an independent, nuclear, permanent Self.”
The ending passage of the introductory remarks:
“The future would see the Chan seed transplanted to Korea and Japan, to take root and flourish there… (These 30 volumes record) the spiritual activity of a thousand sages, the life artery of the heroic Patriarchs. Some seven hundred years of practice later and still going strong, Chan became, through the Japanese scholar Daisetz T. Suzuki, a movement known world-wide as ‘Zen’. Even those with a limited interest in the Zen of our times are often familiar with Song Dynasty Chan’s great verse, the first mature proclamation of its message to the world, which appeared in 1108 and reads:
A special transmission outside the teachings
Not standing on the written word
Pointing directly to the human heart
See into its nature and become Buddha