The Second Patriarch of Chinese Zen

The text on the painting reads: Hui-K’o, the great general, (retired), was troubled in his search for the way. Many times he beseeched Bodhidharma to teach him and to pacify his mind. Always, Bodhidharma refused. To show his utter sincerity, Hui-K’o cut off his own left hand.

“What do you seek?”, asked Bodhidharma.

“Peace of mind”, replied Hui-K’o.

“Show me this mind of yours”, said Bodhidharma, “and I will pacify it”.

“But when I seek my mind, I cannot find it”, was the reply.

“THERE!” , said Bodhidharma, “I have pacified your mind!”

“YES!”, said Hui-K’o, and laughed.

The Transmission of Light” tells the story of Hui-k’o as going to Shaolin monastery where Bodhidharma resided and standing outside in a SNOWSTORM all night because he was refused admission. At dawn Bodhidharma supposedly said to him, “How can you hope for true realization, with little virtue, little wisdom, a shallow heart, and an arrogant mind?” Hui-k’o heard this as a merciful admonition, causing him to weep and building his determination, to demonstrate which he cut off his left arm with a sword.

Hui-k’o was admitted and spent eight years with Bodhidharma. “Mystic Devices in the Room” cites that one day Hui-k’o climbed Few Houses Peak with Bodhidharma and during that climb his teacher said something that triggered the full realization of his true essence.

It is said when Bodhidharma was near death he called his four chief disciples and asked them to state their original insights. After hearing the first speaker, Bodhidharma told him that he was like Bodhidharma’s skin; to the second, that SHE was like his flesh; to the third, that he was like his bone. To Hui K’o, who spoke last, Bodhidharma said that he was like his marrow, thus conferring the Patriarch’s robe and bowl upon him.

Hui-k’o eventually passed on the bowl and robe to his successor, the Third Patriarch, Seng-ts’an, signifying the Transmission of the Dharma. Hui-k’o, who had received the seal of approval from Bodhidharma himself sometime after the above arm severing episode, then went everywhere drinking and carousing around like a wildman and partaking in the offerings of the brothel districts. When people asked how he could do such a thing, being a Patriarch of the Zen school and all, he would respond with: “What business is it of yours?” (source) In 593 Hui-K’o was executed for so-called “heretical teaching” by a misinformed imperial official, the second in the lineage of Sakyamuni to be executed (the first being the twenty-fourth Indian Patriarch, the Venerable Aryasimha whose head was cut off by King Dammira).


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