This is an article series on how ancient sages, prophets, mystics and saints practiced otherworldly wisdom and the miraculous. The purpose of this series is to inspire and empower. This is article #7 in the series. Earlier articles in the series can be found here: Ancient Otherworldly Wisdom.
Like any other spiritual great awakening turned “Religion”, modern “Buddhism” is a pale shadow of its former self. Some self-proclaimed Buddhists today, reject the miraculous under the guise of humility. They’ll call it a “distraction” or deny it altogether. “Miracles should be understood as more of an allegory in Buddhism, not a tangible reality” I once heard a well-known teacher and bestselling author say. “Claims of the supernatural are later additions to Buddhism and not part of the actual Tradition” I have read on a mainstream Buddhist website.
While the miraculous is not the only point or perhaps even the main point of spiritual practice and the Ego can get distracted by gimmicks and “having powers”, it’s not good to dumb down spiritual traditions to an entirely materialistic-atheistic level. Denying the miraculous = a dumbing down. I don’t disagree with the statement that “birds whistling in the trees are the true miracle”, but there is much more going on than that. I have directly witnessed and experienced the miraculous in my own life many times.
Bodhidharma is the name of the Buddhist monk and a true Mystic. He lived during the 5th Century and is said to be the founder of the extreme physical training of Shaolin Kungfu, as well as the first teacher of Zen Buddhism.
According to ancient accounts, Bodhidharma spent nine years of his life in a cave, facing a wall. After nine years, an imprint of his shadow was supernaturally left on the cave rocks. Today, the cave is a tourist destination in China, listed as a “must see” in Tripadvisor. The shadow imprint has been cut out and put into a glass casing. Isn’t it funny how, instead of doing the practice recommended by the teacher, we instead build shrines? Bodhidharma said “Do the Meditation of empty wall gazing”. He did not say “Build a shrine where I did wall gazing and go visit it as a tourist”. Mystics don’t ask to be worshiped, they have asked people to practice.
The point of wall gazing? Without arousal of the senses and no input for the mind, he awoke and experienced consciousness itself as reality. Rather than get bored due to the lack of external stimuli or entertainment, he probably saw more deeply into the Omniverse than most humans ever will.
9 years might seem like an excessively long time, but not if one considers the legends that say that he lived for 200 years. “Official sources” say, without evidence, that he lived 57 years. In reality, nobody knows how long he lived and it’s difficult to determine when exactly he died because he was reported to have been seen several times after his supposed death.
This is what he said about wall-gazing:
Those who turn from delusion back to reality, who meditate on walls, the absence of self and other, the oneness of mortal and sage, and who remain unmoved even by scriptures are in complete and unspoken agreement with reason.
It is written that he created Shaolin Training because he was bothered at the poor physical shape of monks. In addition to Meditation, he therefore taught them Martial Arts. He told them that their ability to mentally focus and practice would increase if they became physically disciplined.
I agree and think that’s a good idea. Only sitting, meditating all day should be reserved for the aging (Bodhidharmas practiced wall-gazing when he was old). A human being is not only spirit and mind but also body. The body is the outermost extension of spirit. Because you are a physical incarnation, you ought to be physically active. Lack of physical activity is one of the causes of an unsettled mind. Accumulated negative energies are stored in the muscles and physical activity releases them (this is my teaching, not sure what Bodhidharma would say to that).
Tales of the miraculous are numerous. Here’s one:
Three years after Bodhidharma’s death he was seen walking while holding a shoe. He was seen by Ambassador Songyun of northern Wei, in the Pamir Mountains. He asked where he was going and replied: “I am going home”. When asked why he is holding a shoe, he answered “You will know when you reach the Shaolin Monastery. Do not mention that you saw me or you will meet with disaster”. Upon arrival at the Palace, Songyun told the Emperor that he had met Bodhidharma. The Emperor said that Bodhidharma was already dead and buried and had Songyun arrested for lying. The monks at the Shaolin Monastery informed them that Bodhidharma was dead and had been buried in a hill behind the Temple. The grave was then exhumed and was found to contain a single shoe.
The abilities of Shaolin Monks also border on the miraculous, but they are the result of lifelong training more than they are results of the supernatural. Some Shaolin fighters are able to run up walls, stand on their heads, generate high body temperature while sitting in the cold, demonstrate extreme pain-threshholds and show incredible agility. There are even Videos online of some making their bodies so light that they can run some distance on water. Of course, what much of modern thought is missing is that all of these abilities would come more easily if spiritual consciousness were added to the physical exercise. It’s fairly ignorant to practice all these eastern martial arts without developing spiritual consciousness. Physical and Spiritual Training go together.
Once, Bodhidharma is said to have gathered his disciples, before leaving them, to test them:
Bodhidharma asked, “Can each of you say something to demonstrate your understanding?”
Dao Fu stepped forward and said, “It is not bound by words and phrases, nor is it separate from words and phrases. This is the function of the Tao.”
Bodhidharma: “You have attained my skin.”
The nun Zong Chi stepped up and said, “It is like a glorious glimpse of the realm of Akshobhya Buddha. Seen once, it need not be seen again.”
Bodhidharma; “You have attained my flesh.”
Dao Yu said, “The four elements are all empty. The five skandhas are without actual existence. Not a single dharma can be grasped.”
Bodhidharma: “You have attained my bones.”
Finally, Huike came forth, bowed deeply in silence and stood up straight.
Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my marrow.”
So let’s go spend the day staring at a wall, shall we? Does that seem like a waste of your precious time? If so, you underestimate the wholesome power of stillness. The longest I’ve sat in front of a wall was 9 hours. I recall the week after as one of the most vivid and lively weeks of my life. I saw and heard beautiful things. Heaviness, confusion and tiredness lifted and I felt light. And that’s just from 9 hours. I can only imagine what abilities Bodhidharma had after 9 years. If only people knew that most of their problems would solve themselves if only they could sit in silence a little. Could you? For even just 15 minutes?