Bodhidharma: The Twofold Entrance

The Long Scroll of the Treatise on the Twofold Entrance and Four Practices (Ta-mo lun) contains seven texts purporting to contain the teachings of the first Ch’an patriarch. The Long Scroll was compiled by T’an-lin, an eminent scholar and translator who was likely a pupil of the second patriarch, Hui-k’o.

Texts one and two of the Long Scroll of the Treatise on the Twofold Entrance and Four Practices (Ta-mo lun)


The Dharma Master was a South Indian of the Western Region. He was the third son of a great Indian king. His divine insight was clear; whatever he heard, he understood. His ambition lay in the Mahayana path, so he put aside his white layman’s robe for the black robe of a monk, wishing to cultivate the seeds of holiness. He joined the sagely lineage and attained fruition. His dark mind was empty and quiescent. He comprehended the events of the world. He understood both Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachings. His virtue surpassed that of the leaders of the age.

Lamenting the decline of the true teaching in far-away lands, he subsequently crossed distant mountains and seas, traveling about propagating the teaching in Han and Wei. Of scholars who had extinguished the mind, there were none who did not come to have faith in him; but those who clung to characteristics and held to views spoke ill of him. At the time his only disciples were Tao-yu and Hui-k’o. These two monks, though born later, showed a superior aspiration for the lofty and distant. Fortunately they met the Dharma Master and served him for several years. They reverently asked him to instruct them; they readily perceived the master’s intention. The Dharma Master was moved by their pure sincerity and instructed them in the true path: the method of quieting the mind; the method of practice; the method of being in accord with things; the method of using devices (upaya). Make no mistake about it: this is the quieting of the mind of the Mahayana Doctrine. The method of quieting the mind is wall-gazing (pi-kuan). The method of practice is the four practices. The method of being in accord with things is to guard against slander and ill will. The method of using devices is with detachment. This brief preface draws upon the meaning in the following text.

Translation by Broughton (pp. 8-9).

The author of this story or prefatory note is T’an-lin, a learned scholar partaking in the translation of several Sanskrit works. He is also mentioned in connection with Hui-k’o in the biography of the latter by Tao-hsuan. (Suzuki, 1949, p. 179)

*  *  *

Bodhidharma on the Twofold Entrance

There are many ways to enter the Way, but briefly speaking they are of two sorts only. The one is Entrance by the Dharma and the other Entrance by Practice.  By Entrance by the Dharma is meant the realization of the spirit of Buddhism by the aid of the scriptural teaching. We then come to have a deep faith in the true nature, which is the same in all sentient beings. The reason why it does not manifest itself is because it is covered up by external phenomena and false thoughts.

When a man, abandoning the false and embracing the true, practises the pi-kuan (wall-gazing) in singleness of thought, he finds that there is neither self nor other, that common people and the sages are of one essence, and he firmly holds on to this belief and never moves away from it. He will not then be a slave to the scriptures, for he is in silent communion with the Dharma itself, free from conceptual discrimination. He is serene and non-acting. This is called Entrance by the Dharma.

By Entrance by Practice is meant the four acts in which all other acts are included. What are the four? The first is the practice of requiting hatred; the second is the practice of being submissive to karma; the third is the practice of not craving anything; the fourth is the practice of being in accord with the Dharma.

What is the practice of requiting hatred? He who disciplines himself in the Dharma should think thus when he has to struggle with adverse conditions: During the innumerable past ages I have wandered through myriad existences, all the while giving myself to unimportant details of life at the expense of essentials, and thus creating infinite occasions for hatred, ill-will, and wrongdoing. Now, though I am without transgression, it is my past offences and evil karma ripening. Neither gods nor men have brought this upon me. I will submit myself willingly and patiently to all the ills that befall me, and I will never bemoan or complain. The Sutra teaches me not to worry over evils which may befall me. Why? Because when things are surveyed by a higher intelligence, the beginning of causation is grasped.

When this thought is awakened in a man he will be in accord with the Dharma because he makes the best use of hatred and turns it into an aid in his advance towards the Dharma. This is what is meant by requiting hatred.

The practice of being submissive to karma is to think thus: As sentient beings we are ruled not by ourselves but by karmaic conditioning; the pleasure and pain I suffer are also the result of conditioning. If I am rewarded with fortune, honour, etc., this is the fruit of a seed I have planted in the past. When the force of karma is exhausted, the result will disappear—what is the use of being joyful over it? Gain or loss, I will accept whatever karma brings; the Dharma itself knows neither gain nor loss. The wind of pleasure will not stir me, for I am silently in accord with the Dharma. This is what is meant by being submissive to karma.

The practice of not craving anything is to think thus: Men of the world, in eternal confusion, are attached everywhere to one thing or another. This is called craving. The wise however understand the truth and are not like the ignorant. Their minds abide serenely in the uncreated while the body moves about in accordance with the laws of causation. All things are empty and there is nothing worthy of attachment. Where there is good fortune ill fortune surely awaits. This triple world where we abide altogether too long is like a house on fire; all that has a body suffers, and nobody truly knows what peace is. Because the wise understand this truth, they are never attached to the impermanent; their thoughts are quieted, they never crave anything. Says the Sutra: Wherever there is a craving, there is pain; cease to crave and you are blessed. Thus we know that not to crave anything is indeed the way to the truth. This is what is meant by not craving anything.

The practice of being in accord with the Dharma is to think thus: The Way, which we call the Dharma, in its essence is pure, and this Dharma is the principle of emptiness in all that is manifested. In it there are no defilements and attachments, no self or other-than-self. Says the Sutra: In the Dharma there are no sentient beings because it is free from the impurity of being; in the Dharma there is no self because it is free from the impurity of selfhood. When the wise understand this truth and believe in it, their lives will be in accord with the Dharma.

As there is in the essence of the Dharma no desire to possess, the wise are ever ready to practise charity (dana) with their body, life, and property, without begrudging or regret. As they understand perfectly the emptiness of the threefold blessing (cakka—giver, gift recipient), they have no partiality or attachment. Only because of their will to cleanse all beings of their impurities do they come among them as of them, but they are not attached to form. Thus through their own practice they benefit others and glorify the truth of enlightenment. As with the perfection of charity, so with the other five perfections. The wise practise the six perfections in order to rid themselves of confused thoughts, and yet there is no consciousness on their part that they are engaged in any meritorious deeds. This is what is meant by being in accord with the Dharma.

Translation by D.T. Suzuki (1949, pp. 179-183) from The Transmission of the Lamp, XXX. “Since this translation from the Transmission of the Lamp [1935 – Ed.], two Tun-huang MSS. containing the text have come to light. The one is in the Masters and Disciples of the Lanka (Lengchia Shih-tzu Chi), already published, and the other still in MS., which however the present author intends to have reproduced in facsimile before long. They differ in minor points with the translation here given.” Suzuki went to the Peking Library in 1935; he located and published these priceless manuscripts, making them available to the human race, which had been deprived of them for a thousand years.

Dharma has three meanings: phenomenal things (dharma), the Principle (Dharma), and the doctrine of the masters regarding the nature of the Principle and how to realize it. This threefold ambiguity has created difficulties for translators, even though the manuscript is in Chinese.

More confusion is generated by the term, adharma, which are thought-things, or concepts. Both dharma and adharma are illusions that bind us.

Broughton, Jeffrey L. (1999). The Bodhidharma Anthology. University of California Press.

Jorgensen, John A. (1979). The Earliest Text of Ch’an Buddhism: The Long Scroll. The Australian National University (p. 239). (download)

Suzuki, D. T. (1949). Essays in Zen Buddhism (First Series). New York: Grove Press (pp. 179-183).

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