‘Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?’

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 5; Blue Cliff Record, Case 20

Why did Bodhidharma came from the West? Isn’t the question really ‘Why do we practice’? Why do we come from the West? Even dead Norwegian Blue parrots know that answer: they are pining for the fjords.

Our first impulse when we come to the practice, naturally, is to save ourselves. As a teacher, it is deeply moving and satisfying to hear from people how this practice has helped them, and even saved their own lives. With further practice, another motivation arises: the Bodhisattva spirit to save others. In Buddhist philosophy Bodhicitta is defined as ‘a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings…’. It is the practice of helping.

But as we walk further, as Han Shan says in his Cold Mountain poems, we may come to forget the path by which we came. We practice because in our hearts we know there is no other choice. We come from the West because of some deep yearning, some pining. And it may not even make any sense. We come from the West because we are pining for the fjords.

Lots of years ago, embedded in sesshin in Los Angeles and doing walking meditation through the garden, I remember vowing that I would fully realize the Buddha Way, no matter what. To be honest, I had little notion of what that meant. But recently leafing through the book of a long-departed teacher from Los Angeles, I felt again the yearning that I had experienced decades ago. I was pining for the fjords.

The fjords are deep and clear, clean and vast. They allow salmon and orcas to swim through with ease. Brown bears prowl the shoreline and bald eagles fly effortlessly overhead. Fisherman may pass by. Even dead parrots visit. I guess we are all pining for the fjords.

The Monty Python parrot that ceased to be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vuW6tQ0218