Bodhidharma's Eyebrow

September 2, 2016

A monk asked Yunmen, “What is particle-by-particle samadhi?

Yunmen said, “Food in the bowl, water in the bucket.”

     ~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 50


One particle, and the whole universe is revealed. One stroke, and all the world is created. This is the truth of Zen, but it does not appear out of context, in a world away. It appears in this very world, being created anew and fresh each instant, surprising us moment by moment.


Recently, an artist friend was hosting with others a painting seminar. He had spent three decades in Japan studying sumi-e (trans: black-ink drawing), the art of painting with a few, spare strokes of ink. The class was to paint images of Bodhidharma, but first the master was to give a demonstration. The sumi-e teacher stood at his easel, ready to paint the visage of the founder of the Zen school in a couple of bold strokes. But many of the people in the crowded room could not see, so someone stepped up to shift the angle of the easel.


With that, the easel toppled on top of the teacher, who had been poised to paint with brush in hand, making a mark across the paper. Incorporating that ‘mistake’ into his painting, the black-ink mark turned into the left eyebrow of an amazingly beautiful and sad Bodhidharma. That one stroke, which started out as a surprise, became an inspiration. That 

 particle became the world.

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