Cultivating a peaceful mind: Bodhidharma & the Chinese Emperor

Rishi Dave
4 min readJul 26, 2022

Few people in the history of the world have truly understood the mind. An untrained and overactive mind causes suffering. Mastering the mind then, is key to overcoming suffering.

The problem is that we don’t even know what the mind is, so how can we master it?

In this short teaching, I will share with you exactly what the mind is the story of how the Bodhidharma, the Indian monk who founded zen buddhism helped the Chinese emperor to conquer his own mind.

Whatsoever you can think is mind. All your likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, religions and philosophies are in the mind. Yoga is a state of no mind. All that is knowable will be part of the mind. Yoga is a state of no mind. The cessation of mind. Yoga is a jump into the unknowable.

We usually think that the mind is something substantial inside the head. Patanjali doesn’t agree. Nobody who has known the insides of the mind would agree.

The mind, they say, is not something substantial inside the head, but rather, just an activity.

You walk, and I say you are walking. What is walking? If you sit down, where is the walking? Walking is nothing substantial, it is an activity. While you are sitting, nobody can ask, where have you put your walking? It is an activity. The mind is also an activity.

The story of Bodhidharma & the Chinese Emperor illustrates this perfectly. Bodhidharma was an Indian monk who took meditation, or Dhyana to china, then Japan. So the word Dhyan, when it went to china became Chaan and when it reached Japan it became Zen.

Bodhidharma went to China, and the chinese emperor came to see him,

And said my mind is very uneasy, very disturbed. You are a great sage, and I have been waiting for you. To ask for your help. Tell me, what should I do? What shall I do to put my mind at peace?

Bodhidharma said you don’t do anything. The first thing you do, is you bring your mind to me. The Emperor could not follow, he said what do you mean?

He said come in the morning at 4am when nobody is there. Come alone and see me. And make sure that you bring your mind with you, don’t forget it.

The emperor couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t sleep the whole night. What does he mean come with your mind? How else will I go? He thought Bodhidharma is crazy & wanted to cancel the meeting. But he was so enchanting, so charismatic the emperor couldn’t resist meeting him.

As if being pulled by a magnet, the emperor jumped out of bed at 4am and said I MUST go. This man may have something. His eyes say that he has something. Looks a little crazy, but he must know something.

Bodhidharma, as soon as he sees him asks, Emperor! You have come. Have you brought your mind with you, or did you forget it?

The emperor is furious. What do you mean? I am here, means my mind is also here! It’s not something that I can forget somewhere. It is within me!

Bodhidharma said OK. So the first thing is decided, that the mind is within you. The emperor agrees.

Bodhidharma said ok, now close your eyes and find out where it is. Where is it located?

And if you can find out where it is. Immediately indicate it to me — and I will put it at peace.

So the emperor closed his eyes. Tried and tried. Looked and looked, for the mind. The more he looked, the more he became aware that there is no mind. The mind is an activity. It’s not something that you can pinpoint.

But the moment he realized that it is not something concrete, the ridiculousness of his quest became apparent to him! That if it is not something, nothing can be done about it.

If it is an activity, don’t do the activity — that is all. If it is like walking, don’t walk.

He opened his eyes, and bowed down to Bodhidharma. And said — I see what you were trying to teach me all along. There is no mind.

Bodhidharma said — then I have put it at peace. Hahaha.

The next time you are feeling uneasy. Simply look withiin, at WHERE that uneasiness is. The very look, is anti-mind. That LOOK, is not a thinking. If you look intensely, your whole energy will become a looking, and not a thinking.

Looking, is witnessing. When the whole energy becomes looking, becomes witnessing, there is no more thinking. There is no more mind. You are in a state of no mind. You are, in yoga.

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