Tonight, we screened the 1989 film Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? at the Zen Center. The movie is about an elderly Zen master, an orphaned boy, and a young monk living in a remote mountain monastery in Korea. The master teaches his two students all he knows about Zen, and his students must face and overcome their delusions and guilt. Beautifully photographed and lyrical, the movie is a meditation on Zen life and death.
The Great Master Xideng (d. 898) addressed the assembly, saying, “A person is up a tree over a thousand-foot cliff. He hangs on a branch by his teeth; his feet don’t touch the ground; his hands can’t reach a branch. All of a sudden, a person beneath the tree asks him, ‘What is the intention of Bodhidharma's coming from the west?’ At that time, if he opens his mouth to answer him, he forfeits his grip and loses his life; if he doesn’t answer him, he flunks his question. Tell me, what should he do?”
At that time, the senior monk Hutou Zhao came forth from the assembly and said, “I’m not asking about when he’s up the tree; please tell us, Reverend, how about when he’s not yet up the tree?”
The master gave a great laugh, “Ha ha.”