On the northern side of the Sōngshān mountain, just a couple of days walking from the capital, there is the Shaolin temple, exactly where it was at the times of Bodhidharma and exactly where Huìkê was going. Nobody knew much about Bodhidharma, some people said that he was older than 150 and that he was Persian, but most of the people agreed that his eyes were rather blue or anyway in a light colour; two diamonds – they said. Nobody ever confronted his gaze, for any kind of request, neither for the most important ones. Huìkê on the other hand, studied the Sutra texts since he was a child, he became one of the most respected masters in his region when he was only 16. He mastered the art of sticks like few others and in a village they used to say that he stopped two tigers that were about to fight, without even opening his eyes as, at the same time, he was meditating. But now, the journey was about to accomplish was completely different. The journey in itself had been easy for him; four days of walking and approximately two thousands steps, but he was physically trained and still very young. The temple was inhabited by a monk and an a dozen of devotes that looked after the temple, and from a distance of about a hundred steps, you could already feel the extreme silence that dominated the top, deep in the snow. Huìkê was afraid. Everybody is afraid, it doesn’t matter if you know every martial art and master the art of the sword, there will always be a moment in which the fear will scratch your perfect harmony. But he was even prepared to this. Without ever saying anything, he approached the first man that was walking in his direction and gave him a long parchment, with the names of thirty-three monks from the whole India and part of China with a formal request to be accepted as the apprentice of the twenty-eighth patriarch of the Indian Buddhism. Then, he sat down on the snow, waiting. He was aware that the wait could have been very long, and the fist time he saw the Bodhidharma going out from the temple to meditate, facing the wall, his heart started to beat rapidly, which is something that doesn’t happen very often to a monk. Yet he was a little man, dressed in grey, with long hair and a long beard, which framed his face. You could only see two, tiny blue diamonds, shining in all that greyness. He would slowly sit down and meditate, silently, every single day at the same time.
Huìkê armed himself with all the patience he had and started to recite the Sutra of Perfection and Wisdom, which contained most of the teaching in which he believed in and it was the demonstration of a wide knowledge, harmony and of his Buddhism. Days passed by and the snow wouldn’t stop to fall on the ground and on Huìkê who wasn’t still allowed to go in the temple. He knew he couldn’t make it and that he would freeze to death. He succeeded to save some energies through meditating, he could have starved for another couple of days and the snow provided enough water for his system but there was no solution for the cold.
He kept reciting insistently the six pāramitā, a hundred times before starting the nocturnal meditation that would substitute the sleep.
Dāna: generosity, willingness;
Śīla: virtuosity, morality, behaviour;
Ksanti: patience, tolerance, endurance, acceptance;
Vīrya: energy, diligence, stamina, concentration;
Dhyāna: concentration, contemplation;
The six perfections correspond to the six virtuous that are needed to achieve the path of Buddha. But now, Huìkê could only think of the freezing cold that was about to kill him. Some of the devoted, while passing by, looked worried but nobody dared to do something. The Bodhidharma looked like he didn’t even noticed his presence.
Everything happened casually. It was now a month from the first day of the year, the snow kept coming down slowly and Huìkê was now defenceless, on the ground, he could only move his lips and hours passed since the last time he opened his eyes. A white leaf, light and inconsistent fell on his forehead; it was the leaf of the Lotus flower. He was safe; the spring arrived to save him.
It was like in a single instant he understood everything and then, with a sense of calm and concentration that seemed impossible to find in that excruciating cold, he started to recite in his mind the Sutra of the Lotus.
“My mind is not pacified! Please, pacify my mind!” Suddenly screamed Huìkê, relieving from the silence he imposed to himself during all those days, he emptied his will on the Bodhidharma who was meditating in front of the wall. The echo filled the temple in a way that didn’t happen since years, maybe centuries. But the Bodhidharma didn’t even turn.
Then Huìkê stood up from the ground and with his last energies, opened his eyes wide and drew his katana on. With a spontaneous, harmonic, natural gesture, he incised his own arm, in front of the twenty-eighth patriarch of the Indian Buddhism. The limb fell on the snow with a dull sound, painting it with red in a couple of instants. But the Bodhidharma didn’t even turn.
“Bring me your mind and I will pacify it”. He answered slowly, with his old, hoarse voice.
Huìkê was reciting in his mind the Sutra of the Lotus, the blood was gushing, while his arm was laying on the snow. None of them gave a gaze to the poor arm. Both of them were travelling in a different dimension of the earthly one, in the worlds of the soul, through the words of the Sutra. Huìkê let himself get distracted and looked at his arm, for the last time. He thought he found the solution, but the answer put him on the ground again, on his knees, disappointed by himself. He was aware that everything was about to end.
“I searched for my mind and I didn’t find it”. He whispered with his last energies.
The Bodhidharma finally got close to him, with his eyes still closed, relaxed face, peaceful. He put his hand on the skin of Huìkê’s face and cracked a smile or something similar. Just before the young monk passed out for the pain and for the blood that was gushing from the half of his arm, he said very slowly, articulating every single syllable and breathing their essence; “I pacified your mind” and finally Huìkê entered the temple.