I am not questioning the path of Zen. It just exist as it is. But I read this legend about Bodhidharma. To stay awake he cut off his eyelids and tea was flourished. Upto now I have felt tranquility in meditation. But isn't it an insane act. How people tell this story about a great Zen master? Or is it mystical way of delivering something which I am not understanding?

2 Answers 2


Usually, such extreme Zen stories are used to illustrate commitment and urgency to achieve enlightenment.

It's said that he cut his eyelids because at some point he fell asleep during meditation, a major distraction for him.

Huiko, a disciple, is said to have cut his arm to be accepted as a student by Bodhidharma.

There are many other stories, some involving cut a disciple's fingers (master Gutei Isshi), others cutting a cat in half (master Nansen Osho) and so on.

As far as factuality, I don't think these stories are believed by zen monks to have happened (at least, the ones harming another being), but their symbolism remain a strong vehicle to convey strong meanings, specially in the form of Koans.

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    One of the stories looks as if it's historical: terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/RyonenGenso.html
    – ChrisW
    Dec 26, 2015 at 1:35
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    Exactly. These stories are no different than saying Jesus walked on water or Moses parted the Red Sea. They are mythical tales engineered to convey a point or inspire. To take them literally, is to miss the point. In fact, to taking them literally pretty much guarantees that you're heading in the wrong direction altogether.
    – user698
    Dec 26, 2015 at 1:54
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    The story of Nansen cutting the cat in half is a Koan, yes?
    – Ryan
    Dec 26, 2015 at 2:22
  • Yes it must be symbolic storyteller may be pointing to disciple's dedication or killing of ego. Dec 26, 2015 at 4:01
  • @Ryan Exactly, it is case 14 in Zen master Wumen's koan compilation "The Gateless Gate".
    – mle
    Feb 19, 2016 at 0:28

Defeating sleep while “meditating” must be levels into understanding. It’s easy to blame anything material such as your eyelids that caused u to drift off, whether it be falling asleep or just to simply loose focus doing something we do daily. To use anything “material” to advance your meditating would be no different than using a substance to advance just anything other than the appreciation of the practice of meditating. Practicing as if to only get levels into practicing it, never just to tell yourself u mastered it. Because even the act of making time to meditate is a skill in itself. Although anyone can use the benefits of a more quieter mind that allows you to look past attachment issues. We all know that there are not very many that actually enjoy the practice of putting a pause to daily routine while meditation, but for the people that do we should all learn from each other’s journey to having a more meditative approach to all things in life. I would agree that it would be the zen scriptures for us😇❤️! Have a great day!!

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