Leafing through The Transmission of the Lamp (trans., Ogata) I came across an interesting dialogue between Bodhidharma and his disciple, Hui K’o. Bodhidharma told Hui K’o the following:
“I have with me the Lankavatara Sutra in four scrolls which I will also give to you. This contains the essentials of the Tathagata’s spiritual doctrine and allows all sentient beings to develop enlightenment. Since I came here I have been poisoned five times, and each time I extracted the poison in order to examine it. When it was placed on the stone, the stone was broken. I became willing to leave southern India for this eastern land because I had a vision of the Mahayana (existing) in Shen State in Ch’ih Prefecture. I sailed on the sea and crossed the desert to seek for a man for the sake of the dharma. During my search I could find only people who were like stammering fools, but now I have gotten you and have transmitted the message to you.”
What got my attention was the fact that Bodhidharma was poisoned some five times. Apparently, he was unpopular with one or more people who knew of his arcane Mahayana teaching; who thought it might be better for Buddhism if Bodhidharma were dead. But such hatred didn’t stop with Bodhidharma. After Bodhidharma had died at Lo River and was buried by Hui K’o, the latter decided to head north to teach Bodhidharma’s arcane doctrine only to encounter a similar problem as his late master.
At that time in the north, there was a Zen master by the name of Tao-heng who had a rather large following. When he had learned of Hui K’o’s teaching he remarked that it was the teaching of Mara the Evil One. Subsequently, he believed it was necessary to terminate the propagation of Hui K’o’s teaching. But Hui K'o's teaching proved stronger. Having failed, Tao-heng then decided that it might be better for his own school if Hui K’o were eliminated altogether. Zen master Tao-heng then paid an imperial guard to assassinate Hui K’o. But even this didn’t work. The assassin could not bring himself to slay Hui K’o when he drew his sword. In fact, he awakened to the mysterious Dharma expounded by Hui K’o. After that, Zen master Tao-heng apparently repented.
Incidentally, it was said of the teaching of Hui K’o that it was "obscure and dark". Hui K'o eventually died without producing any heirs.
Trying to make sense of this, one cannot help but remember what happens to sages when they achieve notoriety among their so-called religious peers. From the Buddha to Socrates—and to Jesus and his apostles, none have fared well because, in my opinion, they taught and practiced esoteric doctrines—especially, that our true nature is fundamentally free of the physical body.
So why do their teachings draw such ire from their peers? To be sure, the question is difficult to answer. Part of the answer may lie in the fact that such sages like Bodhidharma and Hui K’o alienate themselves from the common beliefs and practices of religion which are only concerned with normative and semantic dimensions.
We might also wonder if Tao-heng, and those who tried to poison Bodhidharma, may have feared a loss of personal authority which was entirely based on a normative and semantic understanding of Buddhism. If we can accept this, then we can draw the tentative conclusion that those like Tao-heng were never actually interested in sounding the depths of true religion (saddharma). They found it easier to prey on the credulous which was an easy means of gaining authority as well as wealth.
By comparison, authority for the Buddha, and of course, Bodhidharma, rests with absolute Mind, itself. Such authority can never be human based since human experience is inconstant and ego-centric. In fact, in true religion, we must always give up any personal ambition for authority, least we unwittingly worship ourselves which, therefore, makes religion false. This becomes strikingly apparent after we gain an authentic glimpse into Mind. This glimpse alone surpasses the human dimension rendering the question of human based authority almost laughable.