As with most of the early Chán patriarchs, very little firm data is available about his life. The earliest extant biography of the Chán patriarchs is the Biographies of Eminent Monks (519) and its sequel, Further Biographies of Eminent Monks (645) by Tao-hsuan (?-667).
A scholar in both Buddhist scriptures and classical Chinese texts, including Taoism, Huike was considered enlightened but criticized for not having a teacher. He met his teacher Bodhidharma at the Shaolin Monastery in 528 when he was about forty years old and studied with Bodhidharma for six years (some sources say four years, five years, or nine years).
Legend has it that Bodhidharma initially refused to teach Huike and Huike stood in the snow outside Bodhidharma’s cave all night until the snow reached his waist. In the morning Bodhidharma asked him why he was there and Huike replied that he wanted a teacher to "open the gate of the elixir or universal compassion to liberate all beings".
Bodhidharma refused, saying, “how can you hope for true religion with little virtue, little wisdom, a shallow heart, and an arrogant mind It would just be a waste of effort.” Finally, to prove his resolve, Huike cut off his left arm and presented it to the First Patriarch as a token of his sincerity at which point Bodhidharma accepted him as a student and changed his name from Shenguang to Huike (“Wisdom and Capacity”).
Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.” Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.” Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.” “There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified your mind.”
According to the Denkoroku, when Huike and Bodhidharma were climbing up Few Houses Peak, Bodhidharma asked, “Where are we going?” Huike replied, “Please go right ahead---that’s it.” Bodhidharma retorted, “If you go right ahead, you cannot move a step.” Upon hearing these words, Huike was enlightened. Legend has it that Bodhidharma wished to return to India and called together his disciples and the following exchange took part.
Bodhidharma asked, “Can each of you say something to demonstrate your understanding?”
Dao Fu stepped forward and said, “It is not bound by words and phrases, nor is it separate from words and phrases. This is the function of the Tao.”
Bodhidharma: “You have attained my skin.”
The nun Zong Chi stepped up and said, “It is like a glorious glimpse of the realm of Akshobhya Buddha . Seen once, it need not be seen again.”
Bodhidharma; “You have attained my flesh.”
Dao Yu said, “The four elements are all empty. The five skandhas are without actual existence. Not a single dharma can be grasped.”
Bodhidharma: “You have attained my bones.”
Finally, Huike came forth, bowed deeply in silence and stood up straight.
Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my marrow.”
Huike went to Yedu (Wade-Giles: Yeh-tu) (modern Henan) about 534 and, except for a period of political turmoil and Buddhist persecution in 574, lived in the area Yedu and Wei (modern Hebei) for the rest of his life.
In 579, Huike returned to Yedu and expounded the dharma, drawing large numbers to listen to his teachings and arousing the hostility of other Buddhist teachers, one of whom, Tao-heng, paid money to have Huike killed but Huike converted the would-be assassin.
He was buried about forty kilometres east northeast of Anyang City in Hebei Province. Later, the Tang Dynasty emperor De Zong gave Huike the honorific name Dazu (“Great Ancestor”) Some traditions have it that Huike was executed after complaints about his teachings by influential Buddhist priests. One story says that blood did not flow from his decapitated body, but rather, a white milky substance flowed through his neck.
This sutra urges ‘self-enlightenment’, the “forgetting of words and thoughts”. Tao-hsuan listed Huike and his circle of disciples as masters of meditation and the Lankavatara Sutra in his Further Biographies of Eminent Monks There is little doubt that Huike practiced and promoted meditation (as opposed to sutra commentary) as the method to reach understanding of true Buddhism.
The entrance of practice refers to the four practices of the title: be undisturbed by suffering, accept one’s circumstances and be unmoved by good or bad fortune, be without attachment or desire and, finally, govern one’s actions based on understanding the emptiness or non-substantiality of all things.
The Bodhidharma text and Huike’s letter indicate that the earliest teachings of what was to become Chan emphasized that Buddha Nature was within and each person must realize this individually through meditation rather than studying the sutras, ceremonies, doing good deeds or worshiping the Buddhas.
Meditation should be free of any dualism or attached goal and realization occurs suddenly. Huike wrote: Originally deluded, one calls the mani-pearl a potsherd Suddenly one is awakened---and it is (recognized) as a pearl Ignorance and wisdom are identical, not different.
One of the most important characteristics of the early Chán of Bodhidharma and Huike was the sudden approach to enlightenment rather than the Indian yogic meditation which advocated concentration and gradual self-perfection. </poem>