Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan Buddhism to China, and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch. According to Chinese legend, he also began the physical training of the monks of Shaolin Monastery that led to the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu.
Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as an ill-tempered, profusely-bearded, wide-eyed non-Chinese person. He is referred as “The Blue-Eyed Barbarian” in Chan texts.
According to The Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang compiled in 547 by Yáng Xuànzhī, “At that time there was a monk of the Western Region named Bodhidharma, a Persian Central Asian. He traveled from the wild borderlands to China. Seeing the golden disks on the pole on top of Yǒngníng’s stupa reflecting in the sun, the rays of light illuminating the surface of the clouds, the jewel-bells on the stupa blowing in the wind, the echoes reverberating beyond the heavens, he sang its praises. He exclaimed: “Truly this is the work of spirits.” He said: “I am 150 years old, and I have passed through numerous countries. There is virtually no country I have not visited. Even the distant Buddha-realms lack this.” He chanted homage and placed his palms together in salutation for days on end”.
Dàoxuān (道宣) suggests a date for Bodhidharma’s arrival in China. He writes that Bodhidharma makes landfall in the time of the Song, thus making his arrival no later than the time of the Song’s fall to the Southern Qi in 479.
The Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall says that in 527, Bodhidharma visited Emperor Wu of Liang ( 蕭衍), a fervent patron of Buddhism:Emperor Wu: “How much karmic merit have I earned for ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?”
Bodhidharma: “None. Good deeds done with worldly intent bring good karma, but no merit.”Emperor Wu: “So what is the highest meaning of noble truth?”
Bodhidharma: “There is no noble truth, there is only emptiness.”
Emperor Wu: “Then, who is standing before me?”
Bodhidharma: “I know not, Your Majesty.”
Nine years of wall-gazing
Failing to make a favorable impression in South China, Bodhidharma is said to have travelled to the Shaolin Monastery. After either being refused entry or being ejected after a short time, he lived in a nearby cave, where he “faced a wall for nine years, not speaking for the entire time”.
The biographical tradition is littered with apocryphal tales about Bodhidharma’s life and circumstances. In one version of the story, he is said to have fallen asleep seven years into his nine years of wall-gazing. Becoming angry with himself, he cut off his eyelids to prevent it from happening again. According to the legend, as his eyelids hit the floor the first tea plants sprang up, and thereafter tea would provide a stimulant to help keep students of Chan awake during zazen.
Exactly what sort of practice Bodhidharma’s “wall-gazing” was remains uncertain. Nearly all accounts have treated it either as an undefined variety of meditation, as Daoxuan and Dumoulin, or as a variety of seated meditation akin to the zazen (坐禪) that later became a defining characteristic of Chan. The latter interpretation is particularly common among those working from a Chan standpoint.
The most popular account relates that Bodhidharma was admitted into the Shaolin temple after nine years in the cave and taught there for some time. However, other versions report that he “passed away, seated upright”; or that he disappeared, leaving behind the Yijin Jing; or that his legs atrophied after nine years of sitting, which is why Daruma dolls have no legs.
Jǐngdé Records of the Transmission of the Lamp (景德传灯录) , presented to the emperor in 1004, records that Bodhidharma wished to return to India and called together his disciples:
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.”
Bodhidharma passed on the symbolic robe and bowl of dharma succession to Dazu Huike and, some texts claim, a copy of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra.
Bodhidharma then either returned to India.
There are early texts which explicitly associate Bodhidharma with the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. Daoxuan, for example, in a late recension of his biography of Bodhidharma’s successor Huike, has the sūtra as a basic and important element of the teachings passed down by Bodhidharma:
In the beginning Dhyana Master Bodhidharma took the four-roll Laṅkā Sūtra, handed it over to Huike, and said: “When I examine the land of China, it is clear that there is only this sutra. If you rely on it to practice, you will be able to cross over the world.”
The school that would later become known as Chan Buddhism is sometimes referred to as the “Laṅkāvatāra school” (楞伽宗).
Some Chinese myths and legends describe Bodhidharma as being disturbed by the poor physical shape of the Shaolin monks, after which he instructed them in techniques to maintain their physical condition as well as teaching meditation. He is said to have taught a series of external exercises called the Eighteen Arhat Hands and an internal practice called the Sinew Metamorphosis Classic.
Traditionally Bodhidharma is credited as founder of the martial arts at the Shaolin Temple. However, martial arts historians have shown this legend stems from a 17th-century qigong manual known as the Yijin Jing.
According to historian Lin Boyuan in his Zhongguo wushu shi: As for the “Yi Jin Jing” (Muscle Change Classic), a spurious text attributed to Bodhidharma and included in the legend of his transmitting martial arts at the temple, it was written in the Ming dynasty, in 1624, by the Daoist priest Zining of Mt. Tiantai, and falsely attributed to Bodhidharma.
Several scholars have suggested that the composed image of Bodhidharma depended on the combination of supposed historical information on various historical figures over several centuries. Bodhidharma as a historical person may even never have actually existed.
The Pakistani scholar Ahmad Hasan Dani speculated that according to popular accounts in Pakistan’s northwest, Bodhidharma may be from the region around the Peshawar valley, or possibly around modern Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.
Edited from Wikipedia
- ISBN-10: 1490705236
- ISBN-13: 978-1490705231