Monday, September 22, 2008


Bodhidharma was the traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chán to China. Very little contemporary biographical information on Bodhidharma is extant, and subsequent accounts became layered with legend, but most accounts agree that he was a monk from of India who journeyed to and subsequently relocated northwards. The accounts differ on the date of his arrival, with one early account claiming that he arrived during the and later accounts dating his arrival to the . Bodhidharma was primarily active in the lands of the . Modern scholarship dates him about the early fifth century.


Contemporary accounts

There are two known extant accounts written by contemporaries of Bodhidharma.

Yáng Xuànzhī

The ''Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang'' , was compiled in 547 by , a writer and translator of Buddhist texts into the Chinese language.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 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. But even in India there is nothing comparable to the pure beauty of this monastery. Even the distant Buddha realms lack this." He chanted homage and placed his palms together in salutation for days on end.
dates Bodhidharma's presence in Luoyang to between 516 and 526, when the temple referred to—Yǒngníngsì —was at the height of its glory. Starting in 526, Yǒngníngsì suffered damage from a series of events, ultimately leading to its destruction in 534.


The second account was written by Tánlín . Tánlín's brief biography of the "Dharma Master" is found in his preface to the ''Two Entrances and Four Acts'', a text traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma, and is the first text to identify Bodhidharma as :The Dharma Master was a South Indian of the Western Region. He was the third son of a great Indian king of the pallava dynasty His ambition lay in the Mahayana path, and so he put aside his white layman's robe for the black robe of a monk Lamenting the decline of the true teaching in the outlands, he subsequently crossed distant mountains and seas, traveling about propagating the teaching in Han and Wei.
Tánlín's account was the first to mention that Bodhidharma attracted disciples, specifically mentioning Dàoyù and , the latter of whom would later figure very prominently in the Bodhidharma literature.

Tánlín has traditionally been considered a disciple of Bodhidharma, but it is more likely that he was a student of Huìkě, who in turn was a student of Bodhidharma.

Later accounts


In the 7th-century historical work ''Further Biographies of Eminent Monks'' , Dàoxuān possibly drew on Tanlin's preface as a basic source, but made several significant additions:Firstly, Dàoxuān adds more detail concerning Bodhidharma's origins, writing that he was "of South Indian stock" .

Secondly, more detail is provided concerning Bodhidharma's journeys. Tanlin's original is imprecise about Bodhidharma's travels, saying only that he "crossed distant mountains and seas" before arriving in Wei. Dàoxuān's account, however, implies "a specific itinerary": "He first arrived at during the Sung period. From there he turned north and came to the Kingdom of Wei".

Epitaph for F?rú

The idea of a in Chán dates back to the epitaph for F?rú , a disciple of the 5th patriarch Hóngr?n , which gives a line of descent identifying Bodhidharma as the first patriarch.

Yǒngjiā Xuánjué

According to the ''Song of Enlightenment'' by Yǒngjiā Xuánjué —one of the chief disciples of Huìnéng, sixth Patriarch of Chán—Bodhidharma was the 28th Patriarch of Buddhism in a line of descent from ?ākyamuni Buddha via his disciple Mahākā?yapa, and the first Patriarch of Chán:Mahakashyapa was the first, leading the line of transmission;
Twenty-eight Fathers followed him in the West;
The Lamp was then brought over the sea to this country;
And Bodhidharma became the First Father here
His mantle, as we all know, passed over six Fathers,
And by them many minds came to see the Light.
The idea of a line of descent from ?ākyamuni Buddha is the basis for the distinctive lineage tradition of the Chán school.

''Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall''

In the ''Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall'' of 952, the elements of the traditional Bodhidharma story are in place. Bodhidharma is said to have been a disciple of , thus establishing the latter as the 27th patriarch in India. After a three-year journey, Bodhidharma reaches China in 527

Finally, as opposed to Daoxuan's figure of "over 150 years," the ''Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall'' states that Bodhidharma died at the age of 150. He was then buried on Mount Xiong'er to the west of Luoyang. However, three years after the burial, in the Pamir Mountains, Sòngyún —an official of one of the later Wei kingdoms—encountered Bodhidharma, who claimed to be returning to India and was carrying a single sandal. Bodhidharma predicted the death of Songyun's ruler, a prediction which was borne out upon the latter's return. Bodhidharma's tomb was then opened, and only a single sandal was found inside.

Insofar as, according to the ''Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall'', Bodhidharma left the Liang court in 527 and relocated to Mount Song near Luoyang and the Shaolin Monastery, where he "faced a wall for nine years, not speaking for the entire time", his date of death can have been no earlier than 536. Moreover, his encounter with the Wei official indicates a date of death no later than 554, three years before the fall of the .


Subsequent to the ''Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall'', the only dated addition to the biography of Bodhidharma is in the 1004 ''Jingde Records of the Transmission of the Lamp'' , by Dàoyuán , where it is stated that Bodhidharma's original name had been Bodhitāra but had been changed by his master Praj?ātāra.

After Death

Soon after his death, someone supposedly witnessed Bodhidharma walking back towards India barefoot and with a single shoe in hand. His grave was later exhumed, and according to legend, the only thing found in it was the shoe he left behind.For nine years he had remained and nobody knew him;
Carrying a shoe in hand he went home quietly, without ceremony.

Modern scholarship

Bodhidharma's origins

Though Dàoxuān wrote that Bodhidharma was "of South Indian stock," notes that Bodhidharma's royal pedigree implies that he was of the Kshatriya warrior . argued that the Pallava dynasty was Brahmin by origin but Kshatriya by profession, and proposed that Bodhidharma was born a prince of the Pallava dynasty in their capital of Kanchipuram.

Yáng Xuànzhī's eyewitness account identifies Bodhidharma as a from Central Asia , and notes that an Iranian Buddhist monk making his way to North China via the Silk Road is more likely than that of a South Indian master making his way by sea. also states that the language Yang uses in his description of Bodhidharma is specifically associated with "Central Asia and particularly to peoples of Iranian extraction" and that of "an Iranian speaker who hailed from somewhere in Central Asia". However, notes that Yáng may have actually been referring to another monk named Boddhidharma, not related to the historical founder of Chan Buddhism.

Bodhidharma's name

notes that "Bodhidharma’s name appears sometimes truncated as Bodhi, or more often as Dharma . In the first case, it may be confused with another of his rivals, Bodhiruci."

Tibetan sources give his name as "Bodhidharmottara" or "Dharmottara", that is, "Highest teaching of enlightenment". "Bodhidharma" is presumably a shortened form of this full name.

Practice and teaching


Tanlin, in the preface to ''Two Entrances and Four Acts'', and Daoxuan, in the ''Further Biographies of Eminent Monks'', mention a practice of Bodhidharma's termed "wall-gazing" . Both Tanlin and Daoxuan associate this "wall-gazing" with "quieting mind" These are the first mentions in the historical record of what may be a type of being ascribed to Bodhidharma.

In the ''Two Entrances and Four Acts'', traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma, the term "wall-gazing" also appears:Those who turn from delusion back to reality, who ''meditate on walls'', the absence of self and other, the oneness of mortal and sage, and who remain unmoved even by scriptures are in complete and unspoken agreement with reason.
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, There have also, however, been interpretations of "wall-gazing" as a non-meditative phenomenon.

The ''La?kāvatāra Sūtra''

The '''', one of the , is a highly "difficult and obscure" text whose basic thrust is to emphasize "the inner that does away with all duality and is raised above all distinctions". It is among the first and most important texts in the , or "Consciousness-only", school of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

One of the recurrent emphases in the ''La?kāvatāra Sūtra'' is a lack of reliance on words to effectively express reality:If, Mahamati, you say that because of the reality of words the objects are, this talk lacks in sense. Words are not known in all the Buddha-lands; words, Mahamati, are an artificial creation. In some Buddha-lands ideas are indicated by looking steadily, in others by gestures, in still others by a frown, by the movement of the eyes, by laughing, by yawning, or by the clearing of the throat, or by recollection, or by trembling.

In contrast to the ineffectiveness of words, the sūtra instead stresses the importance of the "self-realization" that is "attained by noble wisdom" and occurs "when one has an insight into reality as it is": "The truth is the state of self-realisation and is beyond categories of discrimination". The sūtra goes on to outline the ultimate effects of an experience of self-realization: will become thoroughly conversant with the noble truth of self-realisation, will become a perfect master of his own mind, will conduct himself without effort, will be like a gem reflecting a variety of colours, will be able to assume the body of transformation, will be able to enter into the subtle minds of all beings, and, because of his firm belief in the truth of Mind-only, will, by gradually ascending the stages, become established in Buddhahood.
One of the fundamental Chán texts attributed to Bodhidharma is a four-line stanza whose first two verses echo the ''La?kāvatāra Sūtra'''s disdain for words and whose second two verses stress the importance of the insight into reality achieved through "self-realization":A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words and letters;
By pointing directly to mind
It lets one see into nature and attain Buddhahood.
The stanza, in fact, is not Bodhidharma's, but rather dates to the year 1108. Nonetheless, there are earlier texts which explicitly associate Bodhidharma with the ''La?kāvatāra 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 ''La?kā 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."
Another early text, the ''Record of the Masters and Disciples of the La?kāvatāra Sūtra'' of Jìngjué , also mentions Bodhidharma in relation to this text. Jingjue's account also makes explicit mention of "sitting meditation", or zazen:For all those who sat in meditation, Master Bodhi also offered expositions of the main portions of the ''La?kāvatāra Sūtra'', which are collected in a volume of twelve or thirteen pages, bearing the title of ''Teaching of Dharma''.
In other early texts, the school that would later become known as Chán is sometimes referred to as the "La?kāvatāra school" .

Portrayals of Bodhidharma

Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as a rather ill-tempered, profusely bearded and wide-eyed barbarian. He is described as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" 藍眼睛的野人 in Chinese texts.

The ''Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall'' identifies Bodhidharma as the 28th Patriarch of Buddhism in an uninterrupted line that extends all the way back to the himself. D.T. Suzuki contends that Chán's growth in popularity during the 7th and 8th centuries attracted criticism that it had "no authorized records of its direct transmission from the founder of Buddhism" and that Chán historians made Bodhidharma the 28th patriarch of Buddhism in response to such attacks.


Bodhidharma and martial arts?

The ''Yi Jin Jing'' credits Shaolin Kung Fu to Bodhidharma, which would make him an important influence on Asian martial arts in general. However, both the attribution of Shaolin Kung Fu to Bodhidharma and the authenticity of the ''Yi Jin Jing'' itself have been discredited by historians including Tang Hao, Xu Zhen and Matsuda Ryuchi. This argument is summarized by modern historian Lin Boyuan in his ''Zhongguo wushu shi'' as follows:As for the “Yi Jin Jing” , 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. Forged prefaces, attributed to the Tang general Li Jing and the Southern Song general Niu Gao were written. They say that, after Bodhidharma faced the wall for nine years at Shaolin temple, he left behind an iron chest; when the monks opened this chest they found the two books “Xi Sui Jing” and “Yi Jin Jing” within. The first book was taken by his disciple Huike, and disappeared; as for the second, “the monks selfishly coveted it, practicing the skills therein, falling into heterodox ways, and losing the correct purpose of cultivating the Real. The Shaolin monks have made some fame for themselves through their fighting skill; this is all due to having obtained this manuscript.” Based on this, Bodhidharma was claimed to be the ancestor of Shaolin martial arts. This manuscript is full of errors, absurdities and fantastic claims; it cannot be taken as a legitimate source.
The oldest available copy was published in 1827 and the composition of the text itself has been dated to 1624.

Huiguang and Sengchou were expert in the martial arts before they became two of the very first Shaolin monks—years before the arrival of Bodhidharma.
The '''' documents Sengchou's skill with the tin staff.

Bodhidharma is associated with the idea that spiritual, intellectual and physical excellence are an indivisible whole necessary for enlightenment.
Such an approach to enlightenment ultimately
proved highly attractive to the Samurai class in Japan, who made
Zen their way of life, following their encounter with the
martial-arts-oriented Chán Lingji School introduced to Japan by
Eisai in the 12th century.
Yet in some versions of his legend, Bodhidharma's focus was so single-minded during his nine years of meditation that his legs atrophied.

In Southeast Asia

In the Malay Peninsula, Bodhidharma was believed to have been a Buddhist monk from South India who came to Palembang by boat. He spent a significant amount of time there before journeying north into Malaysia and Siam. He travelled throughout the region bringing his knowledge of both Buddhism and martial arts before eventually reaching China.

Encounter with Emperor Liang

According to the ''Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall'', in 527 during the Liang Dynasty, Bodhidharma, the first Patriarch of Chán, visited the , a fervent patron of Buddhism. The emperor asked Bodhidharma, "What is the highest meaning of noble truth?" Bodhidharma answered, "There is no noble truth." The emperor then asked Bodhidharma, "Who is standing before me?" Bodhidharma answered, "I don't know." The emperor then asked Bodhidharma, "How much karmic merit have I earned by ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning images?" Bodhidharma answered, "None."

From then on, the emperor refused to listen to whatever Bodhidharma had to say. Although Bodhidharma came from India to China to become the first patriarch of China, the emperor refused to recognize him. Since he refused to believe in what Bodhidharma told him, he practically missed his chance to come face to face with someone who was important to Buddhism. Bodhidharma knew that he would face difficulty in the near future, but had the emperor been able to leave the throne and yield it to someone else, he could have avoided his fate of starving to death.

According to the teaching, Emperor Wu's past life was as a bhikshu. While he cultivated in the mountains, a monkey would always steal and eat the things he planted for food, as well as the fruit in the trees. One day, he was able to trap the monkey in a cave and blocked the entrance of the cave with rocks, hoping to teach the monkey a lesson. However, after two days, the bhikshu found that the monkey had died of starvation.

Supposedly, that monkey was reincarnated into Hou Jing of the Northern Wei Dynasty, who led his soldiers to attack Nanjing. After Nanjing was taken, the emperor was held in captivity in the palace and was not provided with any food, and was left to starve to death. Though Bodhidharma wanted to save him and brought forth a compassionate mind toward him, the emperor failed to recognize him, so there was nothing Bodhidharma could do. Thus, Bodhidharma had no choice but to leave Emperor Wu to die and went into meditation in a cave for nine years.

This encounter would later form the basis of the first of the collection ''The Blue Cliff Record''. However that version of the story is somewhat different. In the Blue Cliff's telling of the story, there is no claim that Emperor Wu did not listen to Bodhidharma after the Emperor was unable to grasp the meaning. Instead, Bodhidharma left the presence of the Emperor once Bodhidharma saw that the Emperor was unable to understand. Then Bodhidharma went across the river to the kingdom of Wei.

After Bodhidharma left, the Emperor asked the official in charge of the Imperial Annals about the encounter. The Official of the Annals then asked the Emperor if he still denied knowing who Bodhidharma was? When the Emperor said he didn't know, the Official said, "This was the Great-being Guanyin transmitting the imprint of the Buddha's Heart-Mind."

The Emperor regretted his having let Bodhidharma leave and was going to dispatch a messenger to go and beg Bodhidharma to return. The Official then said, "Your Highness, do not say to send out a messenger to go fetch him. The people of the entire nation could go, and he still would not return."

Nine years of gazing at a wall

Failing to make a favorable impression in Southern China, Bodhidharma is said to have retreated to to a cave near the Shaolin Monastery where he "faced a wall for nine years, not speaking for the entire time". 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 Chán awake during .

In another version of the story, after the nine years, Bodhidharma “passed away, seated upright”.

The lineage of Bodhidharma and his disciples

In the ''Two Entrances and Four Acts'' and the ''Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks'', Daoyu and Huike are the only explicitly identified disciples of Bodhidharma.
The ''Jingde Records of the Transmission of the Lamp'' gives Bodhidharma four disciples who, in increasing order of understanding, are Daofu, who attains Bodhidharma's skin; the nun Dharani, who attains Bodhidharma's flesh; Daoyu, who attains Bodhidharma's bone; and Huike, who attains Bodhidharma's marrow.

* Bodhidharma
** Daoyu
*** Tao-chih
** Huike
*** Tanlin
*** Huineng
**** Hsuan-chueh
*** Layman Hsiang
*** Hua-kung
*** Yen-kung
*** Dhyana Master Na
*** Dhyana Master Ho
**** Hsuan-ching
**** Ching-ai
***** T'an-yen
***** Tao-an
***** Tao-p'an
***** Chih-tsang
***** Seng-chao
***** P'u-an
****** Ching-yuan

Works attributed to Bodhidharma

* ''The Outline of Practice'' or ''Two Entrances''
* ''The Bloodstream Sutra''
* ''The Breakthrough Sutra''
* ''The Wake-Up Sutra''

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