In the fifth or sixth century, a Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma is credited with bringing Chan Buddhism to China. Bodhidharma’s life tale is mostly based on myths. His birthplace and year are not well known. One can confidently conclude that he was born earlier than that because he is referenced in “The Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang,” which was produced in 547 CE by Yáng Xuànzh, a renowned author and translator of Mahanaya Sutras. Regarding the location of his birth, there is also a lot of confusion. According to Japanese legend, Bodhidharma was born in Peshawar Valley, according to Pakistani historian Ahmad Hasan Dani. However, the majority of contemporary historians as well as regional traditions in Tibet, India, and Southeast Asia refer to him as a South Indian prince. He was a Mahayana Buddhist who traveled to China to disseminate the real teachings of Buddhism and to introduce the Far East to the art of meditation (Zen in Japan and Chan in China). He has been pictured as having big eyes, a thick beard, being irritable, and not being a mongoloid in Buddhist art. He is also known as the “Blue Eyed Barbarian” and is highly regarded in China and Japan. He is currently referred to as the First Chinese Patriarch.
Early Childhood & Year
The year of Bodhidharma’s birth is unknown. The two most frequently mentioned dates for his birth are 440 CE and 470 CE, however academics think he was born sometime in the fifth century CE. On the fifth day of the tenth lunar month is when he is born.
There are two schools of thought regarding his place of origin. According to academics like Yáng Xuànzh, he originated in the “Western Region,” a historical designation for the regions west of Yumen Pass, more especially Central Asia. However, some writers have used it to refer to the Indian Subcontinent.
According to some contemporary academics, he was born in Kanchipuram, which is today’s Tamil Nadu, India. He was the third child of a Pallava dynasty Brahmin ruler, according to these experts. But his royal heritage might also have indicated that he belonged to the Kshatriya military caste.
According to local legend, Bodhidharma, then known as Jayavarman, displayed tremendous intellect at a young age and became interested in Lord Buddha’s teachings at the age of seven. His older brothers were envious of him because he was their father’s favored son.
His older brothers not only made fun of him in front of the king, but also made an attempt to assassinate him out of fear that their father would leave the kingdom to Jayavarman. Despite surviving these murder attempts, Jayavarman eventually developed a distrust towards court politics.
Jayavarman left home to study Buddhism with Prajtr, a prominent Buddhist teacher who had traveled to Kanchipuram at the king’s invitation after deciding that the life of the court was not for him. He was greeted as Bodhitara when he arrived at the monastery. Later, he received monastic ordination and took the name Bodhidharma.
For many years, Bodhidharma learned under Prajtr, living with her till her passing. She instructed him to travel to China and disseminate the authentic teachings of Lord Buddha there before she passed away.
Later Years of Bodhidharma
After the passing of his teacher, Bodhidharma departed for China. The precise path he took is not entirely clear. According to one legend, he journeyed to China by sea and arrived in what is now Guangzhou, which was formerly known as Panyu. He then set out on foot for Nanjing.
Some academics think he traveled on land. Having walked across the Pamir Plateau, he must have continued Huang’s path. After a three-year trek, he finally arrived in Luoyang, a bustling Buddhist hub at the time. Regarding the timing of his arrival, nevertheless, there is some ambiguity.
Daoxuan, the author of “Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks,” claims that Bodhidharma arrived in China before 479 CE, under the Li Sng Dynasty. But according to the “Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall,” which was written in 952, he arrived in China in 527 CE, under the Liáng Dynasty.
Bodhidharma adopted the name Ta Mo in China and began teaching the essential principles of Buddhism, emphasizing enlightenment and meditation over the study of texts. Many seasoned masters were incensed by this and placed a greater emphasis on reading. So they disregarded his instructions. When left alone, he started to stray.
In 527 CE, the year he arrived in China, according to the “Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall,” he was granted an audience with Emperor Wudi of the Nan (Southern) Liang. He spoke the truth in this instance as well, disappointing the Emperor.
The emperor, who was well known for his good deeds, inquired of Bodhidharma as to how much merit he had accrued. In response, Bodhidharma stated that the emperor had not attained any virtue despite working hard to do so. Naturally, the emperor was not pleased.
He said that there is only Shunya (emptiness) and that there is no other noble truth or “sacca” and that he was unsure of his identity. He wanted to jolt the emperor out of his self-glorification and put him on the path to enlightenment as a Mahayana practitioner.
He understood that in order to get his point across, he would have to be tough; this task could not be accomplished by using kind words. The emperor was exiled because he was unable to understand the deeper implications of these responses.
Bodhidharma moved toward the north after failing to make an impact in South China. He eventually arrived at Song Mountain, where the Shaolin Monastery is located, after crossing the Yellow River. He encountered Shen Guag, a Buddhist monk who later followed him and rose to fame as Dazu Huike, along the journey.
The monks at Shaolin Monastery turned him away when he arrived. Bodhidharma, therefore, sat facing the monastery’s wall in a position of meditation outside. However, other academics contest this and assert that he selected a nearby cave and started to meditate there.
Bodhidharma meditated continuously for nine years, never getting up from his seat or talking to anyone. According to a legend, he once slept off while practicing meditation, so in order to stop it from happening again, he severed his eyelids. This lore may have inspired the image of him with the wide-eyed expression.
It’s also believed that where his eyelids had fallen, a tea plant had sprouted, and he had found tea as a result. That is untrue, though. It is more plausible that he instituted the monks’ custom of sipping tea to prevent them from dozing off during meditation.
It is also claimed that he lost the use of his leg after spending nine long years sitting in the same position. His arms and legs disintegrated as a result, according to Japanese mythology, which led to the development of Daruma dolls without legs.
What happened to Bodhidharma after his nine years of “wall gazing” is the subject of numerous tales. Some accounts claim that he passed away erect in his seat. The more widely accepted story, however, asserts that he attended Shaolin Monastery following this time.
It is reported that the monks at the Shaolin Monastery invited him in because they were moved by his dedication. Here he began to teach, emphasizing meditation, which became known as “Chan,” a translation of the Sanskrit word “Dhyana.”
He quickly became aware, as he was instructing “Chan,” that the prolonged period of study had sapped the monks’ strength and left them unable to concentrate. He then began instructing them in a set of exercises known as “Shiba Luohan Shou” (also known as “Luohan’s 18 hands”) in addition to teaching them meditation techniques.
In addition to “Luohan’s 18 hands,” he also taught his pupils the “Yi Jin Jing” (Classic Sinew Metamorphosis) and the “Xi Sui Jing” (Bone Marrow Cleansing) workout regimens. During this period, he also penned two works called ‘Yi Jin Jing’ and ‘Xi Sui Jing’.
He undertook a long journey while residing at Shaolin Monastery, stopping in Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Malaysia while imparting martial arts techniques and the Mahayana school of Buddhism. According to local folklore in Malaysia, he brought an indigenous kind of martial art called ‘silat’ to that country.
He spent the remainder of his life at the Shaolin monastery after the tour, traveling back to China via Nanyue. He had four principal disciples: a number named Zong Chi, Dazu Huike, Dao Fu, and Dao Yu. Dazu Huike, one of them, eventually took his place.
Many books are thought to have been authored by him. The Bloodstream Sermon, the Bodhidharma Treatise, the Dharma Teaching of Pacifying the Mind, the Treatise on Realizing the Nature, the Treatise on Refuting Signs, and the texts “Two Entrances and Four Practices” and “Two Types of Entrance” are texts related to him.
Bigger Works of Bodhidharma
Most people associate Bodhidharma with bringing Chan Buddhism to China. Buddhism in China up to his time was primarily based on the study of the scriptures. The idea of nirvana achieved through meditation was first introduced to China by Bodhidharma.
The Lakvatra Stra, a well-known Mahayana Buddhist sutra that Dharmaraka originally translated into Chinese, is also directly linked to Bodhidharma. This work is a key component of Chan and Zen Buddhism since Bodhidharma based a significant portion of his teaching on it.
Demise and Legacy
The year of his death is still a mystery, just as the year of his birth. However, the majority of academics concur that he passed away in the Shaolin Monastery sometime in the sixth century.
He is currently regarded as the twenty-eighth patriarch in a lineage that dates all the way back to Gautama Buddha. His other title is First Chinese Patriarch.
Estimated net worth
The estimated net worth of Bodhidharma is unknown.
According to folklore, three years after his passing, Bodhidharma was observed by northern Wei ambassador Sngyn wandering across the Pamir Heights holding a single shoe. Bodhidharma informed the ambassador that he was leaving for home and forbade him from mentioning this to anybody in response to his question.
Sngyn was detained for lying when he told the Emperor about the occurrence because it was commonly known that Bodhidharma had passed dead. But when his grave was dug up, it was discovered that it contained just one shoe.