Bodhidharma was a semi-legendary Buddhist monk who lived during the fifth and sixth century. He is known as Ta-mo in China and he is the first patriarch of Zen known as dhyaan in india. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan Buddhism to China, and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch. He is also referred to as the “Blue Eyed Barbarian”, he commands much respect in China and Japan. In Japan, he is known as Daruma. His name means “dharma of awakening (bodhi)” in Sanskrit. The story of Bodhidharma’s life is largely based on legends.
Bodhidharma is credited with establishing the famous Shaolin School of Chinese Martial Arts and is known as Tripitaka Dharma Master. His teaching refers to the direct experience of Buddha-nature rather than intellectual understanding, and he is known for his chap style that influenced some (such as Emperor Wu) while enlightening others. His life and teachings continue to inspire Zen Buddhism practitioners today, and he embodies the determination of hard work, discipline and vision in the path of spiritual practice.
|Original Name||Dharma Varma|
|Also Known As||Damo|
|Famous As||Buddhist Monk|
|Place of death||Shaolin Monastery, Zhengzhou|
|Died at Age||57|
Bodhidharma Family –
|Siblings||Nandi Varma and Shiva Varma|
Bodhidharma Trivia –
According to legend, three years after his death, Bodhidharma was seen walking across the Pamir Heights with a single shoe in his hand by Ambassador Sòngyún of northern Wei. In reply to the ambassador’s question, Bodhidharma said that he was going home, forbidding him to mention this to anybody. When Sòngyún related the incident to the Emperor, he was arrested for lying because it was a well-known fact that Bodhidharma had passed away. But when his grave was exhumed, it was found that there was only one shoe in it.
Bodhidharma Personal Life –
There is no official record of his date of birth. But scholars believe that he was born sometime in the 5th century, the two most commonly cited dates being 440 CE and 470 CE. His birthday is celebrated on the fifth day of the tenth lunar month. According to the principal Chinese sources, Bodhidharma came from the western regions, which refers to Central Asia but may also include the Indian subcontinent, and is described as either a “Persian Central Asian” or “South Indian”. Some modern day scholars hold that he was born in Kanchipuram, located in present day Tamil Nadu, India. According to these scholars, he was the third son of a Brahmin king of Pallava dynasty. However, his royal lineage could also mean that he came from the warrior caste, Kshatriya. Then, according to local tradition, Bodhidharma is known as Jayavarman.
He grew up in a very religious atmosphere and he was his father’s favorite son, a fact that made his elder brothers jealous. Fearing that their father would bequeath the kingdom to Jayavarman, his elder brothers not only belittled him before the king, but also tried to kill him. Although Jayavarman survived these assassination attempts he soon became wary of court politics. On realizing that court life was not for him, Jayavarman left home to study Buddhism.
Bodhidharma Early year and Childhood –
Nothing is known about Bodhidharma’s year of birth. But scholars believe that he was born sometime in the 5th century, the two most commonly cited dates being 440 CE and 470 CE. His birthday is celebrated on the fifth day of the tenth lunar month. According to the principal Chinese sources, Bodhidharma came from the western regions, which refers to Central Asia but may also include the Indian subcontinent, and is described as either a “Persian Central Asian” or “South Indian”. Some modern day scholars hold that he was born in Kanchipuram, located in present day Tamil Nadu, India. According to these scholars, he was the third son of a Brahmin king of Pallava dynasty. However, his royal lineage could also mean that he came from the warrior caste, Kshatriya. Then, according to local tradition, Bodhidharma is known as Jayavarman. showed great wisdom early in his life, and became interested in the teachings of Lord Buddha from the age of seven.
He grew up in a very religious atmosphere and he was his father’s favorite son, a fact that made his elder brothers jealous. Fearing that their father would bequeath the kingdom to Jayavarman, his elder brothers not only belittled him before the king, but also tried to kill him. Although Jayavarman survived these assassination attempts he soon became wary of court politics. On realizing that court life was not for him, Jayavarman left home to study Buddhism with Prajñātārā, a great Buddhist teacher who had come to Kanchipuram on the invitation of the king. On entering the monastery, he was named Bodhitara. Later, he was ordained as a monk and was named Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma studied with Prajñātārā for many years, remaining with her until her death. Before she died, she told him to go to China and spread the true teachings of Lord Buddha in that country.
Bodhidharma Later Year –
After his master’s death, Bodhidharma set out for China. There is some confusion about the exact route he took. According to one tradition, he traveled by sea to China, and reached the present day Guangzhou, then known as Panyu. From there, he went on foot to Nanjing. Some scholars believe that he took a land route. After crossing the Pamir Plateau on foot he must have followed the course of Huang He, ultimately reaching Luoyang, then an active center for Buddhism, taking three years to complete the journey. However, there is also confusion about his arrival date. According to Daoxuan, author of ‘Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks’, Bodhidharma reached China sometime before 479 CE during the reign of Liú Sòng Dynasty. But in ‘Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall’, compiled in 952 CE, we find that he reached China in 527 CE during the reign of Liáng Dynasty.
In China, Bodhidharma became known as Ta Mo and started preaching the core of the Buddhist religion, putting more emphasis on meditation and enlightenment than on reading of scriptures. This angered many established masters, who emphasized more on reading. They therefore rejected his teachings. Left alone, he began to wander. When Bodhidharma failed to make any impression in South China, he headed for the north. Crossing the Yellow River, he subsequently reached Song Mountain, the home to the Shaolin Monastery. On the way, he met a Buddhist monk called Shen Guag, who eventually became his disciple and became famous as Dazu Huike.
When he reached Shaolin Monastery, the monks refused him admission. So, Bodhidharma sat in meditation outside the monastery, facing its wall. For nine years, Bodhidharma meditated constantly without ever leaving his seat or speaking to anyone.
According to a legend, one day he fell asleep while meditating and to prevent its recurrence he cut off his eyelids. His picture showing a wide-eyed stare might be based on this legend. It is also said that sitting in the same posture for nine long years caused him to lose the use of his leg. According to Japanese tradition, it caused his arms and legs to fall off, leading to the creation of Daruma dolls, which do not have any legs.There are many stories concerning what happened to Bodhidharma after the nine years of ‘wall-gazing’. According to some version, he died while sitting upright in his seat. But the more popular version states that he entered Shaolin Monastery after this period.
It is said that the monks in the Shaolin Monastery were so impressed by his dedication that they invited him in. Here he started teaching, putting emphasis on meditation, where it began to be known as ‘Chan’, a derivation of Sanskrit ‘Dhyana’.
While teaching ‘Chan’, he soon realized the long period of study had robbed the monks off their vitality and they had become too weak to concentrate. Therefore, along with teaching meditation techniques, he also started teaching them a series of exercises, called ‘Shiba Luohan Shou’ (Luohan’s 18 hands). In addition to ‘Luohan’s 18 hands’, he also taught his students two other sets of exercises known as ‘Yi Jin Jing’ (Sinew Metamorphosis Classic) and ‘Xi Sui Jing’ (‘Bone Marrow Cleansing’). During this period, he also wrote two books called ‘Yi Jin Jing’ and ‘Xi Sui Jing’.
During his stay at Shaolin Monastery, he went on a long tour, visiting Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Malaysia, teaching the Mahayana doctrine of Buddhism as well as forms of martial art. According to local legend in Malaysia, he introduced an indigenous form of martial art called ‘silat’ in that country. After the tour, he returned to China through Nanyue, remaining at Shaolin monastery for the rest of his life. He had four main disciples, Dazu Huike, Dao Fu, Dao Yu and Zong Chi, a num. Among them, Dazu Huike became his successor. He is believed to have written many books. Text associated with him are ‘Two Entrances and Four Practices’, ‘The Bloodstream Sermon’, ‘Dharma Teaching of Pacifying the Mind’, ‘Treatise on Realizing the Nature’, ‘Bodhidharma Treatise’ , ‘Refuting Signs Treatise’ and ‘Two Types of Entrance’.
Bodhidharma Death –
Just as the year of his birth, the year of his death also remains a mystery. But most scholars agree that he died in the Shaolin Monastery sometime in the sixth century.
Bodhidharma Inspirational & Motivational Quotes
- Only one person in a million becomes enlightened without a teacher’s help. – Bodhidharma
- And as long as you’re subject to birth and death, you’ll never attain enlightenment. – Bodhidharma
- All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions. – Bodhidharma
- Life and death are important. Don’t suffer them in vain. – Bodhidharma
- Not engaging in ignorance is wisdom. – Bodhidharma
- If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame or fortune, it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past. – Bodhidharma
- Worship means reverence and humility it means revering your real self and humbling delusions. – Bodhidharma
- To enter by reason means to realize the essence through instruction and to believe that all living things share the same true nature, which isn’t apparent because it’s shrouded by sensation and delusion. – Bodhidharma
- A Buddha is someone who finds freedom in good fortune and bad. – Bodhidharma
- Once you see your nature, sex is basically immaterial. – Bodhidharma
- If you use your mind to study reality, you won’t understand either your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, you’ll understand both. – Bodhidharma
- People who don’t see their nature and imagine they can practice thoughtlessness all the time are lairs and fools. – Bodhidharma
- Buddhas move freely through birth and death, appearing and disappearing at will. – Bodhidharma
- To find a Buddha all you have to do is see your nature. – Bodhidharma
- But while success and failure depend on conditions, the mind neither waxes nor wanes. – Bodhidharma
- The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils, is rooted in the three poisons. Greed, anger, and delusion. – Bodhidharma
- Our nature is the mind. And the mind is our nature. – Bodhidharma