Bodhidharma . First patriarch of Chan or Zen Buddhism within the Mahayana. The figure of Bodhidharma (Ta-Mo in China and Budai-Daruma-Daishi in Japan ) is historically very controversial. Some scholars even today question its existence due to the limited information available. Bodhidharma preached the origin of his mission expressed in the following terms: “A special transmission outside the scriptures, with no dependence on words or letters, going directly to the soul of man, contemplating his own nature and realizing the state of Buddha”. Scholars traditionally attribute to him, although debatable, the following works: Meditation on the Four Acts ,Treatise on the Lineage of Faith , Sermon on the Awakening and Sermon on the Contemplation of the Mind .


[ hide ]

  • 1 Origin
  • 2 History
    • 1 Biographies of the High Priests
    • 2 Martial arts
    • 3 The New Patriarch
    • 4 The End
  • 3 Sources


Born Bodhitara, the third child of King Sugandha of the southern Indian kingdom of Pallava, in 440 or 420 born to the Warrior caste, he spent his childhood years in Conjeeveram, the small Buddhist province south of Madras. His father, the king, was a devout Buddhist and handled state affairs according to the teachings of the Buddha. He showed his devotion to Buddhism through pious acts such as building Buddhist temples, printing Buddhist sutras, and encouraging his people to practice Buddhist teachings. The king’s wife constantly donated food and clothing to the poor. All his efforts helped bring peace and harmony to the state. This environment helped nurture compassion in the heart of the young Bodhidharma.


At that time, Prajnatara, the twenty-seventh patriarch of Indian Buddhism, traveled around India preaching the Buddha’s teachings, and one day he came to Pallava. The king warmly invited him to the palace, gave him many jewels and precious stones, and prepared a wonderful banquet. The king asked Prajnatara to speak to his court after the meal. The monk put all the jewels that the king had given him and asked the audience, “= Is there anyone here who knows if there is something more precious than these jewels there?”

The oldest son of the king spoke first. “Dear Master Prajnatara, my ancestor bought that piece of jade in the pile before you with ten castles. I think that must be the most valuable thing.” “Those jewels were brought from far, far away,” the king’s second son said then. “Some people have wanted to trade their houses for them, so they must be very valuable.”

Many ministers echoed the views of the two princes. Then Bodhidharma spoke. “The most valuable thing is the teachings of Buddha. These jewels are valuable because they are rare and difficult to obtain, but when we die, we no longer possess them. The teachings of Buddha, on the other hand, can help us in life and also it frees us from constant rebirth after death, so that in the future we can attain Buddhahood. “

Everyone in the audience was stunned and speechless by Bodhidharma’s words. However, Prajnatara knew at once that Bodhidharma was a remarkable person and that he would be the next patriarch. He asked the king if he could take the young man as his student. The king happily agreed. From that time, from Bodhitara to Bodhidharma, Bodhidharma studied under Prajnatara and traveled with his mentor around India to preach the Buddha’s teachings. Bodhidharma was an excellent student and soon surpassed his fellow students.

In old age he was already considered a Buddhist Master. When Prajnatara died, Bodhidharma set candles for China. Two reasons are given for this: 1) It was a deathbed wish of his Master, Prajnatara; o Bodhidharma heard of religious interests in China and went there, saddened by the decline of true Buddhist philosophy. Prajnatara sent him to China to introduce the teachings of the Sarvastivada Buddhist sect to the Chinese.

Biographies of the High Priests

The High Priest Biographies state that Bodhidharma first came to China during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 – 581 AD)

Bodhidharma sailed to China in 521. When he disembarked in the port city of Canton, he was greeted with great ceremony by a local official, Shao Ang, who immediately reported Bodhidharma’s arrival to Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty. The emperor requested that the officer accompany the monk to the capital, Chienkang (now Nanking).

Emperor Wu was a devoted Buddhist who had spent a lot of money building temples and reproducing Buddhist scriptures, and he treated Buddhist monks with great reverence. Many government officials adjusted to this, but they were only liking the emperor in the hope of being promoted.

When Emperor Wu met with Bodhidharma, a now famous conversation between the two took place there. The emperor spoke very politely to the monk. “I have built many temples and translated sutras into Chinese. I have also extended the rules for people who want to join monks or nuns. Furthermore, I have ruled my kingdom according to the teachings of Buddha. Do I earn merit? from all this? Will I become a buddha in the future? ”

Bodhidharma looked at him serenely and replied, “Your Majesty, you have no merit at all.” The disgruntled emperor asked him, “Why?” Bodhidharma replied, “What Your Majesty has been doing belongs to the merit of Elder Buddhism, Theravadin, and you will never truly get rid of endless reincarnation.”

To which Emperor Wu asked again, “So what is royal merit?” Bodhidharma replied, “True merit comes from altruistic giving, spiritual cultivation, and dedication to the Buddha and all living creatures. If His Majesty can do all this, he will earn true merit.”

The emperor was not happy with this reply or with the monk, and began to doubt his true identity. To find out if he really was who he claimed to be, Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma, “What is the first sacred law of Buddhism?” Bodhidharma replied, “There is no such law in Buddhism.” Then Emperor Wu asked very angrily, “Do you know who is standing before you?” Bodhidharma replied, “No, I don’t know.”

What’s going on here? Was Bodhidharma sick in the head or was he still dizzy after the trip from India to China by boat? No, it was none of this.

Through their conversation, Bodhidharma learned that Emperor Wu was only interested in earning merit and attaining Buddhahood, but that he had no understanding of the being of Buddhism. Eventually, Bodhidharma left the palace and went north to the Wei Kingdom. He was for a time at the Yung-Ning Temple in Lo-Yang where he met a Buddhist novice named Seng-Fu who joined Bodhidharma by following him and was consequently ordained by Bodhidharma and became his disciple. The two left the Yung-Ning Temple and traveled south where Seng-Fu died at the age of 61.

When he traveled, he heard about the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. The temple had been founded in 496 in honor of an Indian monk named Brahdra whom Emperor Hsiao Wen of the Northern Wei dynasty had invited to China to preach Buddhism. Bodhidharma had met Brahdra in India, so he decided to go to her temple.

He then left for Loyang, crossed the Tzu river on a board and climbed the Bear’s Ear Mountain in the Sung mountain range, where the Shaolin Temple was located. Brahdra was delighted to see an old friend and told his students to take good care of him.

Bodhidharma was moved, with a true Mahayana spirit, when he saw the terrible physical condition of the monks in the Shaolin Temple. The monks had gone on long meditation retreats that had made them spiritually strong but physically weak. He also observed that his method of meditation caused drowsiness among the monks. Likening them to the young Shakyamuni, who nearly died while practicing asceticism, he informed the monks that he would teach their bodies and minds the Buddha’s dharma in a two-part program: meditation and physical training.

Martial Arts

Bodhidharma created an exercise program for the monks that included efficient physical techniques that strengthened the body and that over time could be used for self-defense. When Bodhidharma had established these practices, his main care was to make the monks physically strong to withstand both their isolated lifestyle and the deceptively demanding training that meditation requires. It turned out that the techniques served a dual purpose, being a very efficient fighting system that later evolved into the martial arts style called Gung Fu.

Martial arts helped the monks defend themselves against warlords and bandits. Bodhidharma taught them that martial arts should be used for self-defense and never to hurt or hurt unnecessarily. Thus, one of the oldest Shaolin axioms is that “whoever enters the battle has already lost the battle.”

Bodhidharma, who was a member of the Kshatriya Indian warrior class and a master of club fighting, developed a system of 18 dynamic tension exercises. These movements were printed in 550 CE under the name Yi Gin Ching or Classic Muscle / Tendon Shifting. We know this system today as the 18 Hand Movements of the Lohan (Priest-Scholar), the basis of Chinese Temple Boxing and Shaolin Arts.

Some historians dispute the date, but legend has it that Bodhidharma settled in the Shaolin Temple of Songshan in Hunan Province in 526 CE. We know that the first Shaolin Temple was built in 377 for Pan Jaco, “The First Buddha”, by order of Emperor Wei, at Shao Shik Peak of Sonn Mountain, Teng Fon Hsien, Hunan Province. The Temple was for religious training and meditation only.

Bodhidharma meditated before a large stone in a cave for nine years, it was at the beginning of winter that a monk named Shen Kuang (487-593) came to the Shaolin Temple. He attentively told Bodhidharma that he had been looking for a wise teacher to enlighten him, but the old monk seemed to ignore his plea. Shen Kuang thought that the journey to enlightenment was often fraught with danger, so how could he abandon him simply because this great monk ignored him? He decided to stand outside Bodhidharma’s door to show his resolve.

It snowed that night. Snow covered Shen Kuang’s feet, but he was standing there. then the snows piled up to the waist. However, he was just standing there and quietly reciting Buddhist scriptures. Bodhidharma had indeed seen Shen Kuang, but he was not sure if that young man was not just another curious visitor. Seeing Shen Kuang who was standing there in the snow, Bodhidharma got excited and asked, “Aren’t you cold?”

Shen Kuang was surprised to hear Bodhidharma speak to him, but replied politely, “No. I am here to learn from you, Master.” Bodhidharma then asked him, “What do you want to learn?” Shen Kuang replied, “I want to learn the great compassionate spirit of Buddhism so that I can help the suffering people in the world!”

Bodhidharma tested it by saying, “Well, your vote is very high, but I’m not sure if you can keep it. You must do something else, or you will be wasting your time and mine.”

Shen Kuang firmly believed that he could achieve his goal, so he returned to the temple kitchen, took out a knife, and returned to the cave. There he suddenly cut off his left hand and put it before Bodhidharma. The old monk then fully understood how sincere the young monk was. “You cut off his hand to show your sincerity and determination. This shows that you can understand the Buddha’s teachings. Now I will rename you Hui Ko.”

Hui Ko then applied snow to his wound and wrapped a piece of his clothing around his injured hand. He then asked Bodhidharma to bring tranquility to his mind. Bodhidharma told him, “Get your mind out.”

Hui Ko understood then that after studying Buddhism for so many years, he had not yet understood the true meaning of “mind” and did not know where to find it.

At that moment, Bodhidharma yelled at him, “Hui Ko”!

Hui Ko was stunned, but his mind suddenly became completely calm. Bodhidharma told him, “I have brought tranquility to your mind.”

In this, Hui Ko had awakened and started a new life. News of Hui Ko’s enlightenment spread, and many monks came to the Shaolin Temple to ask Bodhidharma to accept them as his students.

The New Patriarch

One day, Bodhidharma said to his four main students, “I can see that my days are numbered and there is not much else I can teach you. So, I want you to tell me what you have gleaned after all these years of study.”

Tao Fu, the last to become a Bodhidharma student, answered first. “I believe that people should not only understand Buddhism through words, because words are simply a means to spread Buddhism.”

Bodhidharma smiled and said, “Tao Fu, you have understood the surface of Buddhism.”

The second student, Tsung Chih, told Bodhidharma, “My understanding of Buddhism is like Venerable Ananda, who sees the Pure Land of the Buddha: he can see it only once, because once is enough to bring enlightenment.”

Bodhidharma nodded and said to Tsung Chih, “You have understood the meat of Buddhism.”

Another student named Tao Yu said, “The four major elements of the world and ourselves are always impermanent. Thus, I don’t see any Buddhist teaching.”

Bodhidharma said to Tao Yu, “You have grasped the bone of Buddhism.”

So Hui Ko simply stood up, prostrated himself before Bodhidharma, stood up, and returned to his seat without uttering a word. Bodhidharma smiled and said, “Hui Ko has understood the being of Buddhism.”

Thus, Bodhidharma appointed Hui Ko the second Chan Patriarch of China.

The end

When Bodhidharma appointed Hui Ko the next patriarch, he was already weaker, but he still wanted to return to India. Bodhidharma’s students did not know what to do, so they decided to accompany him on the journey.

Bodhidharma passed away in 535 at Chien Sheng Temple, Shanhsi Province. His students buried him in Shaolin Temple, while Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty and Emperor Ching of the Eastern Wei Dynasty both praised the great monk with words of great regret.

However, legend has it that a strange thing happened after Bodhidharma’s burial. A messenger named Yun Sung from Eastern Wei was returning from a mission in Western China. On his way, he met Bodhidharma who, wearing a shoe, was walking slowly towards the west. Yun Sung was surprised to meet the great monk there, so he asked him politely, “Grandmaster, where are you going?” Bodhidharma simply said, “I am going west.”

Yun Sung related that since India was to the west, Bodhidharma was probably going home. He did not consider this issue until he got home and learned that the old monk had passed away. When Emperor Hsiao Ching heard the story of the messenger, he immediately requested that Bodhidharma’s tomb be opened. They found the coffin empty except for one shoe. They understood that Bodhidharma’s reference to the “west” actually meant the Western Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha, and that he was to attain Buddhahood there.

Bodhidharma began his life as a royal prince in South India, in the Sardilli family, in 482 CE. Legend has it that installed in a cavern facing the rocky wall near Shaolin, when Bodhidharma sought the state of Enlightenment necessary for the foundation of existence, he had been distracted by the image of a beautiful woman (the temptation of Mara) and to Resolving this, he decided to meditate on an object or symbol until the mind flow stopped.

As fatigue often overcame him, he decided to tear off his eyelids and throw them out of the cave in which he lived. After a long time (nine years according to legend) and having achieved his purpose, he drank a pacifying drink obtained from some leaves that grew from the place where his eyelids fell, and this plant was later known as Tea. He is unequivocally painted or represented in sculptures with bulging eyes and no lids.

In the Bodhidharma Awakening Sermon, he introduces us to the deep understanding of the essence of the direct path to awakening. In Buddhism there are three lower kingdoms or lokas, which are Greed or desire, Anger or aversion and Delusion or ignorance. These three kingdoms are responsible for the formation of identity or ego. In every human being there are karmic tendencies that make a certain condition predominate, Greed, hostility or confusion. The Chan or Zen master is the one who helps the disciple to identify his prevailing condition and prescribes the best method for him to achieve awakening.

Bodhidharma says:

The arhats continue to deny the mind, proclaiming that it does not exist. But bodhisattvas and Buddhas neither create nor deny the mind. “(They know that THERE IS NO MIND and THERE IS NO NO-MIND)”

To understand the nature of the mind is therefore to place oneself in the middle way out of the pairs of opposites without judging anything as good or bad, or understanding anything by pigeonholeing it into mental concepts:

“If you use your mind to study reality, you will understand neither your mind nor reality. If you study reality without using the mind, you will understand both. Those who do not understand, do not understand understanding. And those who understand, understand understanding. People capable of true vision know that the mind is empty, they transcend both understanding and non-understanding ”

The bodhisattva does not leave the world clinging to non-existence or not being nor does he stay in it, clinging to existence, detachment is therefore the essence of the path.

“The eyes that do not cling to form are the Gates of Chan. The ears that do not cling to sound are also the Gates of Chan. In short, those that perceive the existence and nature of phenomena and remain without clinging They are liberated. Those who perceive the external appearance of phenomena are at their mercy. Liberation means not being subject to affliction. There is no other liberation. When you know how to look at the form, the form does not give way to the appearance of the mind and the mind does not give way to the appearance of form. Both form and mind are pure. ”

Chan is the direct path to awakening, its end is beyond the mind, beyond ideas and concepts and Duality. To give us an idea of ​​its depth, Bodhidharma says:

“Buddhas have three bodies of transformation, a body of reward and a real body. The body of transformation is also called the body of incarnation.

The transformation body appears when mortals perform good deeds, the reward body when they cultivate wisdom and the real body when they become conscious of the sublime. The transformation body is the one that can be seen flying in all directions rescuing others wherever it can. The reward body puts an end to doubts. The Great Enlightenment in the Himalayas suddenly becomes true. The real body does not do or say anything. It remains perfectly still. But in reality, there is not even one body of Buddha, much less three. This talk of the three bodies is simply based on human understanding, which can be superficial, moderate or deep.

People of superficial understanding imagine that they accumulate merit and mistake the transforming body for the Buddha. People of moderate understanding imagine that they are ending suffering and mistake the reward body for the Buddha. And people of deep understanding imagine that they experience Buddhahood and mistake the real body for the Buddha. But people with the deepest understanding look within, without being distracted by anything. Since a clear mind is the Buddha, they attain the understanding of a Buddha without using the mind. The three bodies, like all other things, are unattainable and indescribable. The mind without hindrance reaches the Way. ”


Leave a Comment