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Bodhidharma was a semi-legendary Indian monk who lived from approximately 440 CE - 528 CE. Bodhidharma is traditionally held to be the founder of the Ch'an (known in Japan and the West as Zen) school of Buddhism, and the Shaolin school of kung fu.

In the Chinese language, his name is transliterated as Pu2 Ti2 Da2 Mo2 (菩提達摩) or simply Da2 Mo2. He is known as Daruma in Japanese.

Bodhidharma was born in what is now southern India around 440. He travelled to teach in China in about 475, where he found would-be Buddhists preoccupied with scholasticism and attempting to earn favorable karma through good works.

Bodhidharma travelled to various Chinese monasteries, teaching and giving sermons. According to tradition, he was invited to an audience with Emperor Wu Di[?] of the Liang dynasty[?] in 520. When the Emperor asked him how much merit he had accumulated through building temples and endowing monasteries, Bodhidharma replied, "None at all." Perplexed, the Emperor then asked, "Well, what is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism?" "Vast emptiness," was the bewildering reply. "Listen," said the Emperor, now losing all patience, "just who do you think you are?" "I have no idea," Bodhidharma replied.

With this, Bodhidharma was banished from the Court, and is said to have sat in meditation for the next seven years "listening to the ants scream."

Another story credits Bodhidharma with bringing tea to China. Supposedly, he cut off his eyelids while meditating, to keep from falling asleep. Tea bushes sprung from the spot where his eyelids hit the ground.

Bodhidharma traveled to the recently constructed Shaolin temple in the south of China, where the monks refused him admission. Bodhidharma sat meditating facing a wall for the next 9 years, supposedly burning holes into the wall by staring at it. Only then did the monks of the Shaolin Temple respect Bodhidharma and allow him inside. There, he found the monks so out of shape from a life of study spent copying scrolls that he introduced a regimen of martial excercises, which became the foundation of many later schools of kung fu.

Famous Works Attributed to Bodhidharma

  • The Outline of Practice
  • The Bloodstream Sermon
  • The Wake-Up Sermon
  • The Breakthrough Sermon

See also: Buddhism in China

External References

  • The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, translated and with an introduction by Red Pine. New York: North Point Press, 1987. Translation and original Chinese text of four works attributed to Bodhidharma.

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