Bodhidharma-The monk who founded Zen Buddhism

Religion today plays a key role in shaping the personality of a person by enlightening wisdom. There are different types of religions practiced by people in various parts of the world to focus more on their objectives and other things with special attention. Buddhism religion is well-known for its non-violence principles and other teachings. A majority of people in China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand as well as in western countries.

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Even though the origin of Buddhism is India, it is later spread to other nations in various ways. Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism advised his disciples to follow the eightfold path to recover from the lifecycle (birth and death). A monk is a person who strictly practices Buddhism in his/her life for attaining top positions in spiritual life. He or she should refrain from sensual activities, drinking, drugs, anger, greed, harsh speech, lying, materialistic desires, and violence.

There are several monks from India who contributed to the growth of Buddhism in other countries. The notable one among them is Bodhidharma who made remarkable changes in Buddhism.

Who is Bodhidharma or Da Mo?

Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who hails from South India and lived during the 5th and 6th century. He was born as a prince in the Pallava dynasty of Kanchipuram, a famous temple town located in the Tamil Nadu state of India. However, he left the kingdom at an early age and refrained from his prince hood to become a monk.

Bodhidharma enlightened at the age of 22 and went to China after a period of 2 years to spread the messages of Buddhism. Da Mo is the Chinese name of the monk because he translated the Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into the Chinese language. He made some changes in Buddhism aimed at attaining the feet of Buddha.

Childhood of Bodhidharma

The exact birth date of Bodhidharma is not known and sources say that he was the third son of the Pallava dynasty. His original name was Jayavarman and he became the favourite son of his father.

On seeing this, his brothers and sisters became jealous and tried to kill him. However, he survived assassination attempts and stayed away from court politics. He realized that court life is not suitable for him and left the empire to study Buddhism under a great Buddhist woman teacher named Prajñātārā who had come to Kanchipuram on the invitation of the king.

Jayavarman stayed with the teacher until her death and was renamed as Bodhitara. She told him to go to China before her death. So, he became a monk soon and the monastery named him as Bodhidharma.

How Bodhidharma came to China?

Wu-Ti is an emperor of the Liang dynasty who lived in China before 1,500 years ago and he was looking for some great monks from India to spread the messages of Buddhism. However, he waited for a long time who turned 60-years old. One day, he came to know that a monk would cross the Himalayas soon and enter China to teach the principles of Buddhism to common people.

Bodhidharma decided to set out for China and many people say that he reached the country by sea. On the other hand, some sources say that Da Mo entered China through the land route. There are several confusions that exist in the history about the arrival date of the monk.

He and one of his disciples entered the kingdom of Wu-Ti and the emperor prepared a big celebration for welcoming both of them. At the same time, he was disappointed to see Bodhidharma because he was just 25-years old at that time.

Bodhidharma was also not looking impressive because it has been a long journey for him. It took nearly 3-years for him to reach the country and looked very tired. The emperor asked some questions to the monk after serving him with great respect. On the other hand, he was not satisfied with the answers of Bodhidharma and decided that he was not the right person to spread Buddhism in China.

By Jiulongtang – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The confrontation with Wu-Ti and Shen Guang

Wu-Ti is an emperor who ruled over the southern kingdom of China and he invited Damo to his palace. The kind erected several statues and temples in order to spread the messages of Buddhism. He asked Da Mo whether his actions are good or not and he replied that it is the duty of a king to do such things.

The emperor again asked Bodhidharma about the source of this creation and he said he don’t want to answer the question because he thought it is a foolish one. Finally, Wu-Ti asked the monk about the sources of his existence and was not interested in answering the question.

Da Mo’s answers enraged the emperor and he ordered him to leave his territory. So, he left the empire soon and continued his journey to other parts of China and never returned to the kingdom.

Shen Guang was a famous general in the city of Nanjing who won several battles by killing numerous people. He felt guilty and realized that someone might kill him. Therefore, he decided to train as a monk and he will deliver speeches on Buddhism at a place called the Flower Rain Pavilion.

While heading to the north of China, he entered Nanjing city and reached the place to see what’s happening there. He listened to the speeches of Shen Guang and would nod his head if the statements are correct. On the other hand, he would shake his head when he doesn’t agree with some statements.

Shen Guang became very angry at the behaviour of Da Mo and took the Buddhist beads from his neck and flicked them at him. The bead struck the monk’s face and knocked out two front teeth and started bleeding.

Bodhidharma left the place immediately without saying a word. This made the general follow him due to his strange character and later became a disciple of Da Mo.

How Shen Guang became the disciple of Da Mo?

Shen Guang decided to follow Da Mo and both of them reached Shaolin temple. However, Da Mo didn’t teach anything to him for nearly 4 years. At the end of 4 years, Shen Guang lost his patience and was standing at the snow and he picked up a large block of snow. He hurled the same into Da Mo’s room which broke into pieces that created a heavy noise.

It awakened Bodhidharma and he looked at Shen Guang and the former general asked when he would teach him. Da Mo replied politely and said he would teach Shen Guang when the red snow fell away from the sun.

On hearing this, Shen Guang took a sword and cut off his left arm and held the same above his head and also whirled it around. Da Mo then agreed to teach Shen Guang and became the disciple soon.

Journey in China and the beginning of Kung-Fu at Shaolin temple

Bodhidharma failed to impress the emperor and the monks in Southern China and he headed towards the north. He crossed the Yellow River and reached Song Mountain which is home to the Shaolin monastery along with Shen Guang.

Kung-Fu is a type of martial art practised in China by monks for self-defence purposes. But, many people don’t know who developed the technique. Moreover, they think that it was originated in the Shaolin temple. However, it is not true because it was well developed before the construction of the temple.

This is because of a physician named Hwa Tuo laid the foundation for Kung-Fu based on the movements of five animals. Tuo believed that practising martial arts will help to develop strength and other abilities efficiently and Shaolin temple remained as the martial learning center for more than 1000 years.

Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin temple in 527 AD and denied entry by the local monks because he was a foreigner. So, he went to a nearby cave and sat meditating facing a wall for 9 years. Later, he got good respect and recognition from the same monks because they realized their mistakes soon.

Furthermore, he noticed that they are both physically and mentally weak to practice the intensive meditation needed for the enlightenment path. As a result, he invented some exercises with a combination of physical movements and breathing for enhancing their body and mind.

The primary objective of kung-Fu is to defend monks by trained security guards and themselves from potential threats when they travel to important places. Bodhidharma started to train king-Fu martial art to his disciples and others in Shaolin temple.

Some of his practices included Hatha and Raja yoga practices from native India and Shaolin monks learned the fighting techniques from him. This evolved into the modern martial arts of China and collectively called kung-Fu.

The invention of Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing

Apart from kung-Fu, Bodhidharma developed some other martial arts in order to strengthen the body. Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing are the two exercise programs created by him to promote health.

Yi Jin Jing involves certain movements which mainly focus on the nerves, spines, ligaments, and spinal cord. It is a qigong practice that aims at integrating mind and body with a relaxed spirit for ensuring peace of mind.

Bodhidharma invented exercise programs with twisting and stretching movements to gain more advantages. He invented the practise exclusively for monks in order to improve their health conditions. It is a mixture of yoga and Kalayaripattu, an ancient martial art practised in India.

The martial technique taught monks how to build their internal energy abundantly and changed their weak body into a stronger one. Another thing is that it helped them to balance their bodies with ease.

Xi Sui Jung is another technique developed by Bodhidharma which has several Qi enhancing aspects which ultimately help to focus more on meditation and other qualities. It aimed at cleansing and purifying both the body and mind.

The practice even enabled monks to clean their bone marrow and strengthen their immune system with their own Qi. Because Xi Sui Jung is hard to follow, Bodhidharma thought the technique only to a few disciples who later mastered the techniques effectively.

Introduction of 18 Luohan hands

Luohan refers to a person who has a high level of spirituality similar to a Christian saint in a church. The Chinese paid homage to 18 of the 500 luohans and their statues are often found in Buddhist temples only.

Bodhidharma chose to pay homage to 18 luohans along with the set of qigong exercises for self-defense purposes. Later, 18 luohans evolved into Kung Fu form that fulfilled the needs of monks. The 18 luohans represent different types of exercises that can enhance the overall health of a monk.

He used to teach the practice at Shaolin temple for monks who want to reach enlightenment without entering Nirvana. Furthermore, the exercises transformed the life of monks that allowed them to travel on a spiritual path without any difficulties.

The foundation of Zen Buddhism

Bodhidharma founded a new type of Buddhism in China called Ch’an which means mediation. Later, it is known as Zen in Japan which is a mixture of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism.

Zen Buddhism spread to other countries and became very popular in the West. The objective of the newly founded Buddhism is to guide people who want to know the purpose of life directly without reading scriptures and following other techniques.

Bodhidharma came to know that Buddha got enlightenment without reading and chanting of scriptures. In fact, he didn’t emphasize on scriptures because he thought that a monk can become more aware and realize his own-nature through mental actions.

Zen Buddhism says that there is no need to search for the answers outside and one can find them in his/her place. The first step in Zen Buddhism is to control the mind through meditation and other techniques.

The introduction of tea in China

For a Zen meditator, sleep is the biggest enemy and Bodhidharma fell asleep during his meditation. Therefore, he cut off his eyelids that fell on the ground and they became a tea plant soon.

He discovered that the leaves of tea plant can make a person avoid sleep while meditating and later it became a popular drink in various parts of China. In fact, he recommended tea to monks for getting protection against sleep.

What are the characteristics of Zen Buddhism?

  • Self-knowledge is the only key to attain Buddhahood rather than reading or following scriptures
  • Zen teaches how to get enlightenment by seeing one’s own mind or nature
  • It is neither a philosophy or religion
  • Zen shows ways to free the mind from slavery of words and other things
  • It is a practical experience allowing a person to get spiritual awakening through various actions
  • Zen teaches how to get freedom from bondage and other things by pointing something
  • It emphasizes rigorous meditation practice towards the goal of awakening
  • Zen is a personal experience enabling a person to enlighten himself or herself
  • Zen teaches people how to get enlightenment by seeing one’s original mind
  • It mainly focuses on intuitive understanding with mediation and other techniques

What are the works done by Bodhidharma?

Bodhidharma was a good scholar in Sanskrit who translated many books into Chines language. Some of them work done by him include Two Entrances and Four Practices, Two Types of Entrance, Refuting Signs Treatise, and so on.

How Zen Buddhism spread to other countries?

During his stay at Shaolin Monastery, Da Mo went on a long tour visiting several countries to spread Zen Buddhism. He even introduced several martial arts in different forms for people who want to purify their soul, mind, and the body.

Each generation of the Zen lineage followed his teachings for awakening the spiritual path. In addition, Zen teachers and monks lived as representatives of Da Mo who contributed more to the growth.

He returned to China after completing his tour and stayed at Shaolin monastery for the rest of his life. The monk had four main disciples who became successors after his death. Moreover, he was influenced by a wide of Buddhist thinking and realized that self- realization and self-knowledge are the two keys to attain the feet of Buddhahood.

He even taught the concepts of enlightenment in various schools that awakened the mind of everyone to travel on the right path. Apart from that, Da Mo maintained a strange and profound legacy when compared to monks.

Mysteries on Da Mo’s death

There are several myths that are circulating in the history about the death of Da Mo. Some sources say that he was killed by his own disciple due to jealously. At the same time, there some people who say that he decided the right time himself to die in mediation. Some say he was killed by some unknown persons in the Heyin Massacre. His death is still remaining as a mystery. There is no concrete proof about the death of Da Mo because his life is always a strange one when he lived in China.

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