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Bodhidharma Daruma
Bodhidharma, aka Daruma
by Gibon Sengai (1750-1837). Section.

The Zen monk Bodhidharma asked, "Why explain Sutras?"

A teacher, "To end birth and death."

Bodhidharma said, "The words are black and the paper is white. How does this teach people to end birth and death?"

The other reddened and raged, "You are slandering the Dharma!" and struck him across the mouth with an iron rod and knocked loose two teeth. [More in a tale below]

MISSIONARIES in the first and second centuries spread Buddhism to China. It got entrenched there. Great monastic communities and vast temple complexes, an enormous body of Buddhist literature translated into Chinese - these were the tokens. Centres of great learning arose as Buddhism adapted itself to the Chinese milieu in new, sinified forms.

The founder of the Tang dynasty (from 618) was nominally a Taoist, but all the same he contributed much to the rise of Buddhism. By the eight century, China was virtually a Buddhist nation. But the power Buddhism held then, intensified destructive quarrels and destructive activities among various Buddhist groups and sects and Tang schools that had been imported long before Ch'an. Most of these schools of Buddhism lost their vital power, and in the end Ch'an emerged as the primary school of Chinese Buddhism.

Also, Buddhism survived disastrous persecutions of the Hui Chang era (in the years 842-45), but never regained its dominant position in China.

Many Indian works on meditation techniques gained fairly wide circulation. Meditation techniques were adopted and put to use with different emphasises. Communities grew up as practitioners banded together. One such community, that of the priest Hung Jeng of the East Mountain, gained considerable prominence. Many disciples left him to move to other areas of the nation and established schools of their own. With these men the story of Ch'an as a sect begins.

The Ch'an adherents made copious use of old legends and devised new ones. Various priests used various legends; they were refined and adjusted till a quite confusing whole emerged.

Only fragments of the literature remains. Therefore it is virtually impossible to determine just how Ch'an developed - one can come to no definite conclusion, writes Philip Yampolsky (1967, 1-4).


Bodhidharma Lore

Bodhidharma drawing
Bodhidharma (Daruma)

Bodhidharma (Daruma) is employed as a symbol of the real Zen ado, its spirit. [Addiss, p. 125-29]

Many accounts agree that Bodhidharma (early 400s CE) was a South Indian Pallava prince-turned-monk who journeyed to Southern China and subsequently relocated northwards. And some scholars doubt that there really was any historical Bodhidharma (Japanese: Daruma Daishi). Versions differ. Here's a part of what's generally believed about his life:

He was born in Kanchi in the Southern Indian kingdom of Pallava between 440 and 470. His spiritual instructor was the monk Prajnatara. He told him to travel to China and he came there by ship somewhere between 475 to 520. Legend has it that he spent nine years in meditation, where he used to sit facing the rock wall of a cave that's about a mile from the Shaolin Temple. Thus he won the title "the wall-gazing brahmin".

It is also held that Bodhidharma created an exercise program for the monks as time went by. The program involved physical techniques that strengthened the body and also could be used practically in self-defense, self-defense, and never to hurt or injure needlessly. This system is known today as the Priest-Scholar 18 Hand Movements. They are the basis of Chinese Temple Boxing and the Shaolin Arts. And thus, the martial art kung fu (also: Gung Fu) is associated with him too.

Meeting the emperor

AFTER Bodhidharma arrived in what is today the port city of Canton, he travelled at the invitation of the Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty (6th C) to visit him in Nanking. Wu Ti had had many Buddhist monasteries built. Now he asked the master from India what merit and virtues for succeeding lives the emperor had accumulated through his benevolence.

Bodhidharma answered curtly, "No virtues, none."

Bodhidharma thought that the emperor only received merits for building temples, but not hard-won virtues from own deeds.

How two teeth were knocked out

BODHIDHARMA had come to Nanking where he listened to one Shen Kuang explaining the sutras. When Shen Kuang spoke, the heavens rained fragrant blossoms and a gold-petalled lotus rose from the earth. But all were not able to see that -

After listening to the Sutra, Bodhidharma asked, "Dharma Master, what are you doing? Why explain Sutras?"

"I am teaching people to end birth and death."

"Oh?" said Bodhidharma, "Exactly how do you do that? The words are black and the paper is white. How does this teach people to end birth and death?"

Dharma master Shen Kuang had nothing to say, though he reddened with anger and raged. Then he snapped, "You are slandering the Dharma!" and cracked Bodhidharma across the mouth with his iron rod, knocking loose two teeth.

Bodhidharma hadn't expected such a vicious reply. He swallowed the two teeth and disappeared down the road.

Meeting the parrot

ON THE way Bodhidharma met a parrot who was kept in a wicker cage. The bird recognized Bodhidharma as a great one, and said:

"Mind from the West.
Mind from the West.
Do me a favour and teach me a way
To escape from this cage."

Bodhidharma whispered a secret teaching to help the bird end suffering. He said,

Put out both legs,
Close both eyes.
This is the way
To escape from the cage!

The parrot listened and said, "All right! I understand."

The bird stuck out his legs, closed his eyes, and waited. When the bird's owner came home from work, he opened the cage door and scooped up the bird - it lay still and quiet in his hand. Thinking the bird had recently died, he slowly he opened his hand - Then the bird suddenly flapped and flew away -

Clairvoyant parrot, that's what the media say

A woman in New York has a parrot that has passed scientific clairvoyance tests. The parrot N'Kisi has a vocaculary of 555 words, and use them in commenting on thoughts of people.

During the tests, her owner, Aimee Morgana, was sitting in one room with a bunch of pictures, and the parrot was in another room. As a picture of a bouquet of flowers was shown, the parrot called, "Picture of flowers. Picture of flowers." When the picture of a telephone was shown her owner, N'Kisi called something like, "Dealing with the phone again, eh?"

A retired researcher from the University of Cambridge, Dr Rupert Sheldrake, has tested N'Kisi against 70 different pictures. An average score based on luck would be 5 hits, but N'Kisi tackled 32 of 70 pictures, a hit score of nearly 50%.

"Wholly amazing," says Sheldrake. [◦Meaningful enough?][◦Sheldrake page]

Caveats that pop up had better not be disregarded, but handled as fairly as can be. [◦Dr Carrol on "N'kisi and the N'kisi Project"][◦Dr Sheldrake's answers]

Rose Ringed Parakeets

The Indian Ringnecks form a sub-species among many other species in the Psittacula genus. For many centuries the Ringnecks have been known for their talking ability. Ancient Indian law protected them from being killed because their clear and convincing imitation of human speech was regarded by the Brahmins as evidence of their being sacred. In Roman times they are reported to have been taught to greet the Emperor with "Hail Caesar!", to his delight.

Their typical clarity of speech is very impressive and most often a delight. Vocabularies of these birds have been reported as high as 250 words. Not every bird has the capability of reaching this level.

A talking mynah

"A Chinese housewife is seeking divorce claiming the family's pet bird tipped her off about her husband's illicit affair.

"The talking mynah bird reportedly began dropping clues about her husband's affair after the woman returned from a visit to her parents." [◦Bird talk in the BBC News].

The common hill myna(h) (Gracula religiosa) belongs to the family of starlings (Sturnidae). The common hill myna is often detected by its loud, shrill, descending whistles followed by other calls. Both sexes can produce a very wide range of loud calls – whistles, wails, screeches, and gurgles, sometimes melodious and often very human-like in quality. Each individual has a repertoire of three to thirteen call types. Dialects change rapidly with distance, such that birds living more than 15 km apart have no call-types in common with one another. The common hill myna does not imitate other birds in the wild, but held in captivity they are among the most renowned mimics. They can learn to reproduce many everyday sounds, particularly the human voice, and even whistled tunes, with astonishing accuracy and clarity. (Wikipedia, "Common hill myna")

The ghost of impermanence

Not long after, the ghost of impermanence in a high hat, paid a call on Shen Kuang. "Your life ends today," said the ghost.

Shen Kuang said, "What? Why must I die? Er, is there a person in this world who has put an end to death?"

"There is," said the ghost, "the black-faced mendicant you knocked two teeth out of."

"Oh, he can help me? Please, give me some more time!"

"All right," said the ghost. "Since you are sincere."

Shen Kuang quickly rushed after Bodhidharma. He forgot to thank the ghost and forgot to put on his shoes. He ran until he met the parrot that Bodhidharma had freed, and suddenly he understood, "Originally, there is just this way! I need only act dead. I need only be a living dead person!"

The stilled mind

BODHIDHARMA walked on. He arrived at Bear's Ear Mountain in Loyang. There he sat down to meditate while facing a wall. For nine years he sat meditating while Shen Kuang knelt beside him, seeking his secrets.

One day a great snow fell, and it rose in drifts as high as Shen Kuang's waist. Still he kept on kneeling. At last Bodhidharma asked him, "Why are you kneeling here in such deep snow?"

"I want to put an end to death," replied Shen Kuang. "I was really unsuccessful lecturing. Please, transmit the fit way to me."

At last Bodhidharma told him how to "Use the mind to seal the mind."

Yet the other said, "Quiet my mind."

"Find your mind," said Bodhidharma. "Show it to me and I will quiet it for you."

Shen Kuang looked for his mind outside his body and inside his body. He looked where there was light and in the middle of things and so on. At last Shen Kuang said to Bodhidharma, "I can't find my mind!"

"This is how well I have quieted your mind," said Bodhidharma.

At these words Shen Kuang understood things and got the name "Hui Ko" (Able Wisdom - Eka in Japanese) and became "Zen man number two" in the line after Bodhidharma.


THE LEGEND tells that Bodhidharma crossed the Yangtse River on a reed and travelled to northern China. There he settled at the Shaolin Monastery and transmitted the patriarchy to Hui Ko. Soon afterwards Bodhidharma died in 528.

A few years after his death, a Chinese official reported that he had encountered Bodhidharma in the mountains of Central Asia. Bodhidharma was then carrying a staff; a single sandal was hanging from it. He told that he was on his way back to India. When this story reached his Chinese home, fellow monks decided to open Bodhidharma's tomb. Inside there was only a sandal.

The line

IN TURN Hui Ko (487–593) handed over the "Seal of Buddha-Heart" to his foremost disciple, Seng Tsan (?–606), who was followed by Tao Hsin (580-665?) and Hung Jen (674–674?).

After Hung Jen, Chinese Ch'an (Zen) was divided into two schools, Northern and Southern. The latter, which was led by Hui Neng (638–713), the sixth patriarch, continued a transmission that is flourishing in Japan still. [The dates given are not certain.]


Bodhidharma's Teachings

His Motives

THE DEAR contemplation methods which Bodhidharma taught, were taken from the "pan-Indian" heritage. His instructions were to a great extent based on the sutras of Mahayana Buddhism. In The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma he says:

The only reason I've come to China is to transmit the instantaneous teaching of the Mahayana: This mind is the buddha. [And] eating one meal a day, or never lying down [...] are fanatical, provisional teachings. Once you recognize your moving, miraculously aware nature, yours is the mind of all buddhas.

The old teachings

Do not misconceive karma. [Do not misconstrue.]

[Never slander a Buddha].

Buddhas neither create nor negate the mind.

The Buddha used the tangible to represent the sublime.

Buddhas do not practice nonsense.

This mind is like space ... you can't lose it.—This mind is also called the Unstoppable Tathagatha.

There's no fragrance without a tree and no buddha without the mind.

The nature of [a Buddha's] mind is basically empty ... free of cause and effect.

Only the wise know this mind, this mind called dharma-nature, this mind called liberation.—It is not the same as the sensual mind.

Bodhidharma on how to get into Tao

Outwardly, all activities cease;
Inwardly, the mind stops its panting.
When one's mind has become a wall [- looks like dharana],
Then he may [begin to] enter into the Tao.

[Chang 1970]

[And well sustained dharana is called dhyana, (jhana in the Pali language). It is a state of meditative absorption. The Chinese Ch'an that became Japanese Zen in time, stems from the Sanskrit dhyana, thus.]


Hints for Advanced Living

Most of the points relate to many salient ones of Bodhidharma's "Bloodstream Sermon" from antiquity.

A - The Buddha's Nature is Found by Diving Inside Yourself

BY MISTAKENLY clinging to the appearance of things there is this statement: "Buddha is Sanskrit for what you call aware, miraculously aware. And the mind is a Buddha." ◊

Studying long and hard, practicing morning and night, never lying down, or acquiring knowledge of the Dharma, can blaspheme right living (i.e., the Dharma). Buddhas of the past and future only talk about seeing your nature. Experiencing your nature is of Zen (dhyana). Unless you experience your nature, the diving inside is not good enough.

Motion is the mind's function, and its function is its motion. You have to learn how to still it. Contempation (Zen) is for that. YOU'RE walking, talking and sleeping essence, basically. It is standing, sitting, or lying in a quiet grove, - there is the essence of your own being and the light of your own nature while you're walking, standing, sitting, or lying in the stillness and darkness of night - And to find a Buddha all you have to do is experience your nature.

B - The Mind's Range is Said to Have no Limit

DOCTRINES are not the Way. The Way finally becomes wordless. Thus, even if you can explain thousands of sutras and shastras, unless you see your own nature yours is the teaching of a mortal, and not worth a Buddha.

Once you see your nature, sex is basically immaterial. In the end it ends along with your delight.

The mind's range of awareness has no limit. Do not misdirect your worship.

Devils and demons possess the power of manifestation—Unless you feel your nature, you shouldn't go around criticizing the goodness of others.

ALL DAY long some persons invoke Buddhas and read sutras. But they remain blind to their own divine nature. Ideally, you do not need to read sutras or invoke buddhas.

What is meant by mind: Your mind is nirvana deep inside. A Tathagata knows, he also knows men and gods if comparing to what is of a Buddha, or divine essence. ◊

To be bound by attachments is not great, all in all.

C - A Buddha is an Essentialist Inside

DAMNED fools neither know nor believe to their own ultimate good.

What is good, also results in a good memory. And attachments that remain will come to an end through that.

Motions and ideas are not the mind. And deluded people do not realize that their own mind is the Buddha, divine essence.

Of what use are scriptures? But someone who sees his own nature finds the Way, even if he can't read a word. Someone who sees his nature is a Buddha. And since a Buddha's body is intrinsically pure and unsullied, and everything he says is an expression of his mind, being basically empty, a buddha, an essential one, an essentialist.

The Buddha comes outward in your real body, your original mind. This mind is like an inner space. The day-to-day person-mind can't hold it full well. Thus, what good are doctrines? The ultimate Truth is beyond words. You can be better off "doing nothing" (wu wei).

Also, free yourself from karma. If you do not see your nature, quoting sutras is no help.

Those who worship do not know, and those who know do not worship.

It is only now.

Go beyond language. Go beyond thought, basically. Adhere to that.

People who see that their mind is the Buddha do not need to shave their heads (in a monk's style).


Bodhidharma, Daruma, Zen, Literature  

Bodhidharma. 1989. The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma. Tr. Red Pine. New ed. New York: North Point Press / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Chang, Garma C. 1970. The Practice of Zen. New York: Harper.

Eshin, Godfrey et al. trs. 2001. Bodhidharma's Teaching. Happy Valley, Hong Kong: Tung Lin Kok Yuen.

Yampolsky, Philip, tr. 1967. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. The Text of the Tun-Huang Manuscript. New York: Columbia University.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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