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13 November, 2012



       The principal sources, given in various translations, vary on their account of Bodhidharma being either:

  • "[A] monk of the Western Region named Bodhidharma, a Persian Central Asia "from Persia;
  • "[A] South Indian of the Western Region. He was the third son of a great Indian king."(Tanlin, 6th century CE);
  • "[W]ho came from South India in the Western Regions, the third son of a great Brahman king "the third son of a Brahman king of South India".
  • "[O]f South Indian Brahman stock"a Brahmin monk from South India"
  • Some traditions specifically specifically describe Bodhidharma to be the third son of a Tamil Pallava King from Kancheepuram.


       A thousand years after the Buddha had died, a man called Bodhidharma travelled from India to China.  From his youth he had followed the Way what the Buddha had taught, and he had attained enlightenment; so he was ready to enter nirvana.  But, he decided as the Buddha had done, to delay nirvana in order to teach others the Way; and he felt impelled to go to China for this purpose.  The voyage took him three years.

       When he arrived, he did not know what to say.  So he found a cave, and spent nine years deep in meditation, with his face to the wall.  At the end of that time he know he must visit the emperor of China.  As soon as he saw Bodhidharma, the emperor knew that he possessed great spiritual wisdom; and he began to boast how religious he was, and how many temples he had built.  'Your efforts are useless', Bodhidharma declared.  The emperor was offended, and asked in a curt voice:  'So what is your religion?'  'I do not have a religion', Bodhidharma replied.

       'By what principle do you live'? the emperor asked.  'The principle of emptiness," Bodhidharma replied.  By now the emperor was feeling angry.  'Who are you?' he asked in a loud voice.  'I do not know', Bodhidharma replied.  'Do you know anything?' the emperor asked.  "I know nothing'; Bodhidharma said - and walked away.

       The emperor regretted his anger, and sent a messenger to fetch Bodhidharma back.  Bodhidharma said to the messenger:  'If the emperor sent his whole army, I would not go.'  Some bystanders heard these words, and news quickly spread of Bodhidharma's defiance.


       It was now winter, and the land was covered with snow.  Bodhidharma found a derelict house, and settled there.  A few days later a young man (Dazu Huike) arrived and said to Bodhidharma: 'My mind is in turmoil.  Teach the Way that brings peace.'  Bodhidharma replied:  'Wait outside'.  The young man waited outside in the snow for seven days and nights.  Then Bodhidharma came out, and said to the young man:  'Show me your mind'.  The  young man replied: 'I cannot produce it because I do not possess it.'  'So', declared Bodhidharma.  'I have brought it peace'.  The young man understood; and Bodhidharma allowed him inside.

       During the following months many men and women from all over China came to Bodhidharma, in the hope that he would bring peace to their minds.  They collected wood and stone from the countryside nearby, and erected huts for themselves, and they waited for Bodhidharma to teach them.  finally, one hot summer's day, he came out of his house, sat cross-legged on the ground, and began to speak.  His words were not his own; he had learnt them, and understood their meaning, many years previously in India.

       'It is the task of enlightened men and women,' he began, 'to lead all living beings in the universe towards nirvana.  And in the course of time innumerable beings have been led to nirvana by enlightened men and women.  Yet in truth no being at all has been led to nirvana.  How is this?  If all people have in their minds the concept of being; they are not enlightened.  An enlightened man or woman has no concept of self or being, no concept of mind or peace.


       'Enlightened men and women,'Bodhidharma continued, 'are loving.  Yet their love is detached.  This means they love without regard to appearance - and without regard to sound, fragrance, or any other attribute.  Their love is not motivated by attachment, nor does it cause attachment.  Can you measure all space to the east?  Can you measure all space to the south, west or north?  Can you measure all space upwards or downwards?  Love, which is detached, is also beyond measure.

       Enlightened men and women teach the truth.  Some people are close to enlightenment; so when they hear the truth, they understand it.  The truth is that no being, and no entity of any kind, is separate and distinct; all are one.  So all sense of individuality is relinquished.  Even the sense of truth, as distinct from falsehood, is relinquished.

       'You may cut the flesh from every limb of an enlightened persons; yet that persons will not flinch, or show any response.  This is because that person has no sense of self as separate and distinct.

       'Enlightened men and women have thoughts which contain no images, no smell, no feelings, no objects of any kind.  They do not even think about the Way; for them the Way is neither present nor absent.'


       'Imagine', continued Bodhidharma, 'that someone filled three thousand planets and treasure - with gold and silver, diamonds and pearls - and then gave that treasure to the poor.  We should admire that person's goodness.  Imagine that someone heard four words of true teaching, understood them, and then explained them to others.  That person would merit far greater admiration.

       'Imagine that there were many rivers as there are grains of sand in the bed of one river.  If someone gave to the poor seven pieces of gold for every grain of sand on the bed of all those rivers, we should admire that person's goodness.  But if someone heard one word of true teaching, understood it, and explained it to someone else, that person would merit far greater admiration.

       'Enlightened men and women are determined to save all living beings from darkness.  Yet they know that, when all living beings have been saved, no one has been saved.  This is because the concept of saving a living being assumes that living beings are separate, distinct entities.  the light of truth shows athat there are no distinct and separate entities.  If people delcare their intention to save other loiving beings from darkness, they show themselves not to the enlightened.

       'If you become enlightened, nothing is gained; there is no profit in enlightenment.  enlightenment men and women know that all beings including even virtues, are like Bubbles in a stream or flashes of lightning.'


     According to Southeast Asian folklore, Bodhidharma travelled from South India by sea to Sumatra, Indonesia for the purpose of spreading the Mahayana doctrine. From Palembang, he went north into what are now Malaysia and Thailand. He travelled the region transmitting his knowledge of Budhism and martial arts before eventually entering China through Vietnam. Malay legend holds that Bodhidharma introduced preset forms to silat.


       Three years after Bodhidharma's death, Ambassador Song Yun of northern Wei is said to have seen him walking while holding a shoe at the Pamir Heights. Song Yun asked Bodhidharma where he was going, to which Bodhidharma replied "I am going home". When asked why he was holding his shoe, Bodhidharma answered "You will know when you reach Shaolin monastery. Don't mention that you saw me or you will meet with disaster".
       After arriving at the palace, Song Yun told the emperor that he met Bodhidharma on the way. The emperor said Bodhidharma was already dead and buried, and had Song Yun arrested for lying. At the Shaolin Temple,  the monks informed them that Bodhidharma was dead and had been buried in a hill behind the temple. The grave was exhumed and was found to contain a single shoe. The monks then said "Master has gone back home" and prostrated three times:
       For nine years he had remained and nobody knew him;
      Carrying a shoe in hand he went home quietly, without ceremony.
Source:  Satcho: 1) Hekiganroku and Dianmond Sutra - Excerpts from the Book on 366 Readings from World Religions by Robert Van De Weyyer. (2) Wikipedia

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