Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bodhidharma - A South Indian Who Became Buddhist Guru of Shaolin in China

According to Chinese legend, Bodhidharma began the physical training of the Shaolin monks that led to the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu, practice of medicine and Buddhism. Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century CE. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan to China, and hence regarded as its first Chinese patriarch.

Chan from Sanskrit dhyāna meaning "meditation" or "meditative state" is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism developed in China from the 6th century CE onwards, becoming dominant during the Tang and Song dynasties. After the Song, Chan more or less fused with Pure Land Buddhism.

Chan spread south to Vietnam and east to Korea (where it is known as Seon) and, in the 13th century, to Japan, where it became known as Zen. The Chan/Zen tradition became popular Buddhism in the Western world.

The principal Chinese sources vary on their account of Bodhidharma's origins, giving either an origin from India or from the Central Asian kingdoms.

The Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall (952) identifies Bodhidharma as the 28th Patriarch of Buddhism in an uninterrupted line that extends all the way back to the Buddha himself.

Sources for Biographical Information on Bodhidharma

Tánlín's Preface to the Two Entrances and Four Acts

Tánlín (506–574) wrote a brief biography of the "Dharma Master" in his preface to the Two Entrances and Four Acts, a text traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma. In that biography, he identified Bodhidharma as South Indian:

According to him, the Dharma Master was a South Indian of the Western Region. He was the third son of a great Indian king. He adopted Mahayana path. Lamenting the decline of the true teaching in the outlands, he crossed mountains and seas, traveling about propagating the teaching in Han and Wei.

Tánlín's account was the first to mention that Dàoyù and Huìkě were disciples of Bodhidharma. Huike figures very prominently in the Bodhidharma literature. Although Tánlín has traditionally been considered a disciple of Bodhidharma, it is more likely that he was a student of Huìkě.

Ching-chüeh - Chronicle of the Lankavatara Masters

Tanlin's preface has also been preserved in Ching-chüeh's (683-750) Leng-ch'ieh shih-tzu chi (Chronicle of the Lankavatara Masters). He wrote that the teacher of the Dharma, who came from South India was the third son of a great Brahman king.

Dàoxuān (Tao-hsuan) - Further Biographies of Eminent Monks

In the 7th-century historical work Further Biographies of Eminent Monks, Dàoxuān provided several significant additions to knowledge on Bodhidharma

Dàoxuān privided more detail concerning Bodhidharma's origins, writing that he was of "South Indian Brahman stock. More detail was provided concerning Bodhidharma's journeys.  "He first arrived at Nan-yüeh during the Sung period. From there he turned north and came to the Kingdom of Wei". This implies that Bodhidharma had travelled to China by sea, and that he had crossed over the Yangtze River.

Dàoxuān suggests a date for Bodhidharma's arrival in China. He writes that Bodhidharma makes landfall in the time of the Song, thus making his arrival no later than the time of the Song's fall to the Southern Qi Dynasty in 479.Finally, Dàoxuān provides information concerning Bodhidharma's death. Bodhidharma, he writes, died at the banks of the Luo River, where he was interred by his disciple Huike, possibly in a cave. According to Dàoxuān's chronology, Bodhidharma's death must have occurred prior to 534, the date of the Northern Wei Dynasty's fall, because Huike subsequently leaves Luoyang for Ye.

A MONK: BODHIDHARMA - The First Patriarch of Zen


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