Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bodhidharma, Ancient Buddhist Sage and Originator of Zen

Bodhidharma, also know as Batua, Daruma or Dot Mor is credited with bringing both Kung Fu and Buddhism to China in the 5th or 6th century. He practiced a deep self-introspection that at the time was often called “wall gazing” but today we know it as meditation. He spoke of the Bodhisattva entering the minds of those who could recognize and accept the truth of self-realization, become masters of their minds and accept Buddha. In legend the figure is closely bound to ideas about spiritual, intellectual and physical wholeness, an indivisible singularity or enlightenment that is said to be the root of both Zen Buddhism in Japan and China’s Chan school of thought.

Bodhidharma practiced a kind of fighting exercise, said to represent the five animal forms of Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Snake and Crane. The style was adopted by his disciples and refined over the centuries. There is some association with Bodhidharma at the Shaolin temple. Some say Emperor Xiaowen erected the temple in his honor. Other histories maintain that when Bodhidharma arrived in Shaolin, he was confronted by a wall, upon which he meditated for nine years. Upon his departure manuscripts were discovered including the basic descriptions for Qigong or Yì Jīn Jīng.

Without getting too specific, it is safe to say that Bodhidharma is an extremely important figure in the legends and culture of Asia. He is most often depicted with wide eyes and a bushy beard. He is a traveler, having spread the ideas of Buddhism and self-discovery/discipline from the Himalayas to Mt Fuji, from the Mekong Delta to the Gobi Desert. He is even credited with the advent of tea as one story says that during his nine years of meditation in Shaolin he cut off his eyelids to fend off sleep. From his discarded eyelids grew the first tea plants, which is why tea keeps you awake.

As with many aspects of Chinese culture, Bodhidharma represents a convergence of philosophies and history. Buddhist and Taoist ideals often merge, both seeking a certain wholeness of thought and being. The legends of Bodhidharma also bridge these two worlds as Taoism is largely incorporated into Kung Fu and Tai Chi, both draw on the meditation and self control that were cornerstones of Bodhidharma’s teachings.

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