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Introducing...Bodhidharma!


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Bodhidharma (also known as Pu Tai Ta Mo in Sanskrit and Daruma Daishi in Japanese) was an Enlightened Buddhist Master who is credited with reviving Buddhism in China and founding martial arts.

Bodhidharma began his life as a royal prince in Southern India in the Sardilli family in 482 A.D. In the midst of his education and training to continue in his father's footsteps as king, Bodhidharma encountered the Buddha's teachings. He immediately saw the truth in Lord Buddha's words and decided to give up his esteemed position and inheritance to study with the famous Buddhist teacher Prajnatara. Bodhidharma rapidly progressed in his Buddhist studies, and in time, Prajnatara sent Bodhidharma to China, where Buddhism had begun to die out, to introduce the Sarvastivada sect Buddhist teachings to the Chinese. Bodhidharma arrived in China after a brutal trek over Tibet's Himalayan Mountains surviving both the extreme elements and treacherous bandits.

Upon arrival in China, the Emperor Wu Ti, a devout Buddhist himself, requested an audience with Bodhidharma. During their initial meeting, Wu Ti asked Bodhidharma what merit he had achieved for all of his good deeds. Bodhidharma informed him that he had accrued none whatsoever. Bodhidharma was subsequently unable to convince Wu Ti of the value of the teachings he had brought from India. Bodhidharma then set out for Loyang, crossed the Tse River on a leaf, and climbed Bear's Ear Mountain in the Sung Mountain range where the Shaolin Temple was located. He meditated there in a small cave for nine years.

Bodhidharma, in true Mahayana spirit, was moved to pity when he saw the terrible physical condition of the monks of the Shaolin Temple. The monks had practiced long-term meditation retreats, which made them spiritually strong but physically weak. He also noted that this meditation method caused sleepiness among the monks. Likening them to the young Shakyamuni, who almost died from practicing asceticism, he informed the monks that he would teach their bodies and their minds the Buddha's dharma through a two-part program of meditation and physical training.

Bodhidharma created an exercise program for the monks which involved physical techniques that were efficient, strengthened the body, and eventually, could be used practically in self-defense. When Bodhidharma instituted these practices, his primary concern was to make the monks physically strong enough to withstand both their isolated lifestyle and the deceptively demanding training that meditation requires. It turned out that the techniques served a dual purpose as a very efficient fighting system, which evolved into a marital arts style called Gung Fu. Martial arts training helped the monks to defend themselves against invading warlords and bandits. Bodhidharma taught that martial arts should be used for self-defense, and never to hurt or injure needlessly. In fact, it is one of the oldest Shaolin axioms that "one who engages in combat has already lost the battle."

Bodhidharma, a member of the Indian Kshatriya warrior class and a master of staff fighting, developed a system of 18 dynamic tension exercises. These movements found their way into print in 550 A.D. as the Yi Gin Ching, or Changing Muscle/Tendon Classic. We know this system today as the Lohan (Priest-Scholar) 18 Hand Movements, the basis of Chinese Temple Boxing and the Shaolin Arts.

Some historians dispute the date, but legend states that Bodhidharma settled in the Shaolin Temple of Songshan in Hunan Province in 526 A.D. We do know the first Shaolin Temple of Songshan was built in 377 A.D. for Pan Jaco, "The First Buddha", by the order of Emperor Wei on the Shao Shik Peak of Sonn Mountain in Teng Fon Hsien, Hunan Province. The Temple was for religious training and meditation only. Martial arts training did not begin until the arrival of Bodhidharma in 526 A.D. Bodhidharma died in 539 A.D. at the Shaolin Temple at age 57.

Bodhidharma was an extraordinary being who remains an example and an inspiration to practitioners today. He is the source of many miraculous stories of ferocity and dedication to the Way. One such legend states that Bodhidharma became frustrated once while meditating because he had fallen asleep. He was so upset that he cut off his eyelids to prevent this interruption in meditation from ever happening again. Yet another legend states that Bodhidharma meditated for so long that his arms and legs eventually fell off. This is a reminder of the true dedication and devotion necessary in meditation practice. The Bodhidharma doll was developed as a symbol of this dedication. In Japan and other parts of the world, when someone has a task they wish to complete, they purchase a red Bodhidharma doll that comes without pupils painted on the eyes. At the outset of the task one pupil is colored in, and upon completion, the other pupil is painted. The dolls and the evolution of martial arts and meditation, are a continuous reminder of Bodhidharma's impact on Buddhism and martial arts

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Bodhidharma, the pi-kuan or 'wall gazing' brahman

Seen as the first patriarch of Chinese school of Zen. This famous story elucidates his greatness.

Emporer Wu of Liang (China) invited him to have audience with him. The emporer was a devout buddhist who had built many monasteries and temples. The emporer asked 'since I came to the throne, I have built countless temples, copied countless sutras and given supplies to countless monks. Is there any merit in all this?'

'There is no merit at all' was the unexpected answer of the indian guest.

'Why is there no merit?' the emporer asked

'All these' said Bodhidharma 'are only the little deeds of men and gods, a leaking source of rewards, which follow them as the shadow follows the body. Although the shadow may appear to exist, it is not real'

'What then is true merit?'

'True merit consists in the subtle comprehension of pure wisdom whose substance is silent and void. But this kind of merit cannot be pursued according to the ways of the world'

The emporer further asked, 'What is the first principle of this sacred doctrine?' 'Vast emptiness with nothing sacred in it!' was the answer.

Finally the emporer asked 'Who is it that stands before me?'

'I don't know!' said Bodhidharma, and took his leave.

He is credited with only writing on text, which I've typed out below;

A Discourse on the Twofold entrance to the Tao

There are many roads leading to the Tao, but essentially they have subsumed under two categories. the one is 'entrance by way of reason' and the other 'entrance by way of conduct'.

By 'entrance by way of reason' we mean the understanding of the fundamental doctrines through the study of the scriptures, the realisation, upon the basis of deep-rooted faith that all sentient beings have in common the one True Nature, which does not manifest itself clearly in all cases only because it is overwrapped by extrernal objects and false thoughts. If a man abandons the false and returns to the true, resting single-heartedly and undistractedly in pure contemplation (pi-kuan), he will realise that there is neither self nor other, that the holy and profane are of one essence. If he holds on firmly to this belief and never swerves from it, he will never again be a slave to the letter of the scriptures, being in secret communion with reason itself and altogether emancipated from conceptual discrimination. In this way, he will enjoy perfect serenity and spontaneity. This is called 'entrance by way of reason'.

'Entrance by way of conduct' refers to the four rules of conduct under which all other rules can be subsumed. They are (1) the rule of requital of hatred, (2) the rule of adaptation to variable conditions and circumstances of life, (3) the rule of non-attachment, and (4) the rule of acting in accord with the Dharma.

1. the Requital of Hatred

When a pursuer of the Tao falls into any kind of suffering and trials, he should think and say to himself thus;'During the innumerable past kalpas I have abandoned the essential and followed after the accidentals, carried along on the restless waves of the sea of existences and thereby creating endless occasions for hate, ill will, and wrongdoing. Although my present suffering is not caused by any offenses committed in this life, yet it is a fruit of my sins in my past existences, which happens to ripen at this moment. It is not something which any men or gods could have given to me. Let me therefore take, patiently and sweetly, this bitter fruit of my own making without resentment or complaint against anyone'. The scripture teaches us not to be disturbed by painful experiences. Why? Becasue of penetrating insight into the real cause of all our sufferings. When this mind is awakened in a man, it responds spontaneously to the dictates of reason, so that it can even help him to make the best use of other people's hatred and turn it into an occasion to advance toward the Tao. This is called 'the rule of requital of hatred'.

2. The Rule of Adaptation

We should know that all sentient beings are produced by the interplay of karmic conditions, and as such there can be no real self in them. The mingled yarns of pleasure and pain are all woven of the threads of conditioning causes. If therefore, I should be rewarded with fortune, honor, and other pleasant things, I must realise that they are the effects of my previous deeds destined to be reaped in this life. But as soon as their conditioning casues are exhausted, they will vanish. Then why should I be elated over them? Therefore, let gains and losses run their natural courses according to the ever-changing conditions and circumstances of life, for the mind itself does not increase with the gains nor decreases with the losses. in this way, no gales of self-complacency will arise, and your mind will remain in hidden harmony with the Tao. It is in this sense that we must understand 'the rule of adaptation to the variable conditions and circumstances of life'

3. The Rule of Non-attachment

Men of the world remain unawakened for life; everywhere we find them bound by their craving and clinging. This is called 'attachment'. the wise hoeever understand the truth , and their reason tells them to turn from the worldly ways. They enjoy peace of mind and perfect detachment. They adjust their bodily movements to the vissicitudes of fortune, always aware of the emptiness of the phenomenal world, in which they find nothing to covet, nothing to delight in. Merit and demerit are ever interpenetrated like light and darkness. To stay too long in the triple world is to live in a house on fire. Everyone who has a body is an heir to suffering and a stranger to peace. Having comprehended this point, the wise are detached from all things of the phenomenal world, with their minds free of desires and craving. As the scripture has it, 'All sufferings spring from attachment; true joy arises from detachment'. To know clearly the bliss of detachment is truly to walk on the path of Tao. This is 'the rule of non-attachment'

4. The Rule of acting in accord with the Dharma

The dharma is nothng else than reason which is pure in its essence. This pure reason is the Formless Form of all Forms; it is free of all defilements and attachments, and it knows of neither 'self' nor 'other'. As the scripture says, 'In the Dharma there is no sentient beings, that is, it is free from the stain of sentient beings. in the Dharma there is no self, that is, it is free from the stain of the self'. When the wise are convinced of this truth, they should live in harmony with the Dharma.

As there is no shadow of pusillanimity in the whole body of the Dharma, so the wise are ever ready to put their body, life, and property at the service of charity, never ceasing to be generous and gracious. Having thoroughly pierced through the threefold nature of emptiness, they are no longer dependent upon or attached to anything. Even in their work of converting all living beings, their sole motive is to cleanse them of their stains; and while they are among them as of them, they would take care not to tbe contaminated by a possessive love. I this way, they manage to keep themselves perfect and at the same time to benefit others. Besides, they glorify the true Tao of Enlightenment. As with the virtue of charity, so with the other five of the prajnaparamita. The wise practice the six cirtues of perfection in order to sweep away all confused thoughts, but they feel as though they were doing nothing to speak of. This is indeed acting 'in accord with the Dharma'.

translation taken from J.C.H. Wu's 'Golden Age of Zen'

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