'BODIDHARMA (Da Mo) was the founder and first patriarch of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism. (Ch'an means meditation or concentration of mind.) In Japan he is known as Bodai Daruma or just Daruma. Historical records are hazy about Da Mo but there are many stories and legends about him and his connection to Shaolin Temple.
Born in 6th century India into a high caste warrior family he renounced his privileges in favour of a contemplative life. After becoming a disciple of the Buddhist master Prajnatara he became his successor, the 28th patriarch after Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. As an old man he undertook a mission to China to fulfil the wishes of his dying master to bring Buddhism to China.
His journey to China took three years and he landed on the southern coast near what is now Canton. He was invited to visit the palace of Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty who was very interested in Buddhism. At that time the Emperor had asked local monks to translate Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to Chinese to allow the people of China to understand the teachings and had built many fine temples and monasteries. Da Mo believed that enlightenment could not be achieved by doing good actions that were performed by others in the name of the Emperor. Da Mo refused to praise him for his material support of Buddhism and would not answer the Emperor in a way that he could understand. The Emperor was bewildered by his attitude and was unable to understand Da Mo's message.
Da Mo crossed the Yangtze River on a reed. This may have been a mis-translation of a reed boat or raft. Travelling to the state of Wei in the Chinese heartland, he visited the Eastern capital of Loyang, a great centre of Buddhism at the eastern end of the Silk Road, and spent forty years as a wandering teacher gaining many followers as his reputation grew. Da Mo's instruction was largely based on the traditional Sutras of Mahayana Buddhism and he emphasised the importance of the Lankavatara Sutra.
He made his way to the nearby sacred mountain of Song (Song Shan) and to Shaolin Temple to meet the monks that were doing the translation. The famous temple at Shaolin was built by Emperor Xiao Wen (439 - 493) for the Indian monk Ba Tuo so that Buddhist teachings could be translated into Chinese but there was probably another building already on the site before work began.
When he arrived at the Temple, Da Mo was refused admittance and, rejected by the monks, went to a nearby cave. Da Mo spent nine years gazing at the wall of the cave in deep meditation and through this attained Satori or total enlightenment. So fierce was his gaze that the cave still bears the imprint in the wall. One legend says that he had trouble staying awake while he meditated and became so frustrated that he cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. On the spot where they fell the first tea plants grew and tea has been used since that time as a mild stimulant.
This wall-gazing old barbarian monk
Has eyes that exceed the glow of the evening lamp;
His silence has never been challenged-
His living dharma extends to the present day.
Da Mo is often regarded as the "patron saint" or founder of Shaolin Kungfu. As a member of the warrior caste he would have trained in systems of exercise and martial arts. He observed that the monks could not stay awake in meditation and were very weak because they lacked energy. They were unable to protect themselves from robbers, bandits and wild animals who roamed the area. He taught chi gung and physical exercises which later evolved into Shaolin Kungfu. Martial arts had existed in China before Da Mo but in the Temple it was possible to develop the styles that would become distinctly Shaolin. The following Shaolin exercises are attributed to Da Mo:-
Yi Jin Jing - Muscle changing classic
Xi Xue Jing - Marrow washing classic
Lohan Shi Ba Shou - 18 hands of Lohan
From generation to generation these were refined and extended to become the basis of most Shaolin exercises.
However, some others disagree. Most agree that Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism was introduced to China by an Indian warrior monk named Bodidharma. One of the places he stayed at was the monastery of Shaolin and it is claimed that whilst there, he taught the monks two sets of exercises to toughen them up so they could meditate for longer periods. Some people claim that these two sets of exercises formed the basis of Chinese martial art but this, of course, could not be true. Chinese martial arts predate Bodidharmas visit to Shaolin and there is no evidence to link the exercises he taught with actual martial art practice. It is more likely that Shaolin martial arts were incorporated into temple practice by various warrior soldiers who eventually resided there, to find peace in their lives.
Monk Shen Kuang, later called Hui K'o, was seeking enlightenment and hearing of his reputation asked Da Mo for help. Da Mo ignored him but still he would not leave and spent seven days and nights outside the gates of the temple in the snow. Da Mo said that he would not accept Hui K'o as a disciple until the snow turned red. To demonstrate the depth of his dedication and sincerity Hui K'o cut off his arm and presented it to Da Mo. He was immediately accepted as a disciple and eventually became Da Mo's successor.
The Shaolin monks salute with one hand to show respect to Hui K'o.
One day Hui K'o asked Da Mo to help quiet his mind so Da Mo asked Hui K'o to bring his mind to him. Hui K'o said that he can not apprehend it and Da Mo stated that the quieting of mind is over. At these words Hui Ko was enlightened. Hui K'o once asked Da Mo if he uses any written documents in his teachings. Da Mo replied that he uses mind to mind transmission and does not rely on the written word. This verse is traditionally attributed to Bodidharma-
A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words or letters;
Direct pointing at the heart of man;
Seeing into ones nature and the attainment of Buddhahood.
After nine years Da Mo wished to return to India so he summoned his top disciples and asked them what each of them had attained. After they had given their answers, to the first he said "You have attained my skin." To the second he said "You have attained my flesh". To the third he said "You have attained my bones". When it was Hui K'os turn he bowed and remained silent. Da Mo said "You have attained my marrow" so Hui K'o was Da Mo's successor and became the second Patriarch in the Ch'an tradition.
The Chan tradition that Bodidharma inspired placed great emphasis on silent meditation. Bodidharma taught that the supreme goal of nirvana could not be attained through mental learning, nor could it be described. Thus the goal of zen Buddhism is to silence the mind so that the practioner can experience the true nature, that is beyond our ordinary mental comprehension.
An illustration of this from the life of the Buddha comes from his famous â€œflower sermonâ€