BODHIDHARMA (fl. c. 480–520), known in China as Damo and in Japan as Daruma; traditionally considered the twenty-eighth patriarch of Indian Buddhism and the founder of the Chan (Jpn., Zen) school of Chinese Buddhism.
The "Historical" Bodhidharma
Accounts of Bodhidharma's life have been based until recently on largely hagiographical materials such as the Jingde chuandeng lu (1004). However, the discovery of new documents among the Dunhuang manuscripts found in Central Asia at the turn of this century has led Chinese and Japanese scholars to question the authenticity of these accounts. The oldest text in which Bodhidharma's name is mentioned is the Luoyang qielan ji, a description of Buddhist monasteries in Luoyang written in 547 by Yang Xuanzhi. In this work, a monk called Bodhidharma from "Po-ssu in the western regions" (possibly Persia) is said to have visited and admired the Yongning Monastery. This monastery was built in 516 and became a military camp after 528. Consequently, Bodhidharma's visit must have taken place around 520. But no other biographical details can be inferred from this, and the aged western monk (he was purportedly one hundred and fifty years old at the time) bears no resemblance to the legendary founder of Chinese Chan.
The most important source for Bodhidharma's life is the Xu gaoseng zhuan, a work written by Daoxuan in 645 and revised before his death in 667. It states that Bodhidharma was a brahman from southern India. After studying the Buddhist tradition of the Greater Vehicle (Mahāyāna), Bodhidharma decided to travel to China in order to spread Mahāyāna doctrine. He arrived by sea at Nanyue, in the domain of the Liu Sung dynasty (420–479), and later traveled to Lo-yang, the capital of the Northern Wei (386–534). In Lo-yang, he attempted to win converts, apparently without great success. Nonetheless, he eventually acquired two worthy disciples, Huike (487–593) and Daoyou (dates unknown), who studied with him for several years. He is said to have transmitted the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, the scripture he deemed best fitted for Chinese practitioners, to Huike. Bodhidharma seems also to have met with some hostility and slander. Daoxuan stresses that Bodhidharma's teaching, known as "wall-gazing" (biguan ), or as the "two entrances" (via "principle," liru, and via "practice," xingru ), was difficult to understand compared to the more traditional and popular teachings of Sengchou (480–560). Daoxuan concludes by saying that he does not know where Bodhidharma died. In another section of the text, however, Daoxuan states that Bodhidharma died on the banks of the Lo River. That Bodhidharma's teachings evoked hostility in China is evident from the fact that after his death, his disciple Huike felt it necessary to hide for a period. Since the locale mentioned is known to have been an execution ground, it is possible that Bodhidharma was executed during the late Wei rebellions.
Although Daoxuan's account is straightforward, succinct, and apparently fairly authentic, it presents some problems. Most important, it presents two different, almost contradictory, images of Bodhidharma—as a practicer of "wall-gazing," intent on not relying on the written word, and as a partisan of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. Daoxuan clearly has some difficulty in reconciling his divergent sources. Primarily, he draws on the preface to the so-called Erru sixing lun (Treatise on the two entrances and four practices), written around 600 by Bodhidharma's (or Huike's) disciple Tanlin (dates unknown) and on information concerning the reputed transmission of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. This latter had probably been given to Daoxuan by Fachong (587?–665), an heir of the tradition. In any case, at the time of Daoxuan's writing, Bodhidharma was not yet considered the twenty-eighth patriarch of Indian Buddhism.
In Daoxuan's time, a new school was developing on the Eastern Mountain (Dongshan, in modern Hunan) around the dhyāna masters Daoxin (580–651) and Hongren (601–674). The latter's disciples, Faru (638–689), Shenxiu (606–706), and Huian (attested dates 582–709), spread this new teaching, known as the "Dongshan doctrine," in the region of the Tang capitals (Ch'ang-an and Luoyang). Faru's epitaph and two historiographical works of this metropolitan Chan written in the first decades of the eighth century, the Chuan fabao ji and the Lengqie shizi ji, succeeded in linking the Dongshan tradition to the Laṅkāvatāra tradition. Bodhidharma and Huike were defined in these texts as the first two Chinese patriarchs of the Chan school and Daoxin and Hongren were designated the fourth and fifth patriarchs. The missing link was conveniently provided by an obscure disciple of Huike, Sengcan (d. 606)—baptized "third patriarch." Having established its orthodoxy and spiritual filiation, the new Chan school, popularly known as the Damo zong (Bodhidharma school) or the Lengqie zong (Laṅkāvatāra school), quickly developed as the main trend of Chinese Buddhism and its "founder" Bodhidharma accordingly acquired legendary status.
The Legend of Bodhidharma within the Chan Sect
About 150 years after Bodhidharma's death, his legend had already grown considerably. His Indian origin plus the very scarcity of information available from the Xu gaoseng zhuan seem to have been the essential factors in Bodhidharma's posthumous assumption of the status of "first patriarch" of the new Chan school. In 686, Faru settled at Song Shan, near Luoyang (in modern Henan). Song Shan was already a Buddhist stronghold; Sengchou, Bodhidharma's lucky rival, had once studied under another Indian monk named Fotuo (dates unknown) at Song Shan. Fotuo was revered by the Northern Wei emperor, Xiaowen di (r. 471–499), who, after moving the capital to Luoyang in 496, had the Shaolin Monastery built for him at Song Shan. It seems that later, in Faru's circle, an amalgam was made of the legends of Fotuo, Sengchou, and Bodhidharma. This may be the reason why Bodhidharma became associated with the Shaolin Monastery. According to the Chuan fapao ji, Bodhidharma practiced wall-gazing at Song Shan for several years. He thus became known as the "wall-gazing brahman," the monk who remained without moving for nine years in meditation in a cave on Song Shan (eventually losing his legs, as the popular iconography depicts him). There he also met Huike, who, to show his earnestness in searching for the Way, cut off his own arm. (The Chuan fapao ji severely criticizes Daoxuan for claiming that Huike had his arm cut off by bandits.) This tradition, fusing with the martial tradition that developed at Song Shan, resulted in Bodhidharma becoming the "founder" of the martial art known as Shaolin boxing (Jpn., Shōrinji kempō ).
Bodhidharma's legend continued to develop with the Lidai fabaoji (c. 774), the Baolin (801), and the Zutang ji (Kor., Chodangjip, 952), and reached its classical stage in 1004 with the Jingde chuangdeng lu. In the process, it borrowed features from other popular Buddhist or Daoist figures such as Baozhi or Fuxi (alias Fu Dashi, "Fu the Mahāsattva," 497–569, considered an incarnation of Maitreya). But its main aspects were already fixed at the beginning of the eighth century. For example, the Chuan fabao ji contains the following account concerning Bodhidharma's "deliverance from the corpse" (a typical Daoist practice): On the day of his death, he was met in the Pamir Mountains by Songyun, a Northern Wei emissary on his way back from India. After his arrival in China, Songyun told Bodhidharma's disciples of his encounter. The disciples, opening their master's grave, found it empty except for a single straw sandal. Bodhidharma returning to his home in the western regions on one sandal has become a standard motif in Chan iconography.
Another important—if somewhat later—motif is Bodhidharma's encounter with Liang Wudi (r. 502–549) on his arrival in China. This story, which became a favorite theme of Chan "riddles" or gongan (Jpn., kōan ), has its prototype in Fuxi's encounter with Liang Wudi. In both cases, the emperor failed to understand the eminence of the person he had in front of him.
It is also noteworthy that many early Chan works formerly attributed to Bodhidharma have recently been proved to have been written by later Chan masters such as Niutou Farong (594–657) or Shenxiu (606–706). That so many works were erroneously attributed to Bodhidharma may be due simply to the fact that the Chan school was at the time known as the Bodhidharma school, and that all works of the school could thus be considered expressive of Bodhidharma's thought. Whatever the case, these works have greatly contributed to the development of Bodhidharma's image, especially in the Japanese Zen tradition. Further confusing the issue is the "discovery," throughout the eighth century, of epitaphs supposedly written shortly after his death. In fact, these epitaphs were products of the struggle for hegemony among various factions of Chan.
Bodhidharma in Popular Religion
The Genkōsha-kusho, a well-known account of Japanese Buddhism written by a Zen monk named Kokan Shiren (1278–1346), opens with the story of Bodhidharma crossing over to Japan to spread his teachings (a development of the iconographic tradition representing him crossing the Yangtze River). In Japan, Bodhidharma's legend seems to have developed first within the Tendai (Chin., Tiantai) tradition brought from China at the beginning of the Heian period (794–1191) by the Japanese monk Saichō (767–822) and his disciples. One of them in particular, Kōjō (779–858), was instrumental in linking the Bodhidharma legend to the Tendai tradition and to the legend of the regent Shōtoku (Shōtoku Taishi, 574–622), who was considered a reincarnation of Nanyue Huisi (515–577), one of the founders of the Tiantai school (notwithstanding the fact that Shōtoku was born before Huisi died). In his Denjutsu isshin kaimon, a work presented to the emperor, Kōjō mentions the encounter that took place near Kataoka Hill (Nara Prefecture) between Shōtoku and a strange, starving beggar—considered a Daoist immortal in the version of the story given by the Kojiki. Kōjō, arguing from a former legendary encounter between Huisi and Bodhidharma on Mount Tiantai in China, and from Bodhidharma's prediction that both would be reborn in Japan, has no difficulty establishing that the beggar was none other than Bodhidharma himself.
This amalgam proved very successful and reached far beyond the Tendai school. Toward the end of the Heian period a Zen school emerged from the Tendai tradition, and its leader, Dainichi Nōnin (dates unknown), labeled it the "Japanese school of Bodhidharma" (Nihon Darumashū). This movement was a forerunner of the Japanese Zen sect, whose two main branches were founded by Eisai (1141–1215) and Dōgen (1200–1253) at the beginning of the Kamakura period (1192–1337). This eventually led to the publication of a Daruma sanchōden (Biography of Bodhidharma in the Three Kingdoms [India, China, and Japan]) during the Edo period.
But it is in popular religion that Bodhidharma's figure developed most flamboyantly. Early in China, Bodhidharma not only borrowed features from Daoist immortals but became completely assimilated by the Daoist tradition; there are several Daoist works extant concerning Bodhidharma. In Japan, Bodhidharma's legend developed in tandem with that of Shōtoku Taishi; a temple dedicated to Daruma is still to be found on the top of Kataoka Hill. The Japanese image of Daruma, a legless doll known as fuku-Daruma ("Daruma of happiness"), presides over many aspects of everyday life (household safety, prosperity in business, political campaigns, etc.). This figure, impressed on every child's mind, has come to play an important role in Japanese art and culture.
Demiéville, Paul. "Appendice sur 'Damoduolo' (Dharmatra[ta])." In Peintures monochromes de Dunhuang (Dunhuang baihua ), edited by Jao Tsong-yi, Pierre Ryckmans, and Paul Demiéville. Paris, 1978. A valuable study of the Sino-Tibetan tradition that merged Bodhidharma and the Indian translator Dharmatrata into a single figure, which was subsequently incorporated into the list of the eighteen legendary disciples of the Buddha.
Dumoulin, Heinrich. "Bodhidharma und die Anfänge des Chʿan-Buddhismus." Monumenta Nipponica (Tokyo) 7, no. 1 (1951): 67–83. A good summary of the first Sino-Japanese re-examinations of the early Chan tradition.
Sekiguchi Shindai. Daruma no kenkyu. Tokyo, 1967. An important work, with an abstract in English, on the Chinese hagiographical tradition concerning Bodhidharma.
Yanagida Seizan. Daruma. Tokyo, 1981. The most recent and authoritative work on Bodhidharma. It examines the historical evidence and the development of the legend in Chan (Zen) and in Japanese popular religion and also provides a convenient translation in modern Japanese of Bodhidharma's thought as recorded in the Erru sixing lun.
Broughton, Jeffrey L. The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen. Berkeley, 1999.
Faure, Bernard. Le Traité de Bodhidharma, première anthologie du bouddhisme Chan. Aix-en-Provence, 1986.
Faure, Bernard. "Bodhidharma as Textual and Religious Paradigm." History of Religions 25, no. 3 (1986): 187–198.
Welter, Albert. "Mahakasyapa's Smile: Silent Transmission and the Kung-an (Koan) Tradition." In The Kōan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism, edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright, pp. 75–109. New York, 2000.
Bernard Faure (1987)
Within the Chan school or tradition, Bodhidharma (ca. early fifth century) is considered the first patriarch of China, who brought Chan teachings from India to China, and the twenty-eighth patriarch in the transmission of the torch of enlightenment down from Śākyamuni Buddha. Bodhidharma is the subject of countless portraits, where he is represented as an Indian wearing a full beard with rings in his ears and a monk's robe, frequently engaged in the nine years of cross-legged sitting which he was loath to interrupt, even when a prospective disciple cut off his own arm to prove his sincerity. Modern scholars have come to doubt many of the elements in this legendary picture.
Of the ten texts attributed to Bodhidharma, the most authentic is probably an unnamed compilation one can provisionally call the Bodhidharma Anthology. This anthology opens with a biography and an exposition of his teaching, both composed by Tanlin, a sixth-century specialist in the Srīmālādevīsiṃhanāda-sūtra (Chinese, Shengman shizi hou jing; Sūtra of Queen Śrīmālā). Tanlin's biography presents Bodhidharma as the third son of a South Indian king. Of Bodhidharma's route to China, Tanlin says, "He subsequently crossed distant mountains and seas, traveling about propagating the teaching in North China." This more historically feasible Bodhidharma came to North China via Central Asia.
Tanlin explains Bodhidharma's teaching as "entrance by principle and entrance by practice" (liru and xingru). "Entrance by principle" involves awakening to the realization that all sentient beings are identical to the true nature (dharmatā)—if one abides in "wall examining" (biguan) without dabbling in the scriptures, one will "tally with principle." "Wall examining" has been the subject of countless exegeses, from the most imaginative and metaphorical (be like a wall painting of a bodhisattva gazing down upon the suffering of saṃsāra) to the suggestion that it refers to the physical posture of cross-legged sitting in front of a wall. Later Tibetan translations gloss it as "abiding in brightness" (lham mer gnas), a tantric interpretation that also invites scrutiny.
"Entrance by practice" is fourfold: having patience in the face of suffering; being aware that the conditions for good things will eventually run out; seeking for nothing; and being in accord with intrinsic purity. The anthology also includes three Records (again the title is provisional) consisting of lecture materials, dialogues,
and sayings. Record I has a saying attributed to Bodhidharma: "When one does not understand, the person pursues dharmas; when one understands, dharmas pursue the person." Later Chan did not appropriate this saying for its Bodhidharma story.
Two other early sources of information on Bodhidharma deserve mention. The first is a sixth-century non-Buddhist source, the Luoyang qielan ji (Record of the Buddhist Edifices of Luoyang), which twice mentions an Iranian-speaking Bodhidharma from Central Asia. The second is the seventh-century Xu gaoseng zhuan (Further Biographies of Eminent Monks) by Daoxuan (596–667). It contains a Bodhidharma entry (a slightly reworked version of Tanlin's piece), an entry on Bodhidharma's successor, Huike, and a critique of Bodhidharma's style of meditation. Here, Bodhidharma is said to have (1) come to China by the southern sea route, and (2) handed down a powerful mystery text, the LaṄkĀvatĀra-sŪtra (Discourse of the Descent into Lanka), to Huike. Holders of this sūtra were thought to be capable of uncanny feats, such as sitting cross-legged all night in a snowbank. The later Chan picture of Bodhidharma incorporates both Daoxuan's southern sea route and his sacramental transmission of the Laṅkāvatāra. By the early eighth century, the first Chan histories had assembled these key elements as the Bodhidharma story, drawing principally upon Daoxuan's work.
Broughton, Jeffrey L. The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
Faure, Bernard. "Bodhidharma as Textual and Religious Paradigm." History of Religions 25, no. 3 (1986): 187–198.
Faure, Bernard. Le traité de Bodhidharma: Première anthologie du bouddhisme Chan. Paris: Le Mail, 1986.
Yanagida Seizan, ed. and trans. Daruma no goroku. Zen no goroku 1. Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 1969.
Tradition also attributes six treatises to Bodhidharma, of which one, The Two Ways of Entrance, is translated by D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, iii (1970). But this, and the whole tradition about Bodhidharma is extremely uncertain.
Bodhidharma is usually portrayed with an appearance of fierce concentration, and Daruma-dolls are given in Japan to those who have attained a goal through perseverance.