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Discover Bodhidharma: The Legendary Indian Monk Who Brought Zen to China

Bodhidharma's Journey: The Monk Who Brought Buddhism to China

By Abdulsab HunnurPublished 22 days ago 3 min read

A fifth-century Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma is credited with bringing Zen to China. Although the tradition that traces its ancestry back to him did not flourish until nearly two hundred years after his death,today millions of Zen Buddhists and stu- dents of kung fu claim him as cbeir spiritual father.

In the 5th century, a remarkable Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma embarked on a journey that would change the spiritual landscape of Asia.

Bodhidharma traveled from India to China, bringing with him the profound teachings of Zen Buddhism.

Legend has it that Bodhidharma met Emperor Wu of Liang, who was eager to discuss Buddhism. However, Bodhidharma's teachings were not initially understood."

Undeterred, Bodhidharma retreated to the Shaolin Temple. There, he meditated facing a wall for nine years, embodying the essence of Zen – deep meditation and inner peace.

Buddhism arrived in China around 2,000 years ago. As early as 65 A.D., a community of Buddhist monks was documented living under royal patronage in the northern part of Kiangsu Province, near Confucius's birthplace.

The first monks likely arrived a century earlier. Over the centuries, tens of thousands of Indian and Central Asian monks traveled to China by land and sea. However, none have had an impact as significant as Bodhidharma in spreading the teachings of the Buddha.

At that time, China was split between the Northern Wei and Liu Song dynasties. This division into northern and southern dynasties began in the early third century and lasted until the country's reunification under the Sui dynasty in the late sixth century.

During this period of fragmentation and conflict, Indian Buddhism evolved into Chinese Buddhism. The militaristic northerners focused on meditation and magic, while the intellectual southerners gravitated towards philosophical discourse and intuitive understanding of principles

Following his arrival at the port of Nanhai, Bodhidharma likely visited various Buddhist centers in the South and began learning Chinese, if he hadn't already started on his journey from India. According to Tao-yuan's "Transmission of the Lamp," completed in 1002,

Bodhidharma arrived in the South as late as 520 and was invited to the capital in Chienkang for an audience with Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, the successor to the Liu Sung. During their meeting, the emperor inquired about the merit of performing religious works, to which Bodhidharma responded with the doctrine of emptiness. The emperor did not understand, and Bodhidharma left. However, the earliest records do not mention this meeting

According to legend, Bodhidharma crossed the Yangtze River on a hollow reed and settled in the North. He initially stayed near Pingcheng, the capital of Northern Wei. In 494, when Emperor Xiao-wen moved the capital to Loyang, most monks, including Bodhidharma, moved too. Tao-hsuan's book "Further Lives of Exemplary Monks," written in 645, mentions that Bodhidharma ordained a monk named Sheng-fu.

Sheng-fu moved south when the capital moved to Loyang. Since ordination usually requires three years of training, Bodhidharma must have been in the North by 490 and fluent in Chinese by then.

A few years later, in 496, the emperor ordered the construction of

Shaolin Temple on Mount Sung, in Honan Province southeast of

Loyang. The temple, which still exists (although largely as a tourist

attraction), was built for another meditation master from India, not

for Bodhidharma. But while zen masters have come and gone at the

temple for the past 1,500 years, Bodhidharma is the only monk anyxii

one but a Buddhist historian associates with Shaolin. It was here, on

Mount Sung's western Shaoshih Peak, that Bodhidharma is said to

have spent nine years in meditation, facing the rock wall of a cave

about a mile from the temple. Shaolin later became famous for training

monks in kung-fu, and Bodhidharma is honored as the founder

of this art as well. Coming from India, he undoubtedly instructed his

disciples in some form of yoga, but no early records mention him

teaching any exercise or martial art.


About the Creator

Abdulsab Hunnur

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  • Esala Gunathilake21 days ago

    Well done. I watched the film too of this great man.

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