HOME...

Bodhidharma - The Founder of the Ch'an Movement (Zen Buddhism)          


Bodhidharmatãra - the Founder of Zen.

Tradition tells us that Bodhidharma, an enigmatic monk, from India, arrived in southern China around 527 C.E.

While he was not the first to teach Buddhism, in China, he was, undoubtedly, the first Buddhist teacher to make a lasting impression. The Ch'an (Jap. zen; Skt. dhyãna) movement, which he founded, stressed practice over scholasticism. This refreshing return to the Sãkyamuni Buddha's original teaching set a chord with disciples of the time. A chord which continues to resonate down to today as a global vibration.

Bodhidharma's teacher, the 27th Patriarch, was a Brahmin named Prajñãtãra. Prior to his death, in 457 C.E., he transmitted the true Dharma to Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma's intent was firmly focussed on enlightenment - an enlightenment now and not an enlightenment dependent on empty promis

es which may or may not come to fruition in the fiction of an indeterminate future.

Emperor Liang Wu-ti, an enthusiastic patron of Buddhism, asked Bodhidharma, "What is the highest meaning of ãrya satya (noble truth - cf. the four noble truths)?"

The rehearsed reply, one that the emperor might have expected any Buddhist to recite, would have been along the following lines:

  • the noble truth of suffering;
  • the noble truth of the origin of suffering;
  • the noble truth of the cessation of suffering;
  • the noble truth of the way that leads to the cessation of suffering (i.e. the eightfold path)

Bodhidharma was not just any Buddhist. He replied, "There is no such thing as noble truth!"

Wu, in frustration, continued, "Who stands before me?"

Bodhidharma replied, "I do not know."

Wu then enquired, "What merit (good karma) have I accrued through sponsorship of monasteries and monks, copying of Buddhist scriptures, and commissioning of images of Buddha?"

Bodhidharma abruptly replied, "None whatsoever!"

Refusing to have any further dealiings with Bodhidharma, Emperor Liang Wu-ti had missed his golden opportunity.

Having crossed the Yangtse River on a reed, Bodhidharma headed north eventually reaching the sacred slopes of Sungshan Mountain in the province of Honan. He settled, on the western peak, near the Shaolin Monastery. And so Ch'an (Zen) was born.