The WIKIPEDIA page is pathetic. His books were burned in the Shaolin Temple so we are missing a lot of information about Bodhidharma.
I’ve done some research and was expecting Wikipedia to know more than I do…
I have my best Bodhidharma History Lesson probably in my ZEN POEMS INSPIRED BY BODHIDHARMA book. At the moment, I’m waiting for that to be my definitive history lesson. I will publish that book in a few years.
For now… I may come back and add to this later. But for now…
“Bodhi” is the name of the tree that the ORIGINAL BUDDHA, Siddhartha Gautama, sat under when he became enlightened with “THE 4 NOBLE TRUTHS.” This tree is a place of honor in India. I think the original tree of the original buddha died. But they replanted another and I think the current one is ___ years old. Sheesh. In today’s Google world I need to fact check that..
I will procrastinate to the end, then I will look up some dates…
Okay. So this “Bodhi Tree” is a significant thing. When Bodhidharma took his BUDDHIST NAME, he would usually get a head shave and make some oaths…
The second part of his name is “Dharma.” Dharma is ANY enlightening information in Buddhism, although the Original Written Orations of the Original Buddha are considered to be the ORIGINAL DHARMA. So all Buddhists need to be familiar with and master the ORIGINAL DHARMA before they wander off into the woods to worship berries… Without the ORIGINAL DHARMA, you’re not really a Buddhist… of any flavor.
But this is where irony and mystery really kick in: Bodhidharma is most famous for depreciating the study and use of “Holy Dharma.” Although my masters have all reassured me that Bodhidharma expected any Buddhist novice to study the Original Dharma– he afterwards advised “throwing it all away.” Kind of like a musician. Learning the mechanics and mathematics of a musical instrument is important in the “learning” — the “mastering” becomes a “way of thinking” instead of processing. A musician can hear the notes in his head as the new notes inspire them. A Zen Buddhist can think like a Buddhist because life inspires his Buddhism.
When I was in UCLA Film School in 1985 I started picking up books on a regular basis at the UCLA Student Book Store. They had a knack for putting out on tables the books I was looking for… even though I didn’t know they existed… Dan Millman’s WARRIOR ATHLETE book was on one of those tables.
As I read books on Taoism, I realized how by being a biologist and hunter and naturalist I comprehended the deeper meaning of THE TAO as a life force and the natural principles of “Nature.”
As I read books on Buddhism, I found four prominent styles:
- ORIGINAL Buddhism of India
- MANTRA Buddhism of Tibet
- MAHAYANA into CHAN Buddhism of China
- Zen Buddhism of Japan
Bodhidharma is from the ORIGINAL Buddhism of India. That’s what he learned. That’s what he taught. Or did he? What did he change to create “Chan” Buddhism (which is the Chinese word for “Zen” which has yet to be invented in Japan…)? What did he add to Mahayana Buddhism that had existed for ?a couple hundred years? in China?
The Shaolin Buddhist Temple was built 100 years before Bodhidharma arrived.
Bodhidharma is NOT FROM Mantra Buddhism of Tibet. In fact, if it wasn’t a rule, Bodhidharma made it a rule: NO MANTRAS. NO CHANTING. NO IDOLS.
The Original Buddhism was NO GODS and NO HEAVENS of Hells… The Hindu religion was charging money for places in Heaven… Siddhartha Gautama was opposed to this corruption and created his “4 Noble Truths” enlightenment into a religion to combat the Hindu profiteers.
Perhaps after 700 years Buddhists were getting bored and adding some Gods… and rituals… and prayers… and blessings… UNTIL Bodhidharma created his NEW BUDDHISM: Chan Buddhism. (later to be “Zen” Buddhism in Japan)
We will call Chan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism both “Zen Buddhism” for the remainder of this essay. There are many differences.
This ORIGINAL Zen Buddhism of Bodhidharma at the Original Shaolin Temple on Mt. Songshan appears to be more of a “Hippie Buddhism” and a “Warrior Buddhism.” Like the Knights Templar of Jerusalem, the Shaolin Temple Buddhists would evolve into Zen Warrior Monks.
So Bodhidharma is the creator of the warrior monk sect at the “Shaolin Temple” on Mt. Songshan in Northern China about 600 A.D.
Before we get to the warrior arts, let’s get back to the Buddhism of the Shaolin Temple. Unfortunately, if there was a regimen or list of exercises, or rules, or suggestions… they were burned. The Shaolin Temple was burned down twice I think. I know… Google it…
I’ve got so much to tell, but mostly in stories passed down to me. The first stories passed down to me stated that Bodhidharma passed through the Himalayas. But now I think otherwise. I believe he came to China by boat. Possibly travelled inland by boat also. Then he made it to the Shaolin Temple on Mt. Songshan. The first visit never included much elaboration from my masters.
Bodhidharma left the Shaolin Temple and proceeded to the capital of China which was at its most northward position at that time. Making it closer to the Shaolin Temple also. Bodhidharma supposedly met with the Emperor of China based on his being the “28th Patriarch” of Buddhism from India. I’m not sure of his stature or title actually. But Bodhidharma didn’t get along with the Chinese Emperor. There’s a story that goes with this:
Bodhidharma was received by the Chinese Emperor in his court. Upon greeting the monk from India, the Emperor explained how he had spent much money and put great effort into building Buddhist monuments and supporting Buddhist temples. Bodhidharma listened politely. Finally, the Emperor ended his explanation and asked Bodhidharma, “Certainly, after all that I have done for Buddhism in China there is a place near Buddha where I will sit?”
All the stories have the same setup and same let-down: Bodhidharma replied, “Your efforts and donations will have no effect on your place in the afterlife.”
This is not what the Emperor wanted to hear. It was perhaps also rather embarrassing, in front of his ministers and advisors…
Bodhidharma left the Chinese capital with no intentions of returning. He may have been lucky to get off so easily.
So Bodhidharma returned to the Shaolin Temple on Mt. Songshan. I’ve never read any first hand accounts of the time Bodhidharma was at the Shaolin Temple so my speculation changes every decade with new information I receive. I have my ideas and theories… but here are some facts:
Bodhidharma lived for about 7 or 8 years in a cave near the Shaolin Temple.
The Shaolin Temple was supposedly built for the “foretold” coming of someone like Bodhidharma.
Bodhidharma was unfriendly and unwilling to take on disciples.
Bodhidharma was tricked by Shaolin Monk Hui Ke into taking him as his first disciple of Zen Buddhism.
Bodhidharma taught his Buddhism with NO PRAYERS and Indian Kung Fu (Kalaripayattu) that included spear and sword.
Bodhidharma creates NEW SECT of Buddhism: “Chan Buddhism” or “Zen Buddhism” or “Shaolin Buddhism”…
The Chinese still call it CHAN Buddhism. I have some great books on Chan Buddhism. They are the original Zen Buddhism texts.
Before I leave you hanging here– A Zen Buddhist is a Kung Fu Spiritual Warrior. The founder was a Kung Fu Spiritual Warrior. He trained his disciples to be Kung Fu Spiritual Warriors. So all Zen Buddhists are Kung Fu Spiritual Warriors! (Or you are not Zen.)