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Bodhidharma - 1– The great Guru of Zen

Bodhidharma is revered as the pioneer of Zen heritage in China. Influenced by his teachings, numerous seekers have overcome the worldly bonds and attained Buddhahood. His name will forever be cherished as one among the great souls who helped the world.

Historians claim him to be the third child of King Sugandha of the Pallava dynasty from Tamil Nadu, located in southern India. Having renounced the worldly pleasures, he gave up his kingdom and became a disciple of Pragna Tara, who was the twenty-seventh guru in the Dhyana-Buddha lineage. After years of disciplined and dedicated effort, he attained Buddhahood. Later, following the instructions of his Guru, he traveled to China via the sea route to spread the essence of Dhyana.

The emperor named ‘Wu’ was ruling southern China. He was a staunch follower of Buddhism. He was very generous and charitable. He built many places of worship. But he couldn’t comply with the teachings of Bodhidharma. There was a lot of difference in the knowledge he had received from his previous masters and in what Bodhidharma preached.

Bodhidharma was not just an ordinary monk of Buddhism. He was not just an orator who blindly recited the Tripitikas. He was an enlightened one. He belonged to the Dhyana-Buddha sect that was different from mere scriptural discussions or rituals. The conversation that took place between the Emperor and Bodhidharma is considered to be a jewel to this day.

‘Wu’ welcomed Bodhidharma to China. But he observed that Bodhidharma followed a different path of Buddhism than what was prevalent. Bodhidharma told him that all acts of the emperor – the good deeds done, the shelters built and the charities given were of little value. He proclaimed that anything done without experiencing Nirvana was of no use.

The epitome of Buddha’s teachings was to delve into nothingness and it had no strings attached to it. Angered at the statement, the emperor questioned Bodhidharma “If everything was empty, then who are you, holy one?”. Bodhidharma replied “I do not know”. The emperor was vexed and angered with the whole conversation. He considered Bodhidharma as an egoistic and mentally unstable person.

Having realized that the emperor could not resonate with his ideology, Bodhidharma crossed a river and moved on to Northern China. There, he resided for nine years in the Shaolin monastery, gaining four disciples, to whom he transferred the essence of his knowledge and died. He was buried in a cave near the monastery.

Three years later, he was sighted by a border security officer walking barefoot towards India. He held a lone footwear. He asked the officer to retreat quickly and said that he was also heading towards his home. He also predicted that the Emperor would soon perish. The officer rushed to Bodhidharma’s burial site and had the coffin opened. Surprisingly, the body was missing except the other footwear. As predicted, the Emperor passed away soon after.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Gayatri K, which was originally posted in on April 26, 2009. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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