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Bodhi Dharma 3 - Tea

Bodhidharma spent nine years in meditation in a cave upon the mountain of Shaolin. During this period, he used to practice meditation by gazing at a wall. At that time, his eyelids would become heavy and close due to drowsiness caused by sleep. To avoid this, he cut off his eyelids and threw them away. A tea plant emerged from the soil upon which his eyelids had fallen. That is the reason why tea consumption stops us from falling asleep. This is a popular story from China.

Not considering how much truth there is in this story, even to this day, the monks in Zen monasteries drink tea as a customary practice, to avoid sleep during their meditation. This is the reason why the image of ‘Damo’ found in Asia does not have eyelids. Bodhidharma, in short form, is called ‘Daruma (Dharma)’ or ‘Damo’ in the country of Japan. He has another name, ‘Dharma Tishya’, or ‘Daruma Taishi’, in Japan. Because he could overcome sleep and meditate for nine years through a fixed gaze, his pictures do not have eyelids.

According to another story, as he did not move for so many years, he suffered from paralysis. Hence, his pictures are found without legs, as well. However, it may not be true, as three years after his death, a military general saw Bodhidharma walking in snow across the border towards India.

Therefore, these stories are to be taken symbolically. Lack of eyelids is indicative of his deep meditative state and the lack of legs, a symbol of his stillness for nine years. His shadow that fell on the wall of the cave in which he meditated, over the years, has developed his picture. This picture is still seen in the Bodhidharma cave of the Shaolin temple. He stands in history, as a symbol of steadfast meditation with undivided attention.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Ranganath D, which was originally posted in on May 3, 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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