Bodhidharma, First Chan Patriarch

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on May 29, 2017.)

A statue of Bodhidharma at Hualin Temple,
Guangzhou, where he first stayed in China

Few figures in Chinese Buddhism have captivated the popular imagination like Bodhidharma, said to be the First Patriarch of Chan (Zen) in China, but the 28th in direct descent from the Buddha and his immediate disciple, Mahakashyapa, back in India.

As with many great figures, the story of Bodhidharma--whose name means something like "The Teaching of Enlightenment"--contains a great intermingling of fact and legend. There is some confusion about his dates and his itinerary, to the extent that some modern scholars have doubted his very existence, postulating that he was "invented" later by the Chan School.

Nevertheless, while maintaining a critical eye, other scholars have followed his movements around China. One of these is the American Buddhist Andy Ferguson, who wrote Tracking Bodhidharma.

Stories about the First Patriarch abound. He is said to have arrived at Guangzhou, and stayed at Hualin Temple there. He washed his bowl--which had originally been the Buddha's, and later belonged to the Sixth Patriarch Huineng--at Guangxiao Temple. He practiced meditation and perhaps martial arts at Shaolin Temple in Henan, where later practitioners credit him with having invented kungfu.

He is even held by some to be the source of tea! The story is that, frustrated by his inability to stay awake during long periods of meditation, he cut off his eyelids and threw them outside his cave. In the spring, the first-ever tea plants grew from them!

Specious though it may be, the story reflects the fact that monks did cultivate tea to keep them awake during meditation.

No comments:

Post a Comment