September 21, 2010

Bodhidharma is the most famous monk, easily recognizable in painting for his strong facial characteristics. He lived during the early 5th century and was the transmitter of Chán to China. There are two known biographues written by Bodhidharma’s contemporaries. Yáng Xuànzhī compiled The Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang wrote “At that time there was a monk of the Western Region named Bodhidharma, a Persian Central Asian. He traveled from the wild borderlands to China. Seeing the golden disks reflecting in the sun, the rays of light illuminating the surface of the clouds, the jewel-bells on the stupa blowing in the wind, the echoes reverberating beyond the heavens, he sang its praises. He exclaimed: “Truly this is the work of spirits.” He said: “I am 150 years old, and I have passed through numerous countries. There is virtually no country I have not visited. Even the distant Buddha realms lack this.” He chanted homage and placed his palms together in salutation for days on end.”. The second account was written by Tánlín. Tánlín’s brief biography of the “Dharma Master” is found in his preface to the Two Entrances and Four Acts: “The Dharma Master was a South Indian of the Western Region. He was the third son of a great Indian king of the Pallava dynasty. His ambition lay in the Mahayana path, and so he put aside his white layman’s robe for the black robe of a monk. Lamenting the decline of the true teaching in the outlands, he subsequently crossed distant mountains and seas, traveling about propagating the teaching in Han and Wei.” Tánlín’s account was the first to mention that Bodhidharma attracted disciples, specifically mentioning Dàoyù and Huìkě.

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