Bodhidharma lived seven centuries later than Buddha Shakyamuni. He was originally a Brahman, a third son of a king Simhavarman. He converted to Buddhism very young. For a long time he was a disciple of Prajnatara, the 27th patriarch after Buddha Shakyamuni. At Prajnatara´s wish, he left for China to transmit Buddha´s teachings there.
Bodhidharma left India for China. He sailed the South Sea and the Indian Ocean, he traveled through Sumatra into Malaysia, and on the 21st September 527, he finally arrived to Canton. He continued from here to the formal capital of Nanjing to visit the Emperor Wu. It was on the 29th of October 527. The emperor let Bodhidharma in as the son of the king of Madras and a disciple of Prajnatara. He said: “I have built temples and supported many monks. Sure I have a great merit?” “No merit!” replied Bodhidharma. “How come?” the emperor asked surprised, “after so many good deeds?” “Actions are not of merit at all. The merit of your actions will surely become the source of illusions and desires”, replied the Master. The emperor was greatly impressed. He looked at Bodhidharma and asked: “What is then the origin, the sacred principle?” Bodhidharma replied: “An un-explorable emptiness and nothing sacred!” The emperor rose and cried: “Who is then standing in front of me?” Bodhidharma stood up as well and said. “I don´t know!” The emperor then understood that the monk was representing the highest truth. Bodhidharma however realized, that there is nothing he could teach him. He left Nanjing, crossed the Yangtze River and reached the Song Mountain in the Henan province. Here he found a monastery set on the foot of the mountain. The monastery was called Shao-Lin-Su (Shorin Ji in Japanese), which means “a temple in a young forest”.He walked in on 23rd November and immediately found out that the monks live here in direct opposite to the authentic teaching, which had been brought to China 200 years ago by two Indian monks, Mathanga and Barama.
Bodhidharma accused the Chinese buddhists of practicing magic, ceremonies opposing Buddha´s teachings and of indulging in futile intellectual speculations. According to him, it is necessary to search inside, in yourself and not depend on texts, because each person has a Buddha (the enlightened one) inside himself. The original Buddhism has nothing in common with phrases and intellectual puns, that only hide the true intuitive understanding. But the monks did not listen. Bodhidharma therefore left the monastery, but he went only a few tens of metres away. He sat down for zazen, he sat on a stone covered in dry grass, he crossed his legs, straightened his spine perfectly, pushed his chin back, put one hand into the palm of the other, and connected his thumbs. At that time, he resembled the rock. He practiced the meditation in this position for nine years non-stop. He stood up only to perform his bodily needs. He ate berries, mushrooms and fruit. He sometimes even slept in the position. The monks from the monastery could see him. At the beginning they criticized him, but later they got to admire and respect him.
A year later, a monk called Eka came to Bodhidharma wanting to become his disciple. To prove his resolution, he is said to have cut his left arm off in front of Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma said to Eka: “When all true masters began to search the Way, they did so because of dharma (the universal truth). They forgot about their bodies and minds. You cut your arm off in front of me. You are looking for the Way, and it is good.” Eka became his disciple for 8 years. The monks were so impressed by their practice that they opened the temple gate for them and accepted them in their midst. The monks that lived in perfect comfort, which was reflected both in their practice and everyday life. The buildings were un-kept, the fields were not cultivated. Bodhidharma decided to help them. He devoted to their education, in order to wake up their bodies and minds. He made them get up early, he taught them the Indian boxing, called vajnamusti, which he had learnt from his master. He stressed the importance of deep breathing and energizing techniques. The monks slowly gained a more profound meaning of their lives. They stopped practicing intellectualizing, mysteries, magical practices and other sorcery, they now sat in Buddha´s position looking for his original face. Bodhidharma taught them: “Do not look for anything special, leave your worries, remain in perfect attention to the present moment, learn from your deepest conscience. Exhale calmly, deeply and long, and your mind will naturally free itself from all obstacles, and you will be able to live perfectly free.” Bodhidharma was then at the origin of boxing practiced in Shao-lin, but his original teaching was zazen.
My teaching is silent
Without any tradition
My way led me
Tens of thousands miles
To the West.