Bodidharma was born in India, in about 470AD. He is credited with bringing the Cha’an tradition of Buddhism to China. Bodidharma wrote very little down on paper, therefore most of what we know comes from aural accounts. Tradition states that Bodidharma was the third son of an Indian King. He was also the 28th Patriach of Indian Buddhism. At the bidding of his Buddhist Master (the 27th Patriach). Bodidharma travelled to China to spread Buddhism arriving in approx 520 AD.
“But people of the deepest understanding look within, distracted by nothing. Since a clear mind is the Buddha, they attain the understanding of a Buddha without using the mind.”
Ch’an Buddhism is an abbreviated equivalent of dhyana in Sanskrit. In Japan Ch’an Buddhism became Zen Buddhism.
The Ch’an tradition that Bodidharma inspired placed great emphasis on silent meditation. Bodidharma taught that the supreme goal of nirvana could not be attained through mental learning, nor could it be described. Thus the goal of Zen Buddhism is to silence the mind so that the practitioner can experience the true nature, that is beyond our ordinary mental comprehension.
An illustration of this from the life of the Buddha comes from his famous ‘flower sermon’ Gautama Buddha was teaching a disciple when he stopped talking and just held up a flower. The Buddha was trying to make the point that enlightenment couldn’t be attained by lecturing. Enlightenment would come from a silent mind.
Thus Ch’an Buddhism point to how there was a transmission of Buddha’s teachings from outside the scriptures but directly to the disciple. Within the Ch’an tradition the first Patriach from this transmission was Mahakashyapa, and the second was Ananda, Buddha’ closest disciple who memorized all of Buddha’s teachings.
Bodidharma sought to offer a method which helped to assimilate the different forms of meditation and enable aspirants to make progress in their meditation. Bodidharma didn’t court publicity but retired to a fairly quiet life in the Shao lin monastery. It is said that he spent nine years meditating against a wall. A small number of enthusiastic disciples came to study and meditate with Bodidharma. In his own way he sought to clear the path for their enlightenment.
“Once you stop clinging and let things be, you’ll be free, even of birth and death. You’ll transform everything.”
His major teachings focused on the importance of studying the sacred scriptures and practising Buddhist principles in every day life. He exhorted his followers to maintain equanimity and accept the ups and downs of life cheerfully.