is revered as the father of Ch'an and Zen Buddhism. Most of
us involved in Ch'an, Zen or Buddhism know that the word Ch'an
is a rendition of the Pali word Jhana, which means meditation.
Similarly, we know that the Japanese word Zen is a rendition
of the Chinese word Ch'an. Buddhists and Orientologists are
aware that the Ch'an/Zen texts hold that an Indian Monk named
Bodhidharma is attributed to be the founder of Ch'an and therefore
Zen. There have been various theories presented on Bodhidharma
by the academicians or Orientologists who study the Ch'an/Zen
branch of Buddhism. However, these are arbitrary.
After years of studying Ch'an/Zen, the authors of this excerpt
are presenting a different and radical perspective. This work
does not place emphasis on merely the historicity of Bodhidharma
[Ta Mo in Chinese and Daruma Daishi in Japanese]. Instead this
work emphasizes on the metaphysical sense of the said propounder
of Ch'an or Zen Buddhism.
If one travels to Asia, that is, China or Japan, one might notice
that the Ch'an or Zen Masters of the ancient past, and especially
Bodhidharma, are revered as Divinities. This is because within
the apparently simplistic texts of the Ch'an or Zen there is
an Esoteric aspect that preserves for posterity the metaphysics
of Ch'an or Zen. However, the contemporary world of Buddhist
scholars did not realize this and could not understand why the
Ch'an/Zen followers approached Bodhidharma as a Buddha or Divinity.
In accordance with this Esotericism was the culture and practice
of Ch'an/Zen. However, in the wake of contemporary culturing
even the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans adopted the so-called
rational approach to the practice of Ch'an/Zen and therefore
abandoned their traditional approach. In the wake of this attitude
the Kung-an/Koan's of Ch'an/Zen are interpreted as verses that
one cannot not grasp intellectually. However, this view is based
on an error in reading the texts.
To understand this, let us scrutinize an early Chinese text
on the propounder of Ch'an and therefore Zen. This will lead
us to understand that innately in these texts are esoteric notions
of Ch'an/Zen Buddhism and they offer reasons as to why the non-Westernized
cultures have a variant approach to Bodhidharma to the West.
The earliest narrative on Bodhidharma, though apparently brief,
is presented in a Chinese work that is offering a description
of the forty-five temple monasteries of Lo-Yang. Apparently
a Chinese monk known as Yang Hsuan-chih is presented meeting
Bodhidharma who originated from the Western Region, who was
a hundred and fifty years of age, in the temple of Yung-ning-ssu
[Japanese, Einei-ji]. This narrative of the Yung-ning-ssu, as
part of the Lo-Yang temple narrative, is in fact a remarkable
record on the reconciliation of philosophies by the Chinese
tradition. In fact, the Chinese tradition not only reconciled
the differences between the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism
and the later philosophies of Buddhism as the Sarvastivada and
Mahayana, but also offered a solution to explain the differences
between these philosophies. Unfortunately, due to the lack of
understanding of the language of the ancient, religious philosophies,
the Lo-Yang or Yung-ning-ssu narrative could never be appreciated
by the contemporary world of scholars and also Buddhists. Though
the Lo-Yang or Yung-ning-ssu narrative is a remarkable record
on Chinese philosophy, we will instead focus on the philosophy
and history of Ch'an or Zen Buddhism that is centered around
Bodhidharma is composed of two Sanskrit words. The word Bodhi
refers to the Ch'an/Zen Buddhists' definition of the Ultimate
Reality as this Mind-All Reality, which is to them the Buddha
Nature. Dharma is a Sanskrit word that equates with Tao. However
when both words are read together, Bodhidharma would mean the
Propensity of the Mind or Bodhi Essence. In simple words, the
Ch'an/Zen records also carry within their narratives a metaphysical
sense or meaning of Buddhism. In this sense, Bodhidharma can
be read as denoting the Ch'an or Zen Ontology. In fact, the
modern world of scholarship is unaware that Ch'an/Zen is not
devoid of philosophy and metaphysics but that its praxis does
not dwell on it. To understand this, let us interpret a portion
of the Lo-Yang or Yung-ning-ssu excerpt that is relevant to
Bodhidharma or Ta Mo [Chinese] and Daruma Daishi [Japanese].
"In those days there was a Shramana Bodhidharma from the
Western Regions, originally a man from Persia [?]. He came from
rugged countries and was staying in the Middle Land. When he
beheld how the golden dome sparkled in the sun, how its light
reflected upon the surfaces of the clouds, how the precious
bell housed the wind within itself and how its voice rang beyond
the heavens, he sang a hymn of praise, 'Truly how wonderful
it all is!' He said that he was one hundred and fifty years
old and had traveled all countries and visited all regions,
but that nothing in Jambudvipa was comparable with the beauty
of this temple, that it surprassed all others, and that there
was nothing like it anywhere. With hands clasped, he daily invoked
devotedly the name of Buddha."
Buddhism: A history of India and China" by Heinrich Dumoulin].
let us focus on the metaphysical sense of the above phrase,
"In those days there was the Shramana Bodhidharma from
the Western Regions." This phrase merely means that the
Mind or Bodhi Essence or Buddha Nature, or metaphysically Bodhidharma,
originates from the West. This phrase also reveals that this
excerpt belongs to the Chinese Immanentists, who are accounting
for the interrelationship between the Transcendentalists and
themselves in the above excerpt. The translator of this text
then interprets Bodhidharma as being "originally a Man
from Persia [?]." The Chinese word that Buddhology interprets
as Persia only suggests the extreme west of the Chinese metaphysical
premise, figuratively to the west of India [The Chinese upheld
an integral system of philosophy.] Thus, the reason for the
text to highlight that Bodhidharma originates from the extreme
West is to emphasize on the Purity of the Mind or Bodhi Essence
or Buddha Nature. [After the Solar Dissolution only the Buddha
Nature remains]. Then follows the phrase: "He came from
rugged countries and was staying in the Middle Land." This
of course means that since the Solar Dissolution occurs in the
"West," this is a rugged or harsh country; therefore,
Bodhidharma was residing in the Middle Land or the point at
which the Absolute Buddha Mind is imperishable in the advent
of the Solar or Grand Dissolution. The term "Middle Land"
also implies that the metaphysical notion of Bodhidharma reflects
the World reality. This contrasts with the notion of Cosmic
metamorphosis of the Transcendentalists. Then Bodhidharma sang
a hymn of praise, "When he beheld how the golden dome sparkled
in the sun, how its light reflected upon the surfaces of the
clouds, how the precious bell housed the wind within itself
and how its voice rang beyond the heavens." This hymn means
that the upper realm or reality which is the Pure Mind Essence,
or figuratively the golden dome of the temple, was in harmony
with the Karmic forces of Creation or Manifestation, or figuratively
the Sun, and the illumination of the golden dome or the Pure
Mind Essence reflected Sentiency, or figuratively "its
light reflected upon the surfaces of the clouds." The verse
that follows is in fact uniquely Ch'an or Zen. This verse says:
"how the precious bell housed the wind within itself and
how its voice rang beyond the heavens." In Ch'an or Zen,
the Bodhi or Mind or Buddha Nature is not an extraneous transcendental
concept; the Bodhi Mind or Buddha Nature is an IMMANENT REALITY.
In simple words, this very self and the mundane world are not
mundane at all but have all the qualities of transcendence,
only our conditioning leads us to believe that this world and
the self are mundane. Since the Bodhi or Buddha Nature is immanent,
and the very self is sublime, the belief that there is Manifestation
and Dissolution is invalid, as all is Bodhi or Buddha Nature.
It is for this reason that the verse says, "how the precious
bell housed the wind within itself and how its voice rang beyond
the heavens." In other words, the "precious bell"
or the Manifestive Cosmic Sound "houses" or contains
"the wind" or Prana or Primordial Cosmic Breath that
triggers Cosmic Manifestation or Genesis. Thus, the Ch'an or
Zen philosophy does not believe in a transcendental Bodhi or
Buddha Being that causes the notion of Creation and Dissolution.
It only believes that the immanent Bodhi Reality in its conditioned
or "mundane state," so to speak, ideates this world
of experience or Reality. Thus in its true state, the Bodhi
or Buddha Nature contains or "houses the wind within itself."
The parallel of this is the following verse from the "Blue
pure wind invites the universe
where will it find an end?"
fact, before Ch'an or Zen, the belief was that the Cosmic Breath
"gave the initial stir" within the Cosmic Absolute,
after the occurrence of Primordial thought or Logos, to propel
Genesis. However, the Ch'an or Zen tradition, which believes
in the Bodhi or Buddha Nature as an immanent reality, maintains
that the Primordial Prana or Cosmic Breath or Wind does not
emanate. The Emanation that we believe occurs is merely an experience
of our conditioned, Karmic minds. Thus all there ever was and
will be is the Bodhi or Buddha Nature. This Bodhi or Buddha
Nature is Esoterically termed as Bodhidharma by these metaphysical
records of Ch'an/Zen. Thus, the text says that Bodhidharma beheld
"how the precious bell housed the wind within itself and
how its voice rang beyond the heavens." The phrase, "its
voice rang beyond the heavens" means that this Cosmic Sound
that triggers Creation [according to all schools of religio-philosophy]
occurs in the Void or Sunya [in Buddhism and Ch'an/Zen]. In
other words, since the Bodhi or Buddha Nature is an immanent
reality, this "ringing" or Manifestation does not
unfurl but occurs. This takes Ch'an or Zen to the understanding
that the Bodhi or Buddha Nature is immanent. In simple words,
we in a sense do not at all manifest but in actuality exist
in the Bodhi or Buddha realm, only our Karmic conditioning makes
us believe that we are in a manifested, mundane world.
the text states that Bodhidharma "had traveled all countries
and visited all regions, but that nothing in Jambudvipa was
comparable with the beauty of this temple, that it surpassed
all others, and that there was nothing like it anywhere."
This statement means that the text is aware of "all countries"
or philosophical premises and "all regions" or all
the three realms or realities of the Mahayana Buddhists, that
is, Dharma-kaya, Samhhoga-kaya, and Nirmana-kaya. However, nothing
in Jambudvipa was comparable with the beauty of this Temple
or Ontological Reality. In other words, the Ch'an or Zen philosophy
believes that the Bodhi or Buddha Nature is immanent and this
far surpasses in "sublimity" even the philosophical
premises of the Transcendentalists. It also surpasses the philosophy
of the Realists and Idealists that is jargonically referred
to in the text as Jambudvipa or, hyper-jargonically, India.
It is this Immanent Bodhi Reality that Bodhidharma saw in this
temple and since he is in fact one with the temple, "With
hands clasped, he daily invoked devotedly the name of Buddha."
the above Lo-Yang or Yung-ning-ssu narrative had all along contained
the entire seeds of Ch'an/Zen philosophy, which was beyond the
understanding of the contemporary world of Buddhologists. Since
Buddhologists contend that the Lo-Yang or Yung-ning-ssu [Japanese,
Einei-ji] record is at least as early as the 547 AD era, the
history and also the philosophy of Ch'an/Zen has to be rewritten.
fact, the realization that the Bodhi or Buddha Nature is an
immanent reality, and the idea that the Manifestation and Dissolution
of the Cosmos is merely an assumption of our conditioned minds,
led to the pronouncement of the now famous four-line eulogy
on Ch'an or Zen:
special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words and letters;
By pointing directly to Mind.
lets one see into nature and attain Buddhahood."
it is a special transmission outside the scriptures [Taoism,
Vedism, Sarvastivada, and Mahayana]. Of course since the Ch'an
or Zen tradition believes in an Immanent Bodhi or Buddha Reality
and therefore not an externalized manifestation or materialisation
of the Cosmic principle of Sound, the tribute,"Not founded
upon words and letters" is apt. Since the Bodhi or Buddha
Reality is immanent, one only needs to point directly to this
Bodhi or Buddha Mind or, simply, Mind and it leads one into
its nature to attain Buddhahood.
sometimes Buddhologists talked of the profundity of this four-line
stanza on Ch'an or Zen, its real profundity was not noticed.
Thus, both D. T. Suzuki and Heinrich Dumoulin could not understand
these records of Ch'an/Zen.
later records on Bodhidharma too carry only similar information
to the Lo-Yang or Yung-ning-ssu narrative. In other words, Bodhidharma
is presented in esoteric language in other metaphysical records
too. Thus Book Sixteen of the Tao-Hsuan record known as "Further
Biographies of Eminent Monks" [Chinese, Hsu Kao-seng chuan]
reconciles the Lo-Yang or Yung-ning-ssu narrative and amplifies
further facets of it according to the view of the Transcendentalists
or the so-called SAN LUN [Japanese, SAN RON sect]. Thus, it
of South Indian Brahmin stock, was a person of wonderful wisdom
and penetrating clarity who understood everything he heard.
Since his purpose was fixed upon the teaching of Mahayana, he
quieted his mind in deep concentration. He understood small
things as well as things of great moment. He deepened Samadhi.
He pitied this remote corner and guided with the help of the
Tao-Hsuan narrative enumerates that Bodhidharma was of "South
Indian Brahmin stock." The term South Indian suggests that
this text can be read from the perspective of the Transcendentalists
[Chinese, SAN LUN; Japanese, SAN RON]. According to the Transcendentalists,
the Bodhi or Buddha Nature exists in the West as it survives
the Solar Dissolution. However, the Transcendentalists contend
that the Bodhi or Buddha Nature, being Absolute, is a principle
above the Solar reality. Thus to the Transcendentalists [SAN
LUN or SAN RON sect], the Buddha Nature is a principle that
survives the Ultimate Dissolution which occurs in the South.
Thus, the term Jambudvipa, or its hyper-jargonic equivalent
India, denotes the philosophical premises of the Transcendentalists
[as this Chinese text reads]. The term "Brahmin" of
course refers to the unadulterated meaning of the word that
means an intellectual, thus suggesting the unfolding of the
Intellect or Cosmic Mind within the human being [according to
the view of the Realists or Transcendentalists, vide "Divine
Initiation"]. It is this that is meant when the Tao-Hsuan
narrative says that Bodhidharma was of South Indian Brahmin
stock and not him as a wandering Indian person who originated
from South India as contemporary Buddhists and Buddhologists
assume. In fact, Bodhidharma is this Cosmic Intellect or the
Bodhi or Buddha Essence that is either Transcendental to the
Transcendentalists [Chinese, SAN LUN; Japanese, SAN RON] or
immanent to the lmmanentists [Chinese, Ch'an; Japanese, Zen].
Thus He, or the Metaphysical Entity Bodhidharma, is said to
possess Omniscience or "Amazing Wisdom" and Intellect
or "Penetrating Clarity" and understand everything
He, or the Metaphysical Entity, "heard." Of course
the term "heard" emphasizes that this Bodhi Absolute
Reality thinks and thus hears. This is within the notion of
a Transcendental Absolute Conscious Reality that utters the
primordial Word that causes Genesis. However, in the Lo-Yang
or Yung-ning-ssu narrative, the word Shramana is used. The Sanskrit
word Shramana means "to exert." In fact, the Ch'an
or Zen reading of this text asserts on an Immanent Absolute
Bodhi Reality that does not like the Transcendental Absolute
Reality speak or utter or manifest a Cosmos. This emphasizes
that this Immanent Absolute Bodhi Essence is Omnificent. It
is to highlight this that the word Shramana is used in the Lo-Yang
or Yung-ning-ssu text. Thus, Bodhidharma quieted his mind in
deep concentration or "deepened Samadhi." In other
words, this Absolute Bodhi Reality facilitated us with the path
of Dhyana. Thus "He pitied this remote corner" or
this "Worldly reality" or infused it with the philosophical
validity of an Immanent Absolute Bodhi Reality with the help
of Dharma or his propensity, or as a compassionate Bodhidharma
of the Transcendentalists he offered Salvation to this world.
The Chinese texts, as explained above, permit a two-way reading.
Thus, Bodhidharma or this Bodhi Essence "understood small
things" as the Bodhi Essence is immanent, and also as this
Bodhi is Absolute, it understood "things of great moment"
or the Transcendentalist philosophy [Chinese, SAN LUN; Japanese,
SAN RON] that asserts on Sequentiality or Time as the cause
the text of the "Chronicle of the Lanka Avatara Masters"
was a teacher of the Dharma who came from South India in the
Westem Regions, and was the third son of a Brahmin king; possessed
of amazing wisdom and penetrating clarity and thoroughly understood
everything he heard."
fact, the main corpus of this text is the same as the Tao-Hsuan
narrative. However, the variations like the above phrase that
Bodhidharma was the third son of a Brahmin king offer further
information. As explained in the topic on Asanga [vide "Third
Eye of the Buddhist"], the term king denotes the notion
of materiality or the phenomenological reality. Thus a Brahmin
king in fact only denotes that the Mind is essentially of this
world realm. This phrase merely highlights the Mind Nature within
this world, to better illustrate the Immanent nature of the
Bodhi Essence or Buddha Nature. [However, like all Chinese texts
this text also allows for a Transcendentalist interpretation.]
Thus, there is not any caste or parentage of an Indian person
in these texts.
fact, the narrative of the "Lanka Avatara Masters"
also has another verse that is variant. This is the statement
that, "Finally, He [Bodhidharma] crossed far over mountain
and sea in order to preach in Wei or China." This too can
be interpreted from both Transcendentalism and Immanentism.
The Transcendentalist reading is that this Bodhi Essence or
Bodhidharma metamorphosed to become the Manifestation [or Mountain]
and Consciousness [or Sea] to manifest this world [vide "Divine
Initiation" and "Third Eye of the Buddhist"].
The phrase "in order to preach in Wei or China" denotes
that this is a particular interpretation of Transcendentalism
of the Chinese [Chinese, SAN LUN; Japanese, SAN RON]. The sentence,
"Finally, He crossed far over mountain and sea in order
to preach in Wei or China" also can be understood as the
Bodhi Essence or Bodhidharma surpassed the notion of Manifestation
[Mountain] and Absolute as Chaos or Consciousness [Sea] to offer
an Immanentist science within Wei or China. This is the Ch'an
or Zen interpretation of this verse.
the standard lines of academics [Buddhologists or Orientologists]
merely reflect their ignorance. Thus, unfortunately Heinrich
Dumoulin says, "Faithful and scholars alike have a heart
for exploring origins. But all too often the beginnings of religious
movements are shrouded in shadows. Images of founders often
get obscured by legend and their supposed teachings detached
from the past in order the better to highlight their uniqueness
and originality. This is also true of the image of Bodhidharma
within the Zen school of meditation." ["Zen Buddhism:
A History of India and China"]
the notion of an Absolute Bodhi Reality, or metaphysically Bodhidharma,
is the foundation of both
and Immanentism in China and Japan. The reason for the Chinese
philosophical tradition to term this notion of an Absolute Bodhi
Reality with a Sanskrit term is not to politically, economically,
or socially placate the Indians, but to impart that this metaphysical
Entity as denoted by Bodhidharma is within the folds of Indian
Buddhist metaphysics too. In other words, the Chinese are saying
that the notion of an Absolute Bodhi Essence is but a doctrine
that is shared with the Indian Buddhist traditions.
is due to this reason that the Ch'an and Zen Buddhists in Asia
worship the metaphysical Entity known as Bodhidharma or Ta Mo
[Chinese] and Daruma Daishi [Japanese]. This explains the distinction
in approach towards the culture and practice of Ch'an/Zen during
the last two millennia as to the original world of Ch'an/Zen
in China, Japan and Korea.
2001 Bhagavan Shri Shanmukha Anantha Natha and Shri Ma Kristina
Baird from "Third Eye of the Buddhist".