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Celebration of Patriarch Bodhidharma’s Birthday

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

The fifth day of the tenth lunar month is the birthday of Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of the Chinese Chan School.

Bodhidharma was the third prince of a brahmin king in the south of the Indian subcontinent. With an aspiration to pursue the Mahāyāna path, he renounced secular life and went forth into homelessness in order to continue to develop the Dharma. After he became a monastic, he discarded the distracting thoughts and practiced meditation, and was able to understand clearly all the subtle and wondrous enumerations of dharmas, especially having an excellent comprehension of the path of meditation. Around the fifth century A.D., during the Southern and Northern Dynasties in China, Master Bodhidharma, out of compassion for sentient beings in this land, came here from the southern Indian subcontinent, wishing to transform and liberate those who had affinities with him. He first arrived at the south of the Five Ridges (Lingnan) under the rule of the Southern Song Dynasty and then went to the Northern Wei. Wherever he went, he disseminated the path of meditation.

At that time, teaching doctrines was popular in China. When people first heard of Bodhidharma’s meditation methodology, they often ridiculed it. The two young monastics, Daoyu and Huike, who had high aspirations, met Master Bodhidharma and knew that they could rely on him as a teacher, so they followed him for study. For four or five years, they stayed close to the master and made offerings to him. Deeply convinced of their sincerity, Master Bodhidharma taught them the true method of settling the mind, that is, keeping away from various external causes of distraction, stopping and resting the mind [i.e., entering meditative concentration], with a firm mind like a wall [that is unmoved by external conditions], and then one can enter the way. He also gave them the teachings of the two entrances to enlightenment and four methods of practice.

Patriarch Bodhidharma taught the path of meditation in the Northern Wei and enlightened people in the region. Men of insight who knew the true value of his teachings practiced in accordance with his instructions and returned to the mind to comprehend the teachings. They recorded what Patriarch Bodhidharma taught, hence handing it down to the world. According to legend, Patriarch Bodhidharma recounted in his own words that he lived a worldly age of over 150 years. He traveled everywhere to teach and transform sentient beings. He transcended the mundane world, and no one knew where he went.

The path of meditation taught by Patriarch Bodhidharma was passed on to the second patriarch Huike, the third patriarch Sengcan, the fourth patriarch Daoxin, the fifth patriarch Hongren, and then to the six patriarch Huineng, hence having carried it forward in the land of China. It became one of the eight major schools of Chinese Buddhism, called the Chan school. It has been integrated into Chinese culture and has had a profound impact.


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