The Eccentric Man That Brought Zen to China
Buddhism is steeped in eccentricity; the philosophy practically demands it. Throughout the history of the religion though no Zen master was likely more intriguing than the founder of Zen himself, Bodhidharma. Born in India, supposedly in the Kanchipuram city, he was a son of the of the king there and grew up in the cast of the warriors who grew up some time around the 5th century CE. Ata young age Bodhidharma took a keen interest in the teaching of Buddhism and was said to be very wise by the young age of 7. He began training under a mentor named Prajnatara and it was under his guidance that he became a monk. Within time he started to spread the teachings of Buddhism all throughout India just as his master had taught him to do. Later though Prajnatara died and this is when Bodhidharmas story would truly begin as he fulfilled his masters dying wish and went to China to spread the true teachings of Buddha further into the country.
Welcome to China
He said to have made waves as soon as he arrived in China as he was asked to give a lecture on Buddhism in order to share his teachings with all who were followers of the faith that attended. He arrived in front of his audience and then baffled them as he simply meditated in front of them for hours on end. Once he had finished his meditation session, he stood up and left the stage. (As well as a baffled audience I should think)
This rather strange presentation had people all over the country talking about him, not just monks of the religion but the high and mighty too and it wasn’t long until the Emperor himself requested to meet him. On meeting the Emperor was interested in speaking of life after death, he asked Bodhidharma how much merit he’s managed to build up thanks to the support of his monasteries, to which he replied “No merit at all, there is nothing holy in the void.” The Emperor was confused and not too pleased with this reply and then asked who he was speaking to seeing as he surely could not be a holy man, Bodhidharma simply replied “I don’t know.”
Master of Kung Fu
Later Bodhidharma hoped to head further and travelled north to the monastery of the Shaolin monks. He intended to join them in order to further spread his own and his master’s teachings. When he finally arrived however the monks refused him entry, but he was undeterred. For the next 9 years he meditated in a nearby cave which must have impressed the monks because they did indeed let him in as a teacher for their order. Bodhidharma was allegedly appalled by the state of the monks here and is said to have whipped them into shape, even teaching them the kung fu they are so famous for today.