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The principle sources on Bodhidharma are “Biographies of the High Priests” by Tao-Hsuan (654 CE) and “The Records and Transmission of the Lamp” by Tao-Yuan (1004 CE). There are also some legends about him.

Daruma, also known as Bodhidharma, DarumaTaishi, Lohan and Ta Mo, the 28th patriarch of Buddhism and the 1st patriarch of Zen, was born as the third child of King Sugandha around 440 in Kanchipuram, south of Chennai (Madras) in South India, a small but thriving Buddhist province at that time. As he was born into the kshatriya caste, martial art training was an inherent part of his education.

He became a meditation student of Prajnatara, the 27th patriarch of Buddhism. It was Prajnatara that changed the young disciple’s name from Bodhitara to Bodhidharma and directed him to carry the teachings to China.

On arrival in China around 520 upon being received by the Emperor Wu of the Ling dynasty, Bodhidharma preached the “doctrine of emptiness”. Emperor Wu didn’t “get it” and angrily banished him from his palace.

Daruma traveled to Mt. Shao-shih in the Sung mountain range (Honan Province) where he visited Sil-lum (Shaolin) temple and spent nine years meditating in front of a wall. This gave him one of his nicknames, “the wall-gazing brahmana” – even though he was from the warrior, not the brahmana class. In his meditation he was purportedly so in tune with nature that he could hear the conversation of ants. To prevent himself from falling asleep Daruma is reputed to have plucked out his eyelid and thrown it to the ground where a tea tree grew. To this day, consuming tea is a ritual that spans the cultures where Zen is practiced culminating in the ritualized tea ceremony (sado) of the Samurai.

Daruma undoubtedly instructed his students in some form of yoga and is reputedly the creator of one of the oldest forms – “the 18 Hands of Lohan” which became known as Chuan-fa system, generally called Kung fu (lit. “mastery”). Extant wall paintings and murals at the Honan Shaolin Temple in North East China show etnic Indian monks sparring and training in boxing skills with Chinese monks, supporting the view that Bodhidharma’s exercises were in fact martial arts of his homeland – India. In all his years he taught relatively few and he felt there were only two students worth teaching, Hui-k’o (his successor) and Tao-yu, who is said to have understood the way but never taught.

Before his death Daruma entrusted the robe and bowl of the lineage to Hui-k’o who became the 2nd patriarch of Zen. Daruma was interred at Loyang. Three years later he was supposedly seen walking with one sandal hung on a huge staff and told the official he was going back to India. Reports of this meeting led to the opening of his tomb, inside of which all they found was a single sandal.

Today Daruma dolls are popular all over the Orient. If you tip them over they automatically return to an upright position. Daruma is quoted as starting and ending each day with the same saying, “To fall seven times, to rise eight times – life starts from now.” (In Japanese, “NanakorobiYaoki, JinseiWaKore Kara Da”.)