(East Asian mythology)
Ta-mo of China, Daruma of Japan–the founder of the Ch'an Tsung, or ‘inner-light school’ of Buddhism. This sect was one of the most distinctive and original products of the Chinese mind, while its culmination as Zen in Japan has had a profound influence not only on East Asia, but even on the West.
Bodhidharma reached Nanking from South India about 520. Legend has been thickly woven around this enigmatic man, who soon acquired an outstanding fame. An inkling of the strength of his personality can still be gauged from the following account of his interview with the Chinese Emperor. The audience was brief and abrupt, for when the Emperor described all that he had done to promote the faith, such as founding monasteries, supporting translators, and undertaking charitable deeds, and asked what merit he had obtained in so doing, a reasonable question in terms of gradualist Mahayana doctrine, Bodhidharma replied, ‘No merit whatever!’ Amazed, the Emperor asked the visitor about the first principle of Buddhism. ‘There isn't, one,’ was the answer, ‘ since where all is emptiness, nothing can be called holy.’ ‘Who, then, are you?’ the Emperor asked. ‘I don't know,’ replied Bodhidharma. Leaving Nanking, he went northwards and settled in a monastery where he spent the rest of his life in meditation–‘gazing at a wall.’
Another legend is an account of the transfer of awareness from Bodhidharma to his successor Hui-k'o, the Second Patriarch. Hui-k'o again and again asked the Indian sage for instruction, but was always refused. Yet the Chinese disciple remained in meditation outside Bodhidharma's sanctuary, waiting patiently in the snow in the hope that he would at last relent. One day he could bear the suspense no longer, so he cut off his left hand and sent it in. At this Bodhidharma asked Hui-k'o what he wanted. The Chinese monk requested peace of mind, but could not find his mind when Bodhidharma told him to bring it out. Thereupon, the Indian sage said: ‘You see. I've pacified your mind!’
Hui-k'o experienced a single flash of insight: a sudden awakening–in Ch'an terms tun wu, in zen satori. Bodhidharma inaugurated in East Asia a spiritual tradition that eschewed scripture and managed without words. It was a method of ‘direct pointing to the soul of man,’ which perceived the inner Buddhahood of all. Every tie of human society, whether expressed in secular or monastic regulations, vanished like dust in such a moment. Without detriment to the contribution of Bodhidharma, there are obvious parallels with Taoist quietism, particularly in the lack of formal organization thought necessary for the pursuit of wisdom. Han-shan, the famous ninth-century Chinese monk poet, was very like a Taoist hermit, keeping the clouds company on his rocky hillside, where he read the works of Lao-tzu and the Buddhist scriptures.
Yet it is the legendary life of Bodhidharma that retains something of the shock wave he caused. Once he fell asleep in meditation and was so furious that he cut off his eyelids. From them grew the first tea plant, thereafter used as a beverage for monks.