Saturday, April 14, 2012

Twisted Myth Files (2): Bodhidharma

"The One who Came from the West". Brought Zen practice from India to China in the 6th century CE. Direct dharma descendant of the Buddha. 28th Patriarch of Indian Buddhism. 1st Patriarch of Chinese Ch├ín—which became Japanese Zen—Buddhism.

Most famous stories: (1) Encounter with Emperor Wu, where in response to the ruler's query as to the highest truth of Buddhism, he replies, "Vast emptiness, nothing holy."   This is the first koan in the Blue Cliff Record. (2) The origins of the tea plant: Sometime during his nine-year-long wall-gazing session, Bodhidharma found himself struggling to stay awake during meditation. So he proceeded to cut off his eyelids. Where the eyelids hit the ground, strange new plants began to grow: tea plants. Since then Buddhist practitioners have used tea to help them stay awake and maintain concentration during meditation. (3) Three years after his death, Bodhidharma was seen walking in the Himalayas by a government official named Song Yun. The old monk was barefoot, carrying a pole with a single sandal mounted atop it. This wild story roused enough interests in the monks of Shaolin Monastery that they found cause to break open and enter the tomb where Bodhidharma was interred. The monk's remains were not there; all that was left in the tomb was a single sandal.

Powers and abilities: Unclear, except that he relies on some obscure power he calls "mind" as opposed to the pool of human imagination called "ken" that mythological beings draw upon to work their magic. An expert at kung-fu, it is widely believed that he is the inventor of the ancient martial art, which evolved from an exercise regimen called "The Eighteen Hands of Lohan" he invented during his time at Shaolin Monastery in China in the 6th century CE. Though he appears quite elderly, he is said to move fast when the situation calls for it.

UPDATE 4/14/12: Nowadays, head monk at New Shaolin Monastery in Eden, Virginia. It is also unclear whether Bodhidharma is human or mythological; with historical figures it's sometimes difficult to tell. The stories that he has no legs (which atrophied and fell off during his nine-year wall-meditation session), that he is in essence a human torso floating about the streets of Eden, must be wrong. Multiple MythCourt agents have reported seeing skinny legs shuffling underneath his patchwork robes. Some of them, after blowing their cover in no recognizable way, have even reported taking kicks to the face from feet attached to these allegedly nonexistent legs.

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