An amusing post from Professor Richard P Hayes, Mcgill University culled from bitnet. [Ed - I have great respect for Bodhidharma as an Enlightened One. However, I feel that one really good way to respect a guru is to laugh at and with him/her.]

Subject: Why did Bodhidharma go to the Internet? In fact in the investigation of Bodhidharma we find that he may be an Iranian Prince.

It seems a little bit odd to use the expression "in fact" in front of any statement about Bodhidharma, unless the rest of the sentence is "Bodhidharma probably did not exist as an historical person." The consensus of scholarly opinion, I have heard from usually reliable sources, is that Bodhidharma is fictional character. That being the case, one can tell any story one likes about him. Indeed, the history of Chan is filled with wonderful stories that people have made up about Bodhidharma.

The story I like best is the one that makes him a South Indian. I like this version for no better reason than that I am partial to South Indians, maybe because two of my most beloved teachers were Tamil and Telugu. (Ever heard of a Tamil Theravadin Zen Buddhist? They're about as rare as Canadian Sautraantikas, but a hell of a lot more polite.) Moreover, nearly all the really great Buddhist thinkers, such as Naagaarjuna, Dignaaga, Dharmakiirti and Buddhaghosa, were Tamil or Telugu. For the sake of economy of admiration, I find it convenient to think that Bodhidharma must also have come from the same part of India; this saves me a lot of time and money on pilgrimages, because I only have to go to one place to pay respects to every Buddhist whose thinking has shaped my understanding of Buddhism. (I'm currently gathering a mountain of evidence that proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the Buddha himself was born, became enlightened, taught the dharma and died in Tamilnadu. Of course people will scoff at this evidence at first, since I am making most of it up, but I suspect that within fifty years people will start believing in it. Nobody gets a PhD in Buddhist studies from McGill unless they sign a statement affirming their belief that the Buddha came from Madras instead of Magadha.)

The story of 9 years facing a wall is a interesting one, but almost contraidcts the Teachings that are associated with Bodhidharma who thought Still Sitting or wall gazing as a total waist of time.

Never realized time had a waist before. But it does make a lot of sense, when you recall that it comes from hourglasses.

As for the wall-gazing, some historians have suggested that what little evidence there is about Bodhidharma suggests that he really might have been a Brahmin from Tamilnadu who converted to Buddhism and travelled to southern China (or perhaps what is now Viet Nam) by boat. There he is thought to have taught the four foundations of mindfulness. He gained a reputation for giving short, snappy and slightly incoherent answers to questions, probably because he did not speak Chinese very well and could not easily express himself fully. His command of Chinese was not helped at all by the fact that he lived as a hermit in a cave for nine years, so he continued giving abrupt and seemingly incoherent answers for most of his life. The Chinese, wanting to help this inarticulate foreign monk save face, politely spread the rumour that Bodhidharma was very wise. The rest, as they say, is history.

Richard P Hayes


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