The Mysterious Martial Monk (pt. 2)

By Jesse | 16 Comments

(This is part 2 of ‘The Mysterious Martial Monk’. If you haven’t read part 1, you really should)

The exercise program developed by our favorite monk was a success.

His fellow monks and disciples became completely transformed. From weaklings to, well not strongmen exactly, but more fit.

But something still wasn’t right.

Our monk felt that maybe he had been so busy preaching these past years that he had forgotten about himself! He had helped a great deal of other people on their spiritual journeys, but what about his own? During his later years he had also developed what we today call Graves’ disease, which caused an abnormal enlargement of his eyes.

In fact, he looked more like a barbarian than a monk now, with his big beard and wide, bulging eyes!

Life at the temple was taking its toll on him, and you could almost tell from some of his writings:

“As long as you’re subject to birth and death, you’ll never attain enlightenment. To attain enlightenment you have to see your nature. Unless you see your nature all this talk about cause and effect is nonsense.

“The mind’s capacity is limitless, and its manifestations are inexhaustible. Seeing forms with your eyes, hearing sounds with your ears, smelling odors with your nose, tasting flavors with your tongue, every movement or state is your entire mind. At every moment, where language can’t go, that’s your mind.

“Whoever knows that the mind is a fiction and devoid of anything real knows that his own mind neither exists nor doesn’t exist. Mortals keep creating the mind, claiming it exists. And monks keep negating the mind, claiming it doesn’t exist.”

He decided that something drastic had to be done.

So he left the Young Forest temple and headed to Mount Song, not far away, where he knew there was an abandoned cave. That cave would become his new home, for nine whole years.

Nine quiet years of nothing but meditation.

Fact or fiction? Nobody knows. But the legend says that he meditated here for all those years without ever uttering a single word. He even used his own special kind of meditation. It was pretty straightforward:

“Face a wall.”

And that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sit down, face a wall and meditate. Combine that with drinking tea and exercising, and that’s basically all a man needs, our monk believed. Well, those nine years became the nine last of our monks life, sadly.

He died in that cave, around year 530, by the banks of Luo River.

And his name was Bodhidharma.

Also known as Daruma in Japanese. Or Ta Mo in Chinese.

End of story.

_________________

So, as you have probably figured out by now, this story was about the life of Bodhidharma, founder of Zen Buddhism.

Normally I wouldn’t want to write about religion (since people have a habit of becoming weird when religion comes up) but still I wrote these two posts about the boy who grew up to spread Zen Buddhism.

Why?

It’s quite simple.

The exercises that he taught in the Shaolin temple were, according to many researchers, the foundation of today’s Shaolin Kung Fu and Wushu. I mean, who hasn’t heard of the Shaolin temple? And the possible link to Okinawan Karate is too obvious to even explain (Shorin is the Japanese pronounciation of Shaolin by the way).

In fact, hadn’t it been for Daruma (I like his Japanese name more) there maybe wouldn’t be any Judo or Ju-jutsu. True! It is a fact that in the Bugei Sho-den, which is a collection of brief biographies of eminent masters of the different fighting arts practiced in feudal times in Japan, accounts are given of a Zen Buddhist monk named ‘Chingempin’, who came to Japan from China after the fall of the Ming dynasty, where he taught fighting skills along with Zen Buddhism.

Daruma, by Miyamoto Musashi

And he wasn’t the only one. Many other Chinese monks would travel to Japan later, spreading both the spiritual and physical message of Daruma, strongly influencing Japanese Budo. Chinese ‘mystical Kung-fu pressure points’ are present in all major Koryu (old-style) Bujutsu schools of Japan.  The samurai class even made Zen its way of life.

Daruma and his Zen teachings had a great impact on many famous martial artists, ranging from Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) and Miyamoto Musashi (who actually painted quite many Daruma in his life) to Itosu Anko and other contemporary Karate pioneers.

I seriously doubt that you can name one influential Budo-ka from Japan or Okinawa who wasn’t affected by Daruma’s teachings in one way or other. I even have, in my personal collection, three (!) Daruma paintings made by one of the leading figures of Karate and Kobudo in Okinawa today.

There is no question about it.

So, that’s why I wrote these posts.

Because if you don’t know who that bearded, scary man above is… then you have missed something.

But I should warn you. Before you go out telling about Daruma and his life story to your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, dog, children, co-worker, hairdresser or sempai, please be critical to what I have written.

Sure, I may have put countless of hours into researching facts for these two articles (though it certainly doesn’t look like that) but as always, facts are different depending on who you ask. As a wise man once said:

“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree on.”

The problem is, some people agree with one version, some with another.

For example, there is strong evidence that Daruma/Bodhidharma/Ta Mo was originally from Iran. Some experts even say Persia. While other historians say he never existed in the first place! I chose south India for my story, which is what most researchers have agreed on.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that these two posts on Daruma are based on facts, though some of it is nothing more than mere speculation.

Then I added a big dose of artistic freedom too, of course.

You really shouldn’t quote me on anything.

I just tried to make it more readable.

So now you know.

The Daruma poster sold by Shureido in Okinawa. The Japanese text reads Karatedo

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

16 Comments

  1. vimal

    February 26, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Dear Jesse San

    This Article is interesting for me, so should be for other.

    I would like to add/clarify a point to your article, the “Daruma”, “Bodhidharma” both are of Indian Origin and no doubt about it. The word “Dharma” in Indian Language means “Duty” especially in religious context. May be in china and Japan by their local pronouciation has change as Daruma.

    While, “Bodhidharama” refers to Buddha, an enlightened person from and in India. His was of preaching and teaching (Reglion) were coined as Bodhidharama.

    Please have no doubt that it has an Indian Origin. Both the words are amply used in India but have no relevance to any Indian martial Art unlike in China or Japan.

    Applause for your Research and wishes for more.

  2. ANDREY TAMPA BAY FL

    February 26, 2010 at 9:17 am

    PLEASE ALSO REMEMBER !!!

    DARUMA IS ALSO MEAN A PROSTITUE

    IN JAPANESE.

    ANDREY.

    • Andi

      February 26, 2010 at 1:17 pm

      Hi Andrey, you speak Japanese? Cooool!

    • Jesse

      February 26, 2010 at 2:07 pm

      Andrey,

      The answer to this anomaly lies in the social changes at the time, developing in the Edo Period. The class distinctions in Japan placed the merchants at the bottom, who in turn developed their own culture focusing on humor and poking fun at what those of higher class held sacred.

      This is evident in the depiction of Daruma as a prostitute since prostitutes displayed the same “okiagari” resilience (okiagari dolls are designed so that their weight causes them to return to an upright position if they are knocked over. Daruma dolls are often made this way in Japan).

      Wikipedia is your friend.

  3. ANDREY TAMPA BAY FL

    February 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    DEAR JESSE

    THANK YOU,

    YOU ARE RIGHT. I HAVE A NICE PAINTING FROM JAPAN DARUMA WITH THE PROSTITUTE,…LIKE DARUMA IS VERY POPULAR IN BOUDHISM, SO MARTIAL IN JAPAN MAKE DARUMA THEIR FONDERS TOO. IF YOU ACCEPT DARUMA LIKE BUDDHISM FONDER IT WILL BE EASIER TO ACCEPT YOUR MARTIAL ARTS LIKE GENUINE.
    IT IS NOT THE 1*PARADOXE WE WILL FIND IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN….
    PLEASE TRAIN HARD TODAY !!!
    BUT BE CAREFULL IN THE YEAR OF THE WHITE TIGER…
    THANKS…
    ANDREY FROM TAMPA BAY…

  4. ANDREY TAMPA BAY FL

    February 26, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I AM SORRY I FORGOT.!
    IN JAPAN OKINAWA AND AROUND THE WORLD ALL THE DOJO HAVE A PAINTING OF DARUMA IT IS A MUST..
    THE MEANER DARUMA IS OR LOOK SUPPOSELY THE BETTER THE STUDENT ARE OR BECOME..DARUMA PAINTING REPRESENT THE SPIRIT OF THE OLD FOUNDER, OR THE TEACHER OR THE OLD MASTER, HE IS NEVER HAPPY WITH YOU TRAINING OR PROGRES AND WANT YOU TO BE BETTER….HE MUST LOOK MEAN USELY, SO WHEN YOU SEE A DARUMA PAINTING SMILING IT IS LETTLE UNSUAL. I HAVE ONE SMILING DARUMA FROM CHINA .(IS CHINA REFER TO THE MIDDLE KINGDOM ?PLEASE REMEMBER ME THANKS.)
    ANDREY … O-S-H-U-!!!!

  5. ANDREY TAMPA BAY FL

    February 27, 2010 at 9:36 am

    2010-2,27 . 1 AM TAMPA TIMES.

    OSHU !!!

    I JUST SAW ON TV !!!

    THERE WAAS A BIG EARTHQUAQUE ON OKINAWA

    TODAY. PLEASE CHECK IT OUT.

    OSHU !!!

    ANDREY FROM TAMPA BAY.

    • warrioress

      August 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK!

  6. Randy

    March 9, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    The story of Boddhidharma begins to fall apart under serious inquiry. Refer to Kennedy and Guo’s “Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals” features an excellent discussion on how this indelible myth came to be taken as fact- when it in fact did not appear before earl 20th century works of Chinese martial fiction.

    • Jesse

      March 10, 2010 at 11:44 pm

      I don’t really understand what you mean by “story”. The fact that he existed? Or that he came from India to China and all of that?

      The so-called “Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices” is presently considered to be Bodhidharma’s teaching as recorded by his disciple T’an-lin. In this work you’ll find the first biographical notice concerning Bodhidharma. According to this account, he was a South Indian monk who came to China to transmit the essence of “Mahayana teachings”. After his arrival in Canton, he went to the capital of the Northern Wei. These biographical elements reappear in Tao-hsüan’s “Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks” written in 645.

  7. Randy

    March 17, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    I’m referring to the story that Bodddhidharma is the founder of the martial practices of China, and those that developed in Japan and Okinawa. He may have been a historically documented person, and traveled to China, but the rest about martial arts is from a few pieces of fiction that got enmeshed into popular culture, and became part of “fact”.

    • Jesse

      March 18, 2010 at 8:20 pm

      Well, as Chojun Miyagi wrote in his “Outline of Karatedo (1934):

      “Unable to determine the actual origins of karate, I believe the need for self-defence must have surfaced along side prehistoric man due in large part to his inherent animosity.”

      Bodhidharma or not.

  8. Randy

    March 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Sure, we’ve always been good at fighting- we’re just like all the other animals in that respect. Sometimes the discussion of where the martial arts originated gets reductive, and reminds me of all the “chariots of the gods” pseudo-history that says UFO’s taught man to build and farm etc…or the theories that culture X invented everything and then shared it with the other cultures. This sort of supposition ignores the fact that humans all have the same basic capabilities, bodies and needs- there’s no need for some grand progenitor or original style, because fighting is something that has developed in all cultures and human groups since we were in the trees. It can’t be pinned down because it’s a universal thing. We may have different names and specific practices, but tying it all back into some illustrious historical figure is unnecessary and distracting, IMO.

  9. Thila

    November 29, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Great Master Bodhidharma
    -Indian
    -From India Kanchipuram!!!

  10. Thila

    November 29, 2011 at 10:40 am

    BodhiDharma -- THE SON OF A KING

    Bodhidharma was born around the year 440 in Kanchi, the capital of the Southern Indian kingdom of Pallava. He was a Brahman by birth and the third son of King Simhavarman. When he was young, he was converted to Buddhism, and later he received instruction in the Dharma from Prajnatara, whom his father had invited from the ancient Buddhist heartland of Magadha. It was Prajnatara who also told Bodhidharma to go to China. Since the traditional overland route was blocked by the Huns, and since Pallava had commercial ties throughout Southeast Asia, Bodhidharma left by ship from the nearby port of Mahaballipuram. After skirting the Indian coast and the Malay Peninsula for three years, he finally arrived in Southern China around 475.

    Wanna know more about Great Master Bodhidharma? http://landsofwisdom.com

  11. Ryan Parker

    December 3, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Randy, there Yi Jin Jing manuals from the Ming dynasty. So the claim the the Bodhidharma/yi jin jing legend is a 20th century fiction is itself a giant fiction. While it may be the case that Bodhidharma/Yi jin jing legend is fiction it is very provably hundreds of years old.

    Jesse could you provide a reference for the “strong evidence that Daruma/Bodhidharma/Ta Mo was originally from Iran”

    Just FYI but Persia and Iran are the same place (much like Thailand and Siam)

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