The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma

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  • Jigetsu
    • May 2011
    • 236

    The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma

    Has anyone read this book before? I'm trying to read it now and finding it difficult to plow through. I'm currently reading "The Bloodstream Sermon" trying to make heads or tails out of it.

    Maybe it's too advanced for this beginner!
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39074

    Hi Jigetsu,

    Yes, and it is wonderful. We have had a couple of threads on Bodhidharma before that I will quote and link to. There are a few things to keep in mind in reading the book.

    First, most of the story of "Bodhidharma" is a legend built up over the centuries, a paradigm that is meant to inspire and instruct on the path. His life is much like that of "Moses" leading the children over the Red Sea ... a story of liberation that may not have happened as historical event, but inspires us to liberation too today. Little is known about him, most of the stories of Bodhidharma ... such as his meeting with "Emperor Wu" ... were not added to his biography until centuries later, probably by story tellers wishes to embellish and teach a lesson. Here is more on the topic, by a scholar, if you wish ...

    Faure uses structural criticism to analyse Bodhidharma's life as a literary piece belonging to the genre of hagiography, rejecting obsolete concepts of historical individuality and all methodological extremes to reach a new, limited understanding of Bodhidharma's coming from the West

    Only one of the writings in that book might arguably actually be by Bodhidharma, the "Two Entrances and Four Practices". Red Pine, in another good book "Zen Baggage", comments on his earlier Bodhidharma translations, "How much of it was actually by Bodhidharma is unknown, but even scholars agree that the one called [Two Entrances and] Four Practices was most likely his." In his "The Bodhidharma Anthology", Jeffrey Broughton writes, "For decades discussion [by scholars] both Japanese and Western, has concentrated on the Two Entrances [and Four Practices], and has come to the consensus that only this text can be attributed to Bodhidharma." Historian John McRae agrees ...

    In the early part of this century, the discovery of a walled-up cave in northwest China led to the retrieval of a lost early Ch'an (Zen) literature of the T'ang dynasty (618-907). One of the recovered Zen texts was a seven-piece collection, the Bodhidharma Anthology. Of the numerous texts attributed to Bodhidharma, this anthology is the only one generally believed to contain authentic Bodhidharma material.Jeffrey L. Broughton provides a reliable annotated translation of the Bodhidharma Anthology along with a detailed study of its nature, content, and background. His work is especially important for its rendering of the three Records, which contain some of the earliest Zen dialogues and constitute the real beginnings of Zen literature.The vivid dialogues and sayings of Master Yuan, a long-forgotten member of the Bodhidharma circle, are the hallmark of the Records. Master Yuan consistently criticizes reliance on the Dharma, on teachers, on meditative practice, and on scripture, all of which lead to self-deception and confusion, he says. According to Master Yuan, if one has spirit and does not seek anything, including the teachings of Buddhism, then one will attain the quietude of liberation. The boldness in Yuan's utterances prefigures much of the full-blown Zen tradition we recognize today.Broughton utilizes a Tibetan translation of the Bodhidharma Anthology as an informative gloss on the Chinese original. Placing the anthology within the context of the Tun-huang Zen manuscripts as a whole, he proposes a new approach to the study of Zen, one that concentrates on literary history, a genealogy of texts rather than the usual genealogy of masters.This title is part of UC Press's Voices Revived program, which commemorates University of California Press's mission to seek out and cultivate the brightest minds and give them voice, reach, and impact. Drawing on a backlist dating to 1893, Voices Revived makes high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarship accessible once again using print-on-demand technology. This title was originally published in 1999.In the early part of this century, the discovery of a walled-up cave in northwest China led to the retrieval of a lost early Ch'an (Zen) literature of the T'ang dynasty (618-907). One of the recovered Zen texts was a seven-piece collection, the Bodhidh

    Even then, the case is far from strong, and based on much supposition. Further, it is hard to say that "Zen" even yet existed, or that that writing is even particularly a "Zen (Chan in Chinese) text", perhaps being at most what is known as proto-Chan. I once wrote an essay over at ZFI in which I found some Shikantaza flavor in it, but was really reaching a bit ( The other texts in the book, such as the "Bloodstream Sermon" were written centuries after the time of Bodhidharma, by some authors from later Zen schools. They can be a bit hard to understand because one needs to know both Zen and Mahayana "lingo" and philosophical ideas to know what is being expressed in them. However, Red Pines footnotes and introduction in the book are very helpful in that regard.

    Here is more on Bodhidharma the Legend, including the Bodhidharma Action Figure ...

    I recently read a book, The Complete Book of Zen (, in which the author stresses the fact that practicing kungfu and chi kung is essential to cultivating your Zen experience and eventually realizing your cosmic reality. While I could see the benefits, I have not

    I hope that helps.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-18-2013, 05:01 AM.


    • Myoku
      • Jul 2010
      • 1487

      Its my favorite next to "Realizing Genjokoan", read it 2 years ago or so, I think I approached it rather like poetry, some parts made much sense to me. Large parts not made sense to me, but thats ok, I think, as long as a few seeds make it. Nothing to advice, just enjoy Jigetsu,


      • Jinyo
        • Jan 2012
        • 1957

        Thanks for the links here Jundo - made todays reading interesting.
        I enjoyed the ZFI essay - and the discussion leading on from it.




        • JohnsonCM
          • Jan 2010
          • 549

          I have this text also and rather like it myself. It is also a favorite equal to branching streams by suzuki roshi
          Sat today