The most significant figure of Chinese Ch’an Buddhism and founder of Shaolin kung fu , Bodhidharma was an Enlightened prince,28th patriarch of Buddhism who came from India to China at the begging of the 6th century AD. Upon his arrival in a different part of China, the Emperor Wu Ti, a devout Buddhist who built great number of monasteries all over his country , requested an audience with Bodhidharma. During their initial meeting, Wu Ti asked Bodhidharma what merit he had achieved for all of his good deeds. Bodhidharma was unable to convince Wu Ti of the value of his teachings and left the palace and continued north until he arrived at the Shaolin Temple in Ho Nan Province. It was here that Bodhidharma became famous for meditating 9 years facing a wall. Here Da Mo taught his disciple Shen Guang the most important of lessons in a mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart communication known as” action language” and is the foundation of the Chan Buddhism which Bodhidharma began at the Shaolin Temple. There is a tradition in Shaolin Kung Fu that Bodhidharma created the exercises and moves that are foundation of this branch of Kung Fu.
Although many stores , legends, “facts”, “histories” about Bodhidharma circulate today and there are many books on the subject , there is no proof that he ever existed . Different accounts have different information about everything regarding Bodhidharma.It is important to say that there is none archeological evidence of his existence .
Birthplace of Bodhidharma cannot be determined , there is no record of him in India , everything we know about him and his life came from Chinese sources written centuries after his supposed arrival . Different accounts put his birthplace on different places . According to some sources he was from a Brahman family in southern India and possibly of royal lineage. Some argue that Bodhidharma's royal pedigree implies that he was of the Kshatriya warrior caste. Some argued that the Pallava dynasty was a Tamilian dynasty and Bodhidharma was born a prince of the Pallava dynasty in their capital of Kanchipuram . Some accounts put his birthplace in Pakistan or even Afghanistan .
Founder of Ch’an Buddhism . Bodhidharma is honored as the First Patriarch of Ch’an in China . The truth is , this form of Buddhism existed in China centuries before his arrival and the earliest well know preacher of Ch’an in China was a monk named Anshigao who lived three centuries before Bodhidharma . Making Bodhidharma to be the first Ch’an ancestor was a matter of politics in China and the politics of Ch’an , not the historical fact.
28 Patricarch of Buddhisam .According to Ch’an lineage depicted in traditional Ch’an Lineage Charts, Bodhidharma is the 28th teacher in an unbroken lineage from Buddha himself. He is also the lineage ancestor of every Ch’an \Zen master since that time in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. D.T. Suzuki contends that Ch’an's growth in popularity during the 7th and 8th centuries attracted criticism that it had "no authorized records of its direct transmission from the founder of Buddhism" and that Ch’an historians made Bodhidharma the 28th patriarch of Buddhism in response to such attacks.
Time of arrival. Like in everything else , accounts differ on the date of his arrival, with one early account claiming that he arrived during the Liu Song Dynasty (420–479) and later accounts dating his arrival to the Liang Dynasty (502–557). Bodhidharma was primarily active in the lands of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386–534).
Which path he used to come to China. Some accounts state that he sailed from South India and came to Guangdong province by sea. Other said he passed Himalayas and came from the West.
Founder of kung fu. For a long time on the West , because wrong translation of Chinese sources , Bodhidharama was (and stll is) considered as founder of all Chinese martial arts. The truth is , Chinese civilization along with army and of course fighting systems existed for couple of millenniums before supposed time of Bodhidharma’s life. On the East he had a much more modest role and was considered as founder of Shaolin kung fu . Martial arts historians have shown this legend stems from a Qigong manual known as theYijin Jing published in 1827 . It is believed that manual was first published in late 1600’s but there are no evidence to support that believe. Furthermore ,there is no evidence of Bodhidharma in Shaolin monastery , at all. First monk who ever practiced martial arts in Shaolin was ex soldier and a student of monastery’s founder Seng Chou.
Bodhidharma’s grave was found empty , no evidence was found that anyone was ever burred in that grave .
As we can see , everything about Bodhidharma just a legend . It was impossible to find any place where he lived and taught . The logical question is ,why there was a need for such a person ?
Bodhidharma’s legend is central to understanding the evolution of Chinese Ch’an and subsequently Japanese Zen. The meaning that His stories hold for Ch’an Buddhists, how they did and how continue to influence Ch’an tradition today is the most important . Bodhidharma was not philosopher nor a writer like other Buddhist figures, yet the central elements of his teachings can be seen in stories of his life such as his emphasis meditation, his style of interacting with students, the lack of emphasis on scholarship and intellectual debate, and the importance of personal realization and mind-to-mind transmission from teacher to disciple. These distinctive features of Bodhidharma’s story still define Ch’an \Zen Buddhism today.