Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Zen - Bodhidharma and the Emperor Wu

Today, something a little different for the Noon Commentary:

Bodhidharma and the Emperor Wu
Emperor Wu

Emperor Wu of China was a very benevolent Buddhist. He built many temples and monasteries, educated many monks, and performed countless philanthropic deeds in the name of Buddhism. He asked the great teacher Bodhidharma,

"What merit is there in my good works?" Bodhidharma replied,

"None whatsoever." The Emperor then asked,

"What is the Primal meaning of Holy Reality?" Bodhidharma answered,

"Emptiness, not holiness." The Emperor then queried,

"Who, then, is this confronting me?"

"I do not know," was Bodhidharma's reply. Since the Emperor did not understand, Bodhidharma left his kingdom.

Later, the Emperor related this conversation to an adviser, Prince Shiko. Shiko reprimanded him, saying that Bodhidharma was a great teacher possessed of the highest truth. The Emperor, filled with regret, dispatched a messenger to entreat Bodhidharma to return. But Shiko warned,

"Even if all the people in the land went, that one will never return."

About Bodhidharma (from Wikipedia):

Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century and is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Zen (Chinese: Chán, Sanskrit: Dhyāna) to China. He is the patron saint of the Shaolin Monastery, and is attributed to, in Chinese legends, to have begun the physical training of the monks that later turned into Kung Fu. Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as a rather ill-tempered, profusely bearded and wide-eyed barbarian. He is described as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" in Chinese texts.

Some Chinese accounts describe Bodhidharma as being disturbed by the poor physical shape of the Shaolin monks, after which he instructed them in techniques to maintain their physical condition as well as teaching meditation. He is said to have taught a series of external exercises called the Eighteen Arhat Hands (Shiba Lohan Shou), and an internal practice called the Sinew Metamorphosis Classic. In addition, after his departure from the temple, two manuscripts by Bodhidharma were said to be discovered inside the temple: the Yijin Jing (易筋經 or "Muscle/Tendon Change Classic") and the Xi Sui Jing. Copies and translations of the Yi Jin Jing survive to the modern day, though many modern historians believe it to be of much more recent origin. The Xi Sui Jing has been lost.

While Bodhidharma was born into the warrior caste in India and thus certainly studied and must have been proficient in self-defense, it is unlikely that he contributed to the development of self-defense technique specifically within China. However, the legend of his education of the monks at Shaolin in techniques for physical conditioning would imply (if true) a substantial contribution to Shaolin knowledge that contributed later to their renown for fighting skill. However, both the attribution of Shaolin boxing to Bodhidharma and the authenticity of the Yi Jin Jing itself have been discredited by some historians including Tang Hao, Xu Zhen and Matsuda Ryuchi.

About Emperor Wu (from Wikipedia):

Emperor Wu of Han (traditional Chinese: 漢武帝; simplified Chinese: 汉武帝; pinyin: Hànwǔdì; Wade–Giles: Wu Ti), (156 BC–29 March, 87 BC), personal name Liu Che (劉徹), was the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty of China, ruling from 141 BC to 87 BC. Emperor Wu is best remembered for the vast territorial expansion that occurred under his reign, as well as the strong and centralized Confucian state he organized. He is cited in Chinese history as the greatest emperor of the Han dynasty and one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. Emperor Wu's effective governance made the Han Dynasty one of, if not by itself, the most powerful nations in the world.

Historians generally treated Emperor Wu with ambivalence. On the one hand, he is recognized for neutralizing the Xiongnu threat and expanding the Chinese territory. During his reign, China roughly doubled her size, and most of the territories he annexed became part of China proper permanently. The empire that Emperor Wu created surpassed in size the contemporaneous Roman Empire. His other, perhaps greater, legacy was the promotion of Confucianism. For the first time in history, Confucianism became the dominant thought in the Chinese government, and it remained so until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1911.

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