Lesson
3

Bodhidharma

6 of 8

Bodhidharma and meditation

In Bodhidharma's first approach, "entering through the Principle," we hear him advocating    pi-kuan, which translates literally as "wall gaze" or "wall contemplation." This unusual phrase has long been identified with Bodhidharma and with the practice of seated meditation. It has been interpreted in two ways, either or both of which may have intended: to face a wall physically or to meditate like a wall—to cultivate a mind that is firm, ungraspable, free of all concepts and concerns.

Although some credit Bodhidharma with the introduction of meditation to Chinese Buddhism, it appears likely that others before and contemporaneous with Bodhidharma taught concentrative practices. Where Bodhidharma's teaching differed from that of his  predecessors was his emphasis on "pointing directly at mind"—to real Buddha nature.

In one pious version of the story, Bodhidharma caught himself dozing and in a fit of rage tore off his eyelids.

Bodhidharma's practice of dhyana—sitting meditation which permits the rational mind to be suppressed entirely—has become one of the foundations of Chan practice. (The Chinese word for dhyana, Tso-Chan, is the source of the name Chan and hence Zen.) Perhaps Bodhidharma felt his praise of meditation could rouse Chinese interest in this form of Buddhism.

As it turned out, he was successful beyond anything he could have imagined, although his success took several centuries. As D. T. Suzuki expressed it:

While there was nothing specifically Zen in his doctrine . . .  the teaching of pi-kuan, wall-contemplation, was what made Bodhidharma the first Ancestor of Zen Buddhism in China.