Traditionally, Bodhidharma is the Indian Buddhist monk credited with bringing Buddhism to China. “Bodhidharma” means “body of the law.” The Buddhism he brought to China was most likely Mahayana Buddhism because he came to China nearly a thousand years after the passing away of the Buddha.

Mahayana Buddhism mixed with the indigenous Chinese religion, Taoism (Daoism) and the result was Ch’an, transliterated from Chinese into Japanese as Zen.

Many scholars believe that multiple Buddhist monks brought Buddhism to China over a period of many years and that it’s unlikely that only one monk did the job. They taught meditation, which in Sanskrit is “dhyana.” The final “a” is barely pronounced so in Chinese the word for meditation became ch’an.

However, it is well-entrenched in Chinese folklore that one Indian monk, Bodhidharma, came to China and spent nine years meditating in a cave before coming out to teach the Buddhadharma. He is reputed to have taught martial arts to the monks residing at the now famous Shao Lin (small forest) temple. It is more likely that he taught yoga.

Bodhidharma is also accredited with defining Zen as:

A special transmission outside the scriptures.

No dependence on words and letters.

Direct pointing to the heart of mankind.

Seeing into one’s nature,

and attainment of Buddhahood.

However, as the Wikipedia article on Bodhidharma points out, that famous definition actually appeared about five hundred years after the lifetime of Bodhidharma. Still, the Wikipedia article amazingly and stupidly repeats the story that Bodhidharma somehow brought Ch’an/Zen to China.

But there was no Ch’an until Mahayana Buddhism encountered Taoism so Bodhidharma could not have brought Ch’an to China. If Taoism had not existed in China before his arrival, there would have been no Ch’an.

There are scores if not hundreds of books saying that Bodhidharma brought Ch’an/Zen to China. It is obvious, however, that Ch’an/Zen is a blend of two well-established religions and no one could have brought Buddhism as modified by Taoism to China.

Zen is the merger of Daoism and Buddhism and Daoism was known and practiced only in China. It is thus an impossibility for anyone to have brought Ch’an/Zen to China.



How To Practice Zen