Bodhidharma - How Zen Came To China

Sadhguru narrates the story of Bodhidharma, a prince from the Pallava Kingdom in South India, who crossed the Himalayas and brought Zen to China, and also discovered tea!

போதிதர்மர் – சீனாவில் ஜென் உருவான கதை

Over one thousand five hundred years ago in China, there lived an emperor named Wu. He was a great patron of Buddhism and he dearly wanted a great Buddhist teacher from India to come and spread the message of Buddhism. He set in motion elaborate work to see that Buddhism spread to the people of his land. These preparations went on for many years and the emperor waited and waited, but no teacher came.

Then one day, when the emperor was over sixty years old, a message was sent across that two great, fully enlightened teachers would cross the Himalayas and come and spread the message in China. There was great excitement and the emperor prepared a big celebration in anticipation of their arrival. After a few months of waiting, two people appeared at the border of the Chinese kingdom. They were Bodhi Dharma and one of his disciples.

Bodhidharma: Messenger to China

Bodhidharma was born a prince in the Pallava Kingdom in South India. He was the son of the king of Kanchipuram, but at an early age, he left his kingdom and princehood and became a monk. At the age of twenty-two he was fully enlightened, and that was when he was sent as a messenger to China. The moment the news of his arrival came, Emperor Wu himself came to the borders of his empire and set up a huge reception and waited.

When these monks came, weary from the long travel, Emperor Wu looked at the two of them and was greatly disappointed. He was told that an enlightened being would be coming and was expecting something, but this was a mere boy of twenty-two years. Worn by the travel of a few months in the mountains, Bodhidharma was really not looking very impressive.

The emperor was disappointed but he contained his disappointment and welcomed the two monks. He invited them into his camp and offered them a seat and food. Then, at the first opportunity he got, Emperor Wu asked Bodhi Dharma, “Can I ask you a question?”

Bodhidharma said, “By all means.”

Emperor Wu asked, “What is the source of this creation?”


Bodhidharma looked at him, laughed, and said, “What kind of foolish question is that? Ask something else.”

Emperor Wu was extremely offended. He had a whole list of questions to ask Bodhidharma, questions that he thought were deep and profound. He had held many debates and discussions about this particular question, and now this fool of a boy who came from nowhere just dismissed it as a foolish question. He was offended and angry but he contained himself and said, “Okay, I will ask you a second question. What is the source of my existence?”

Now Bodhidharma laughed even louder and said, “This is an utterly stupid question. Ask something else.” If the emperor had asked about the weather in India or about Bodhidharma’s health, Bodhidharma would have answered. But this man was asking, “What is the source of creation? What is the source of who I am?” He brushed this off.

It was Bodhi Dharma who brought Zen to China.

Now Emperor Wu became really angry but he contained himself and asked the third question. He made a list of all the good things that he had done in his life – how many people he had fed, how many things he had done, all the charity that he had given and finally he said, “To spread the dharma, to spread Buddha’s message, I have built so many meditation halls, hundreds of gardens, and trained thousands of translators. I have made all these arrangements. Will I get mukti?”

Now Bodhidharma became serious. He stood up and glared down at the emperor with his huge big eyes and said, “What? You! Mukti? You will burn in the seventh hell.”

What he meant was, according to the Buddhist way of life, there are seven layers of the mind. Instead of just doing what is needed, if a man does something and then keeps accounts of it, “How much I have done for somebody,” he is in the lowest level of the mind and he will inevitably suffer because he is expecting people to be nice to him in return for his deeds. If they are not nice to him, he will be mentally tortured and it will be a seventh hell.

But Emperor Wu did not understand any of this. He flew into a rage and threw Bodhidharma out of his empire. For Bodhidharma, it made no difference – in or out. It doesn’t matter whether it is a kingdom or a mountain; he carried on with his journey. But Emperor Wu missed the only opportunity of his life.

Bodhidharma: The first Zen master

It was Bodhidharma who brought Zen to China. Gautama the Buddha taught Dhyan or meditation. Hundreds of years later, Bodhidharma transported Dhyan to China where it became Chan. This Chan went further down to Indonesia, Japan, and other far east Asian countries, where it became Zen.

Bodhidharma went into the mountains where he gathered a few disciples, and they would meditate in the mountain caves

After he was sent out of the empire by Emperor Wu, Bodhidharma went into the mountains. There he gathered a few disciples, and they would meditate in the mountain caves. For a meditator, the biggest enemy is sleep. The legend says that Bodhi Dharma once fell asleep while in meditation and was so furious that he cut off his eyelids. His eyelids fell to the ground and became the first tea plant. Tea was thereafter supplied to the monks as a protection against sleep.

Where does this legend come from? The hill that Bodhidharma resided in after his encounter with the emperor was known as Tai or Chai. When they went there, the monks probably found certain leaves which Bodhidharma discovered could be boiled in water and drunk to stay awake. They could then sit and meditate the whole night; and that was how tea or chai was discovered.

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5 years 7 months ago

Bhodhi dharma I bow down

6 years 6 months ago

Life is not based on fate and luck. We creates our own destiny :)

5 years 7 months ago

Namaskaram, thank you for bringing Karate work was part of Master Bodhi Dharmas work actually my sister learned Karate

7 years 10 months ago

Sprituality frm Tamil nadu to China!dats really great and founder of Tea the Great Bodhi Dharma.

6 years 6 months ago

How can one meditate with eyes open;-)..Just wondering!!!

5 years 7 months ago

I really bow down to the fish, a wonder of creator and creation

7 years 10 months ago

I really read it with full happiness, but could not accept the statement of "His eyelids become TEA PLANT" - Sorry

6 years 4 months ago

How Can one sleep with eyes open ;-)

5 years 7 months ago

Bodhidharma not only spread Dhyan/Chan but also brought the 18 Arhat hands to the Shaolin Temple, which are the basis of most known East Asian Martial Arts. Bodhidharma is spoken to have been a practitioner of Kalaripayat, and passed this on along with his teachings of dharma.
The great sage of the Martial Arts!

7 years 9 months ago

actually it is said that bodhidharma himself had nothing to do with buddhism. It just happened that his guru prajnatara was a buddhist

6 years 4 months ago

how do we help others without thinking about it..... not even a 0.0000000000000000000001%

4 years 7 months ago

This story, as generally stories are, is away from reality but one thing that attracted my attention was the use of the words "fully enlightened" by Sadhguru when describing Bodhidharma - giving people and impression that perhaps there were 'partially enlightened' people as well, such as 'half enlightened', 'quarter enlightened', 'one-eighth enlightened' etc., which is never the case actually. You are either enlightened or you are not, no in-between here. So, be careful with your use of words, Sadhguru.

7 years 9 months ago

[...] Bodhidharma | The Isha Blog. [...]

6 years 4 months ago

More over Bodhi Dharma is the one who taught very first martial art to the chinese monk. From where it spread in the form of karate through the world.

4 years 4 months ago

This is not a material to publish in a revered journal to look for citation. The notion of citation came recently to slave ones ides onto others for commercial gains. These are just truth. As Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."

7 years 9 months ago

life is fate and luck

5 years 7 months ago

Our own destiny created unconsciously becomes our fate and luck :)

4 years 2 months ago

india should celebrate him

7 years 9 months ago

Very nice to read about Bodhidharma.After Surya'S film seventh sense ,I have read a lot and Osho have also stated "His eyelids become TEA PLANT" .

5 years 7 months ago

The eye lids becoming tea plants is just a legend. You don't have to take it literally :)

3 years 3 months ago

So it is not such a bad thing that I do not sleep much or on some nights no sleep at all. The lesson I learn from this is instead of worrying about not sleeping I should be meditating and doing Isha Kriya all night!!! Thank you for the wisdom.

7 years 9 months ago

who is the author of this article?? I cant find it in this page..

5 years 7 months ago

Oh my god who named him , really this sound has some impact

3 years ago


7 years 9 months ago is a parable....the tea leaves were....and are existence........Vimalgit...

5 years 7 months ago

Good Share.A lot into Boddhidarma's life sketch was split -wide open after A R Murugadoss's film.

I still remember ARM having a tete-a-tete conversation with Sathguru trying to get some masala chai for his film 7zham Arivu(loosely based on the prince) for which Sathguru as usual gave his witty answers.

Guessing, ARM was emperor Wu and Sathguru Bodhidharma in their last births.....and the Chai.......Oh offcourse we have endless movies and TV soaps from Ekta Kapoor to stay awake all night..

Light and Love

11 months 1 week ago

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7 years 2 months ago

I am very proud that i am also from the very soil of Bhodhi Dharma.- Kanchipuram.
A great responsibility ahead that i should tender to this humanity.

5 years 7 months ago

References and citations would be much appreciated. Otherwise, this article rides on mere anecdotal evidence.

6 years 6 months ago

After all we gave to China its sad that India and China are not in a peaceful relations.