Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bodhi Dharma ~ 達摩

Bodhi Dharma was a monk who lived about 1600 years ago. He is known for bringing Zen Buddhism to China, which then spread through Korea and Japan. He is the patriarch of Zen Buddhism and, after the Buddha, probably the most recognizable image in Korean Zen. The story of Bodhi Dharma is another of history mixed with legend and does not seem important where one gives way to the other.

He arrived in China (some say from India, others claim he was Persian) at sometime during the early part of the 5th Century and began translating Buddhist text from Sanskrit to Chinese.  He spent nine years in a cave gazing at a wall, focusing his mind. When once he lost his concentration and fell asleep, he cut off his eyelids. He lived to be 150 years old, but sometime after his death, a barefooted Indian monk was seen walking West, carrying nothing but a single sandal. When they checked Bodhi Dharma's tomb nothing remained but one sandal.


His painted image is usually easily found at temple and Buddhist shops. It's believed that having his image in your house will bring good fortune, money, and keep away ghosts. Korean gangsters might tattoo his image on their backs for protection. I have his image on a nice tea towel, and on several small gold cards you can keep in your wallet. Lucky charms for different things, such as protection from sickness or car accidents, good luck in love or on test scores, etc. As a wedding gift, Joe gave me a beautiful monk's painting of Bodhi Dharma with the Heart Sutra painted in Chinese around him.

On Saturday, I bought a notebook and calligraphy pen in Insadong, intending to use it as a journal. On the bus ride home, I wrote a little but suddenly started sketching Bodhi Dharma and didn't stop until Sunday when the pen was finally exhausted. It was a very relaxing practice and I was surprised how much I enjoyed doing it. If you try it, just don't be surprised when you close your eyes to sleep and all you see is his face. The really disconcerting thing is when it's faces you know you didn't draw! I'm already looking forward to the next time I'm home,  heading into the print shop and making some intaglio plates of him and printing off a few series~


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photo link.


  1. Cool! They all seem like different characters or have different moods. Great start. A few of them already look somewhat professional! And the digital file that you put together to display them itself is a cool design.

  2. Stunning! They are really really great! I love them! And they'd make great gifts too (hint hint!) LOL!

    Really, they are amazing! Thank you so much for a great post and for sharing your amazing work!


  3. thanks guys~
    sorry for all the typos, it's something I've never been good at catching but I'll try a little harder!

  4. Joseph~Gil-do,

    I really like this post. I like reading your explanation of Bodhi Dharma. Though I first read about him probably twenty years ago, and should remember and know of him from my visits with you fellas and our monk-friends, I often confuse these characters, partly do to the great stress I have suffered the last few years, partly due to lack of focus on Buddhist history, and perhaps partly due to age and my previous state of unhappiness. So thank you for the lesson. I actually prefer learning, or relearning, from friends, rather than books (though I have many books, Ha Ha).

    Your ink drawings of Bodhi Dharma are wonderful. I too recently started using ink, but I just made circles and a couple of ratty portraits.

    I was in Insa dong too, on Saturday, and at a gallery I saw a wonderful installation piece I would love to talk withyou about, and there, I made a truly wonderful new friend, who is an artist, photographer, teacher, vegetarian, and musician; and a blogger!

    Perhaps now I will be happier (though it certainly doesn't hinge on her--I am in a different place now, I think). And I should be able to be a better Dharma brother and friend. And though I will still enjoy your posts, I won't 'need' them to remember things I 'should now. Maybe! Amado!

    You do printing? Cool. I wish you could teach me some time.

    Again, great post. Thanks.

    In the Dharma,


  5. Hi, I am from the place where Bodhi Dharma born, ie in kerala state, India. A new book on Bodhi Dharma is being published soon. It is based on some ancient text discovered recently.

  6. Bhodhidharma was born in South India at Kanchipuram District in Tamilnadu state who was the son of Pallava King. You will get full the informations about Bhodhidharman from Tamil film of 7am Arivu (7th Sense).