The historical Bodhidharma was an Indian sage
who lived sometime in the fifth or sixth century AD. He is the undisputed
founder of Zen Buddhism, and credited with Zen's introduction to China during
his travels to the Middle Kingdom. There are countless legends (some conflicting)
about this sage. The best-known legend says he attained enlightenment (satori)
after meditating in a cave for nine years without blinking or moving his
eyes. Other tales contend he was facing the wall of a room at the Shorinji
Temple in China. During those years of meditation, his arms and legs atrophied,
shriveled up, and fell off. Legend also credits Bodhidharma with cutting
off his eyelids. Apparently he dozed off during meditation, and in anger,
he cut off his eyelids, which fell to the ground and sprouted into China's
first green tea plants
Zen is one
manifestation of Buddhism: the primary aim of Zen is personal enlightenment
through meditation rather than study of sutras and practice of rituals.
The foremost symbol of Zen is its first patriarch, Daruma (Sanskrit: Bodhidharma),
the legendary meditation master who traveled from India to China in the
sixth century. His teachings were radically different from the elaborate,
ritualistic schools of Buddhism that were then prevalent.
teaching is often summarized as "Enlightenment is not found in books
or in the performance of empty rites." In Zenga (Japanese: Zen-picture),
the artist is not painting Daruma as a historical figure for veneration
but as a symbol of penetrating insight, ceaseless diligence, and the rejection
of all externals. These were qualities to be strived for by a monk who hoped
to succeed in achieving enlightenment. To bring the image of Daruma alive
with brush and ink, the artist must, through meditation, become Daruma.
A Daruma painting is therefore a spiritual self-portrait based on the individual
experience of each Zen master.
This painting of Daruma (Bodhidharma), the Indian monk who traveled from
India to China in the sixth century and founded Zen Buddhism, has a traditional
attribution to Unkoku Toeki on the basis of interpolated seals. The calligraphy
is of greater interest than the portrait, with which it shares a highly
The fluid brushwork seen here, with its contrast of wet
and dry, light and dark ink, captures the typically irreverent Zen spirit
of the inscription, which calls the subject (Daruma) "the old clot."