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~