In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bodhidharma

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The 6th-Century and 7th-Century Sources
  • Dunhuang Manuscripts
  • Traditional Chan Histories
  • Iranian or Indian
  • Journey to China and Dialogues with Emperor Wu
  • Crossing the Yangtze River and Shaolin Monastery
  • Transmission to Huike
  • Assassination, Burial, and Postdeath Encounter with Song Yun
  • A Composite Bodhidharma
  • Structuralist Analysis of the “Life”
  • Search for an Authentic Text
  • In Tibet

Buddhism Bodhidharma
Jeffrey L. Broughton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0040


Countless paintings by East Asian artists have attempted to catch the essence of the enigmatic Buddhist master Bodhidharma, the “founder” of Chan. He is said to be the twenty-eighth patriarch in the mind-to-mind transmission of the torch of enlightenment down from Śākyamuni Buddha and the six buddhas preceding him. Chan texts show two transliterations for “Bodhidharma” (Putidamo 菩提達摩/菩提達磨) as well as the variant Putidamoduoluo (菩提達摩多羅). “Putidamoduoluo” has been variously reconstructed in Sanskrit as Bodhidharmatrāta, Bodhidharmatara, etc. We have many detailed biographical notices for this Chan patriarch, a fair number of texts claiming to present his teachings, and a wealth of Bodhidharma images executed over the centuries throughout East Asia. Modern scholarship on Bodhidharma can be classified into the following approaches: (1) construction of a historical biography (texts for such a biography range from the 6th to the 13th centuries), (2) search for and exposition of an “authentic” text of Bodhidharma teachings, (3) “structuralist” analysis of the Bodhidharma hagiography, and (4) art-historical/iconographical treatment of Bodhidharma images, principally paintings. This article deals with each of these four approaches in turn.

General Overviews

Yanagida 1981, a broad, popular treatment of Bodhidharma’s biography and teachings, serves as the best overview. Jorgensen 2000 is an excellent encyclopedia article on Bodhidharma. Broughton 2004 is a short encyclopedia article on Bodhidharma. Chapter 2 of McRae 2004 deals with the topic of differentiating/connecting Bodhidharma and East Mountain teaching. Red Pine 1986 is a straightforward translation of works traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma. Hayashi 1932, though outdated, is useful as an example of one of the earliest attempts in modern buddhology to go systematically through the relevant sources in order to construct a synthetic Bodhidharma biography.

  • Broughton, Jeffrey L. “Bodhidharma.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1. Edited by Robert E. Buswell. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.

    NNNBecause of its brevity, this article should be read in tandem with Jorgensen 2000. Digital version may be purchased online.

  • Hayashi, Taiun. “Bodaidaruma den no kenkyū.” Shūkyō kenkyū 9.3 (1932): 62–76.

    NNNA pioneering article giving an overview of the historical sources for Bodhidharma.

  • Jorgensen, John. “Bodhidharma.” In Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Vol. 1. Edited by William M. Johnston, 158–162. Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.

    NNNThis is a solid treatment of the subject, with a small bibliography.

  • McRae, John R. Seeing through Zen: Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

    NNNAn overview of the field of Chan studies; according to McRae, “The primary goal of this book is not to present any single master narrative of Chinese Chan, but to change how we all think about the subject” (p. xi).

  • Red Pine, trans. The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma. New York: North Point, 1986.

    NNNA translation of the Outline of Practice and three Bodhidharma apocryphons: Bloodstream Sermon, Wake-Up Sermon, and Breakthrough Sermon; geared to a popular audience; includes a woodblock-print edition from the Qing period.

  • Yanagida Seizan. Daruma. Vol. 16, Jinrui no chi-teki isan. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1981.

    NNNContains a study of “Daruma’s biography” and a modern Japanese translation of a ninety-two-section Bodhidharma Anthology; geared to a popular audience.

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