Bodhidharma is the Indian Buddhist monk who brought Zen Buddhism to China around 475 AD (Gautama the Buddha lived around 500 BC). Before him, Buddhism had already been introduced to China and had already been somewhat popular. Documents show the existence of Buddhist community in China as early as 65 AD. Zen Buddhism started to flourish in China around 700 AD at the time of the sixth and last patriarch: Master Huineng.

In China, Bodhidharma is also considered as an important figure in martial art. There is a saying that all martial arts originate from the Shaolin Temple and it was Bodhidharma who started teaching the Chinese monks external forms of yoga which evolved into martial arts. Legend says he left two books on yoga/qigong practice, one of which survives to today: Yijing Jing.

Note that qigong and meditation were not introduced to China by Bodhidharma. They are common practices in the Taoism and Confucian communities (for example, Laozi lived around 600 BC), as well as in the existing Buddhism communities.


Nowadays Zen becomes a buzzword. I don’t know why the Zen school flourished in East Asian countries but not other schools. Here are some pieces of information that I know

  • Zen may simply mean ‘meditation’.

    Zen is the Japanese spelling of the Chinese word Chan, which is likely the Sanskrit word dhyana. Dhyana could either mean concentration or stages of meditation experiences. In Buddhism, depending on the school, there may be 8 or 9 different dhyana stages.

  • Koan is used as a practice technique.

    Koan study is unique to the Zen school. It refers to “illogical” statements or conversations that helped former Zen masters reach enlightenment (or test the disciple). The amateur monk is supposed to focus/meditate on the koan and hopefully grasps it.

The book

The author Red Pine is an American writer and Buddhist who translated many Buddhism and Taoism books into English. This book contains four works of Bodhidharma

  • Outline of Practice
  • Bloodstream Sermon
  • Wake-up Sermon
  • Breakthrough Sermon

The original Chinese text and English translations are presented side by side.

In this post, I will quote some of the text. Before that, I would like to point out that ‘buddha’ is the Sanskrit word for awareness, and it usually refers to

Outline of Practice

This sermon is less than 3 pages. It points out that there are essentially two ways to the Path:

  • By reason
  • By practice
    • suffering injustice
    • adapting to conditions
    • seeking nothing
    • practicing the Dharma

The first way requires understanding and belief whereas the second way requires practice. And the understanding is that “all living things share the same true nature”.

Bloodstream Sermon

  • This mind is the buddha.
  • Trying to find a buddha or enlightenment is like trying to grab space.
  • To find a buddha, you have to see your nature. Whoever sees his nature is a buddha.
  • If you don’t understand by yourself, you’ll have to find a teacher to get to the bottom of life and death.
  • Once attached to appearances or forms, you are unaware.
  • To go from mortal to buddha, you have to put an end to karma, nurture your awareness, and accept what life brings.

Wake-up Sermon

  • The essence of the Path is detachment and the goal of those who practice is free from appearances.
  • To transcend motion and stillness is the highest meditation.
  • Without the mind there’s no buddha means that the buddha comes from the mind. The mind gives birth to the buddha. But although the buddha comes from the mind, the mind doesn’t come from the buddha, just as fish come from water, but water doesn’t come from fish. And whoever wants to see a buddha sees the mind before he sees the buddha. Once you’ve seen the fish, you forget about the water. And once you’ve seen the buddha, you forget about the mind. If you don’t forget about the mind, the mind will confuse you, just as the water will confuse you if you don’t forget about it.
  • The tathagata isn’t on this shore or the other shore. And he isn’t in midstream. Arhats are in midstream and mortals are on this shore. On the other shore is buddhahood.

Breakthrough Sermon

  • The most essential method, which includes all other methods, is beholding the mind.