Key Points

Bodhidharma: The Story of a South Indian Prince Becoming a Great Buddhist Monk

In the annals of religious history, there exists a captivating tale that spans across continents and centuries a story that transports us from the opulent courts of ancient South India to the rugged mountains of China.

It is the tale of a remarkable individual, a South Indian prince named Bodhidharma, who embarked on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment, ultimately becoming a revered and influential figure in Buddhist history.

Through his profound teachings and unwavering determination, Bodhidharma blazed a trail that still resonates with seekers of truth and seekers of the self today.

Join us as we delve into the fascinating narrative of Bodhidharma: The Story of a South Indian Prince Becoming a Great Buddhist Monk, a chronicle filled with extraordinary feats, profound wisdom, and a legacy that endures through the ages.

Bodhidharma Life Story


📙 Topic of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Historical Background of Bodhidharma
  3. The Decision to Become a Buddhist Monk
  4. Establishing the Shaolin Monastery
  5. Bodhidharma quotes
  6. Conclusion
  7. FAQs


Historical Background of Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma, also known as Damo in China, was a Buddhist monk who is credited with bringing the teachings of Zen Buddhism to China. The historical background of Bodhidharma revolves around the spread of Buddhism from its origins in India to various parts of Asia.

Bodhidharma is believed to have been born in the early 5th century CE in Kanchipuram (The third son of a Brahmin king), a kingdom of Pallavas in present-day Tamil Nadu, South India. He was said to be a prince who later renounced his royal status to become a monk. Bodhidharma is considered to be the twenty-eighth successor to the Buddha's lineage and is known as the founder of the Chan school of Buddhism in China, which later evolved into the Zen school in Japan.

During Bodhidharma's time, Buddhism had already spread to various parts of Asia, including China. However, the form of Buddhism prevalent in China at that time was mostly based on scriptural study and meditation practices, which had become more ritualistic and deviated from the original teachings of the Buddha. Bodhidharma aimed to revive the essence of Buddhism by emphasizing direct experience and meditation.

According to historical accounts and legends, Bodhidharma traveled to China in the early 6th century CE and arrived at the Shaolin Temple in the Henan province. There, he is said to have meditated in a cave for nine years, facing a wall and practicing intense meditation and self-discipline. Legend has it that he fell asleep during his meditation and, in anger at himself, cut off his eyelids, which fell to the ground and sprouted into tea plants.

Bodhidharma's teachings emphasized the practice of meditation as a means to attain enlightenment. He believed in the direct transmission of spiritual insight from master to disciple, without reliance on scriptures or external rituals. His teachings had a profound impact on Chinese Buddhism, giving rise to the Chan school, which focused on direct experience and the enlightenment experience called "Sudden Awakening."

Bodhidharma's influence on Chinese culture extended beyond Buddhism. He is often revered as the mythical figure who introduced martial arts to the Shaolin monks. Legend has it that he taught them various exercises and techniques to strengthen their bodies and minds for their spiritual practice.

Overall, the historical background of Bodhidharma centers around his role as a transmitter of Zen Buddhism to China and his teachings that emphasized direct experience and meditation. His teachings laid the foundation for the development of Zen Buddhism, which has had a significant influence on East Asian culture and spiritual practices.


The Decision to Become a Buddhist Monk

Bodhidharma's decision to become a Buddhist monk was a significant turning point in his life and had far-reaching consequences for the development of Buddhist philosophy and practice.

Bodhidharma was born into a Brahmin royal family (Pallava dynasty) in Southern India. Brahmins were the highest social caste in Hindu society and were tasked with religious and intellectual pursuits. Growing up, Bodhidharma likely received a comprehensive education in Hindu philosophy, which was prevalent in his society at the time. Despite his education and privileged background, Bodhidharma felt a profound spiritual dissatisfaction with the world around him, leading him to question the nature of existence and the purpose of life.

This dissatisfaction with the status quo eventually led Bodhidharma to seek out spiritual enlightenment, which he believed could be achieved through renouncing material possessions and worldly attachments. His decision to become a Buddhist monk can be seen as an act of rebellion against the social structures and expectations of his time. By choosing to live as an ascetic monk, Bodhidharma renounced his social status and material wealth, embracing a life of simplicity and focusing solely on understanding the nature of reality.

One of the core teachings in Buddhism is the concept of "dukkha," or suffering, which refers to the unsatisfactoriness and impermanence present in all aspects of life. Bodhidharma, through his practice and teachings, sought to transcend this suffering by realizing a state of awakening, or enlightenment. By becoming a Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma committed himself to a rigorous spiritual path that included meditation, contemplation, and self-discipline.

Bodhidharma's decision to become a Buddhist monk had a profound impact on the development of Zen Buddhism. When he traveled to China, he brought with him a new approach to Buddhist practice that emphasized direct experience and the realization of one's true nature. This approach, known as "Dhyana" in Sanskrit, eventually evolved into the Japanese Zen tradition. Bodhidharma's teachings laid the foundation for the Zen emphasis on meditation and direct experience, which continues to be central to the practice of Zen Buddhism today.

By renouncing his privileged background and dedicating himself to the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, he not only transformed his own consciousness but also had a profound impact on the development of Buddhism. Bodhidharma's teachings continue to inspire and guide practitioners of Zen Buddhism, emphasizing the importance of direct experience and the realization of one's true nature.

READ ALSO: Story of the clever fish


Establishing the Shaolin Monastery

Bodhidharma history
Bodhidharma and shaolin monastery history

According to traditional accounts, Bodhidharma arrived in the southern part of China, specifically in the region of Henan Province, where the Shaolin Temple is located. The temple was already in existence at the time, but it was not yet a prominent Buddhist center.

He is said to have spent a considerable amount of time meditating in a cave near the temple, known as the "Shaoshi Cave". Bodhidharma's intense meditation practices and teachings had a profound impact on the monks residing at the temple.

One of the key contributions of Bodhidharma to the Shaolin Temple was the development of a unique system of physical and mental training that became known as "Chan (Zen) Meditation" or "Shaolin Kung Fu". Recognizing the physical and mental rigors faced by the monks, Bodhidharma developed a series of exercises and techniques to strengthen their bodies and minds.

These practices included various forms of martial arts, such as combat techniques, self-defense, and weapon training. The combination of meditation, breathing exercises, and physical conditioning became a distinctive feature of the Shaolin Temple, giving birth to what is now known as Shaolin Kung Fu.

Bodhidharma's teachings and training methods had a significant influence on the development of martial arts in China and across East Asia. Over time, the Shaolin Temple gained immense prestige and became renowned as a center for Buddhist philosophy and martial arts training.

The Shaolin Monastery continues to be an important cultural and spiritual institution in China to this day. It attracts visitors from around the world who come to witness the unique blend of spirituality, martial arts, and history that the temple represents. The legacy of Bodhidharma and his contribution to the establishment of the Shaolin Monastery remains an integral part of its identity and heritage.

READ ALSO: How to calm disturbed mind?


Bodhidharma's teachings | Bodhidharma quotes

"True love and compassion knows no boundaries or limits."

"To be truly free, one must let go of all attachments and desires."

"Do not blindly follow others. Seek your truth and follow your path."

"True strength lies in having control over one's mind and emotions."

"The only constant in life is change. Embrace it rather than resist it."

"Rather than seeking validation from others, find validation within yourself."

"The best way to attain wisdom is through self-reflection and self-discovery."

"Do not seek enlightenment through external means, for it lies within yourself."

"The present moment is the only moment that really exists. Make the most of it."

"The key to happiness is to stop searching for it and start growing it within yourself."

"Wisdom is not found through acquiring knowledge but through unlearning falsehoods."

"True strength is not found in physical prowess but in inner resilience and perseverance."

"Don't dwell on the past, don't worry about the future. It's the present moment that counts."

"The mind is like a wild horse that needs to be tamed through meditation and mindfulness."

"The more you let go, the more you will find. Let go of the burdens of the past to find true freedom."

"Let go of the need to always be right. True wisdom comes from being open to different perspectives."



The story of Bodhidharma's transformation from a South Indian prince to a revered Buddhist monk is a remarkable testament to the power of personal spiritual awakening. Despite his privileged upbringing, Bodhidharma felt a profound void within him that no earthly luxury could fill.

His courageous journey to China and subsequent teachings not only cemented his place in history but also exemplified his unwavering devotion to spreading the principles of Buddhism.

Through his teachings and continued influence, Bodhidharma's story serves as an inspiration to seekers of spiritual enlightenment, reminding us that anyone, regardless of their circumstances, can embark on a transformative journey and become an instrument of positive change in the world.




FAQs On Bodhidharma

Where was Bodhidharma born?

Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, India.

Is Bodhidharma a Pallava King?

Yes, he was the third son of the Pallava king Simhavarman - 2. He gave up his kingdom and became a monk.

Who was Guru of Bodhidharma?

Prajnatara or Pragyatara is considered the teacher of Bodhidharma.

Why did Bodhidharma go to China?

To share his unique interpretation of Buddhism, find suitable disciples, and reform the existing practices, ultimately leaving a lasting impact on the development of Chan Zen Buddhism.

What is special about Bodhidharma?

He was the 'First Patriarch of Zen'.

What is the real name of Bodhidharma?