Extinction of Indian Martial Arts, Part 2 [Origin of Shaolin Kung fu and Karate]

Posted on November 24, 2011

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Today Kung fu and Karate are mentioned as global martial arts. They are spread all around the globe and are being practiced by everybody. These martial arts are being considered to have an Chinese and Japanese origin. But the actual history roots the origin to India.

When we think of learning Martial arts our parents immediately take us to a karate master. But how many of us know how many martial arts India has? How many of us know there are more powerful tools than Karate and Kung fu are there in India? How many of us know Karate and Kung fu has an Indian origin?

Yes, Perhaps some may know but not all of us. Here I feel proud to present the history of Shaolin Kung fu and Karate which emerged from the south India.

BODHI DHARMA (DHA- MO)

Disclaimer: There are many contemproary stories developed on Bodhi Dharma. The primary sources on Bodhi Dharma were extinct. However based on several references I try to produce the most accepted story here.

Bodhidharma (Dha-mo), Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as a rather ill-tempered, profusely bearded and wide-eyed barbarian. He is described as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" in Chinese texts.

India and china had trade relationships before common Era. There was a good recognition and respect for Buddhist monks in China those times. Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk from south India who travelled to China in 6th or 7th Century CE, was the carrier of Indian martial arts to China. He was the first Buddhist patriarch in China.

There are three principal sources for Bodhidharma’s biography: Yáng Xuànzhī’s (Yang Hsüan-chih) The Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang (547), Tánlín’s preface to the Two Entrances and Four Acts (6th century CE), and Dàoxuān’s (Tao-hsuan) Further Biographies of Eminent Monks (7th century CE).

These sources vary on their account of Bodhidharma being either “from Persia” (547 CE), “a Brahman monk from South India” (645 CE), “the third son of a Brahmin king of South India” (ca. 715 CE).

The accounts also differ on the date of his arrival, with one early account claiming that he arrived during the Liú Sòng Dynasty (420–479) and later accounts dating his arrival to the Liáng Dynasty (502–557). Bodhidharma was primarily active in the lands of the Northern Wèi Dynasty (386–534). Modern scholarship dates him to about the early 5th century.

Scholars have now accepted that Bodhidharma was the prince of a king of the Pallava dynasty and his birth place was  Kanchipuram at the state of Tamilnadu located in south India.

Bodhidharma excelled in South Indian martial arts. Bodhidharma then moves towards China after the death of his guru, giving up the province to his brothers as requested by his guru.

In 527 during the Liang Dynasty, Bodhidharma, the first Patriarch of Chán, after a long travel from south India, visited the Emperor Wu (Emperor Xiāo Yǎn 蕭衍 (posthumous name Wǔdì 武帝) of Liáng 梁 China), a fervent patron of Buddhism. The emperor asked Bodhidharma, “How much karmic merit have I earned for ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?” Bodhidharma answered, “None. Good deeds done with worldly intent bring good karma, but no merit.” The emperor then asked Bodhidharma, “So what is the highest meaning of noble truth?” Bodhidharma answered, “There is no noble truth, there is only void.” The emperor then asked Bodhidharma, “Then, who is standing before me?” Bodhidharma answered, “I know not, Your Majesty.”

From then on, the emperor refused to listen to whatever Bodhidharma had to say. Although Bodhidharma came from India to China to become the first patriarch of China, the emperor refused to recognize him. Bodhidharma knew that he would face difficulty in the near future, but had the emperor been able to leave the throne and yield it to someone else, he could have avoided his fate of starving to death.

According to the teaching, Emperor Wu’s past life was as a bhikshu. While he cultivated in the mountains, a monkey would always steal and eat the things he planted for food, as well as the fruit in the trees. One day, he was able to trap the monkey in a cave and blocked the entrance of the cave with rocks, hoping to teach the monkey a lesson. However, after two days, the bhikshu found that the monkey had died of starvation.

Supposedly, that monkey was reincarnated into Hou Jing of the Northern Wei Dynasty, who led his soldiers to attack Nanjing. After Nanjing was taken, the emperor was held in captivity in the palace and was not provided with any food, and was left to starve to death. Though Bodhidharma wanted to save him and brought forth a compassionate mind toward him, the emperor failed to recognize him, so there was nothing Bodhidharma could do. Thus, Bodhidharma had no choice but to leave Emperor Wu to die and went into meditation in a cave for nine years.

This encounter would later form the basis of the first kōan of the collection The Blue Cliff Record. However that version of the story is somewhat different. In the Blue Cliff’s telling of the story, there is no claim that Emperor Wu did not listen to Bodhidharma after the Emperor was unable to grasp the meaning. Instead, Bodhidharma left the presence of the Emperor once Bodhidharma saw that the Emperor was unable to understand. Then Bodhidharma went across the river to the kingdom of Wei.

After Bodhidharma left, the Emperor asked the official in charge of the Imperial Annals about the encounter. The Official of the Annals then asked the Emperor if he still denied knowing who Bodhidharma was? When the Emperor said he didn’t know, the Official said, “This was the Great-being Guanyin (i.e., the Mahasattva Avalokiteśvara) transmitting the imprint of the Buddha’s Heart-Mind.”

The Emperor regretted his having let Bodhidharma leave and was going to dispatch a messenger to go and beg Bodhidharma to return. The Official then said, “Your Highness, do not say to send out a messenger to go fetch him. The people of the entire nation could go, and he still would not return.”

At China he taught all the martial arts which he studied at India. Shaolin Kung fu is one of the skill taught by Bodhidharma. Shaolin Kung fu was learned to protect their temples from robbers in China.

Three years after Bodhidharma’s death, Ambassador Song Yun of northern Wei is said to have seen him walking while holding a shoe at the Pamir Heights. Song Yun asked Bodhidharma where he was going, to which Bodhidharma replied “I am going home”. When asked why he was holding his shoe, Bodhidharma answered “You will know when you reach Shaolin monastery. Don’t mention that you saw me or you will meet with disaster”. After arriving at the palace, Song Yun told the emperor that he met Bodhidharma on the way. The emperor said Bodhidharma was already dead and buried, and had Song Yun arrested for lying. At the Shaolin Temple, the monks informed them that Bodhidharma was dead and had been buried in a hill behind the temple. The grave was exhumed and was found to contain a single shoe. The monks then said “Master has gone back home” and prostrated three times.

For nine years he had remained and nobody knew him;
Carrying a shoe in hand he went home quietly, without ceremony.

Continues….

Posted in: Facts, History, Story