More than 1,500 years after he left home, Bodhidharman, the great master of Zen Buddhism, is set to get a memorial at his city of his birth, Kanchipuram. Institute of Asian Studies in Chennai, in collaboration with scholars from China and Japan, will set up the Bodhidharma Centre for Indian Philosophy near the Kailasanathar temple. A team led by Shi Yan Lin, a monk who is executive director of the Shaolin Temple in China, visited the place in December to finalise the modalities of tie-up with IAS.
“It is a very ambitious project. Once completed, it will be a world class centre for Buddhist philosophy and a meeting point of Indian and Eastern cultures,” said G John Samuel, director of IAS. The institute has purchased two acre of land for the project.
According to a Chinese tradition, Da’ mo (Bodhidharman) is considered the first patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism and the 28th patriarch of Mahayana Buddhism. According to documents written by Chinese monk and traveler Yi- Jing, who visited India during the reign of Tang dynasty in China in the 6th century, Da’mo came from Kang-Zhi, a southern city in India. Generations have venerated Bodhidharman as the great master, who popularized Mahayana Buddhism in China and practiced the martial art Kung-Fu at the famous Shaolin Temple at Henan province in China.
“The teaching of this great saint from the Tamil soil transformed the life and culture of people in China, Japan and many other south-east Asian countries. A memorial at his birth place will be a fitting tribute to the great son of India,” Samuel said. Kanchipuram was a major centre of Buddhist learning in the first few centuries of Christian era, but lost its importance under the onslaught of Shaivism and Vaishnavism,” he added.
Shi Yan Lin told TOI that they wish to develop the centre on the lines of Bodh Gaya in Bihar. “The centre will have facilities for cultural interaction between China and India, especially related to the contribution of Bodhidharman and Buddhism,” he said. “We plan to install a statue of Bodhidharman carved from Songshan mountain in China, where he meditated for nine years,” Shi Yan Lin said.
The Chinese team also has plans to explore the similarities between the traditional medicines of China and India. The centre will also offer facilities to learn the Chinese martial art, Kung Fu, and meditation which Bodhidharman practiced in the Shaolin Temple in China.
A team of researchers under former Tokyo University professor Tsutomu Kambe has been working on the project and a memorial pillar designed in Japan will soon be installed at the place. In 2007, Kambe had traced the route that Bodhidharman is believed to have taken to reach China. His studies also confirmed that Kang-Zhi was Kanchipuram, the capital of the Pallavas. Kambe has since been involved in reviving the tradition of Bodhidharman and linking the cultural and spiritual routes between India and east Asia. He is currently the vice-president of World Association of Bodhidharma and the project director of the proposed Bodhidharma Centre for Indian Philosophy in Kanchipuram.
Ch’an Buddhism spread from China to Japan, where it became known as Zen Buddhism. Zen is the Japanese phonetic translation of Sanskrit word dhyana. Today, almost every Zen temple in Japan enshrines a statue of Bodhidharman along with a statue of Buddha, says Kambe.Tags: Bodhidharman, Chan Buddhism, Institute of Asian Studies, Kanchipuram, Kang-Zhi, Mahahayana Budhism, Shaolin temple