Bodhi-Dharma (菩提達摩) was an Indian Buddhist monk who came to China from India in the first quarter of the sixth century. He brought Mahayana Buddhism to China. Coming to China, he stayed nine years at the Shao-lin Temple (少林寺), located in He-nan Province (河南省). Bodhi-Dharma is well-known in connection to a story expressed by the phrase “Wall Contemplation Nine Years (面壁九年)”. From the philosophy and practice represented by this phrase, the Chinese Zen Buddhism originated and developed in ensuing generations. The Bodhi-Dharma is respected as the First Zu (First patriarch) of Chinese Zen Buddhism.
It is said that he was born as the third prince of a kingdom of south India. Name of the kingdom is expressed with two Chinese characters 香至. Late in his life, he left India. It was the year 520 CE (or 527 CE) when he arrived at Guang-zhou of south China by taking a sea route. It is not welll known which course he took on the way. This article proposes a tentative account that the route he took was the Sea Silk-Road. Chinese historical literature describes what took place at the time when he left India. “He met the King and told him of his wish to go to China. The King tried to persuade him to stay in his home land, but Bodhi-Dharma was determined to go. There was no longer anything for the King to do but to prepare a large boat with necessary items for a safe voyage. His hope was for the future return of Bodhi-Dharma (preferably with the same boat). On the day of departure, the King accompanied Bodhi-Dharma up to the harbor, together with the families of his relatives and vassals. At this moment, there were none who were not in tears.
After a three-year voyage, the ship of Bodhi-Dharma arrived at Guang-zhou of south 1
China. There, the local governor came to greet him. It was September of the year 520. It was the time of Emperor Wu of Liang Dynasty (梁朝, 武帝)。 was informed of this event. He
Knowing it, the emperor invited Bodhi-Dharma to the capital Jian-kang (now Nan-jing). During his stay at the capital, it is said that there was the following dialogue between the Emperor Wu and Bodhi-Dharma. The Emperor asked: “I have constructed many temples
for Buddhists and used to serve for transcribing a number of Buddhism sutras. What karmic merit is promised?” Bodhi-Dharma replied: “No merit (無功徳)”. The kingdom where Bodhi-Dharma was born is recorded as ”香至” in Chinese literatures. At the time of Tang dynasty (618 - 907) established a hundred years later from the time of Bodhi-Dharma, it is likely that 香至 is pronounced as “Kang-zhi”. This is close to “Kanchi” (-puram), an old capital town in the state Tamil-Nadu of south India (the part ‘puram’ means a town or a state in the sense of earlier times). It was a capital of Pallava Dynasty at the time when Bodhi-Dharma was living. The Pallava Dynasty is recorded as an oceanic state, trading with Mediterranean countries to the west and with China, Siam, Fiji and others to the east. It is conjectured that Bodhi-Dharma departed from Kanchipuram to the nearest port Mamallapuram and embarked from there. On the other hand, from the time of Former Han Dynasty (前漢, established in 206BC) more than two thousands years ago, China also traded by sea with south-east Asia, India, Middle-east and Mediterranean countries by using large oceanic boats. It is said that return journey took four years or so between China and Middle-east. In China at the time of 3rd century, oceanic boats were called “Konron-chuan”. “Konron (崑崙)” meant the area of south-east Asia in general. A picture shows that an early-time trading boat is equipped with wooden arms on its both sides (supposed, for stability). It is noteworthy that there are remains described as China-Pagoda in a trading harbor-town (Nakapattinam) of south India near Sri-Lanka island. This was built by the order of a Chinese king for the sake of Chinese Buddhists who came to India from China for trade or for pilgrimage (perhaps in the...