Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Harmony: Enso

The enso, a simple circle drawn with a single, broad brushstroke, is the zen symbol of infinity. It represents the infinite void, the 'no-thing,' the perfect meditative state, and Satori (enlightenment.)

I wanted to use Zen in the cycle of symbols I am working on as it may be considered in some ways as representing a melding of Buddhism and Taoism. (The Aum, my previous symbol is considered holy in esoteric buddhism.)

The extraordinary Bodhidharma - a monk from South India- is traditionally held to be the founder of the Chan school of Buddhism (known in Japan and the West as Zen), and the Shaolin school of Chinese martial arts.

He was born in what is now Kerala in southern India around 440 during the Pallava dynasty's rule; a clan prince well versed in martial arts (a form still surviving in Kerala as Kalaripayattu).

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.

It is said he travelled to China in response to invitation made by Emperor Wu Di that requested the Indian Sangha to send an enlightened one to China to teach.

According to tradition, once in China he attended an audience with Wu Di. When the Emperor asked him how much merit he had accumulated through building temples and endowing monasteries, Bodhidharma replied, "None at all."

Perplexed, the Emperor then asked, "Well, what is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism?"

"Vast emptiness," was the bewildering reply.

"Listen," said the Emperor, now losing all patience, "just who do you think you are?"

"I have no idea," Bodhidharma replied.

With this, Bodhidharma was banished from the Court, and is said to have sat in meditation for the next seven years "listening to the ants scream".

Bodhidharma traveled to the recently constructed Shaolin temple in the north of China, where the monks refused him admission. Bodhidharma sat meditating facing a wall for the next 9 years, supposedly burning holes into the wall by staring at it. Only then did the monks of the Shaolin Temple respect Bodhidharma and allow him inside. There, he found the monks so out of shape from a life of study spent copying scrolls that he introduced a regimen of meditation exercises, which later became part of Shaolin kung fu.

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