Thursday, 20 January 2011

Why Doesn't This Barbarian Have a Beard?

This blog brought to you by the
Loyal Order of Crazy White Boys.

Recently a sangha sister said one of the nicest things I've heard in a long time. She compared me to Bodhidharma. Like the best of kind words, it was "soit dit en passant," an aside dropped on the way to another point. But for a modern hermit, it was sustenance.

Bodhidharma was the founder of Zen. A war veteran from India, or possibly Persia, he left for darkest China in the early 5th century, having grown disgusted with the violence of the "civilised" world and the self-satisfied nature of established Buddhism.
 Determined to practice exactly as the Buddha instructed, he sat zazen for nine years, eschewing all outward forms of practice. In the end he was enlightened, and his "just sit" teaching opened the path of Ch'an (Zen).

As you can see, my man Bodhidharma was a white guy, with the big nose, spidery hands, and full beard typical of his race. This fact remains central to his historical identity,
Photo taken months ago in
front of my meditation hut.
I swear I had no idea.
as he is often referred to in Asian texts, somewhat redundantly, as "the bearded barbarian from the West."

Apparently, other unruly Caucasian monks may also raise his iconic image in some minds. Of course, I got a long way to go before I'm Bodhidharma. Any round-eyed rebel can go around in a robe and beard and sneer a lot; it's the sitting that makes the saint. But in a world and tradition where hermits are often suspected and rejected, it's nice that someone noticed the family resemblance.

Cereal box prize for those who read this far: Tuxedo Junction, the coolest swing site ever! Page features multiple playlists. Just load it, click on the playlist you like, and you're off! I just listened to an hour of Glenn Miller. Fantastic!

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