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Buddhabhadra

Buddhabhadra – The First Shaolin Abbot

Before Bodhidharma arrived in China, the dhyāna master Buddhabhadra (Traditional Chinese: 佛陀跋陀罗; Fótuóbátuóluó), simply called Batuo (Traditional Chinese: 吠陀; pinyin: Bátuó) by the Chinese, was the first abbot of the Shaolin Temple.

According to the Deng Feng County Recording, a formal historical record in Deng Feng County, Henan Province, where the Songshan Mountain Shaolin Temple (the first Shaolin Temple) is located, Buddabhadra (circa 5th century AD) came to China in 464 AD and preached Hīnayāna, or Nikaya, Buddhism for thirty years. It is also called Theravāda (Thera = elders; Vada = teaching, "School of the Elders"). In China, it came to be known as Xiao Sheng (Traditional Chinese: 小騎; "Small Vehicle") Buddhism.

Buddhabhadra originated from either India or Greco-Buddhist Central Asia. He was well received and respected by the Chinese. He was among many missionaries, or ācāryas (preceptors or instructors), who journeyed from India and Central Asia to spread Buddhism in China beginning in the first century AD during the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). Thirty-one years after Buddhabhadra's arrival in China, the Shaolin Temple was built in 495 AD by the order of Emperor Xiaowen (reign: September 20, 471 – April 26, 499 AD) of the Northern Wei dynasty (386–557 AD) to provide Buddhabhadra with a tranquil place for his teachings. Shaolin Temple literally means "temple in the thick forests of Shaoshi Mountain", which is one of the seven peaks of the Song mountains. Mount Songshan is hailed as the Central Sacred Mountain among the Five Sacred Mountains of China. The Shaolin Temple was built 427 years after the founding of the White Horse Temple in 68 AD, the first Buddhist temple in China.

Buddabhadra dedicated himself to translating numerous Buddhist scriptures he brought with him and to teaching Xiao Sheng Buddhism, which promoted the more modest goal of becoming an arhat rather than a Buddha. In Buddhism, an arhat is one who is liberated from rebirth and suffering and has attained Nirvana (serenity). A Buddha is one who has attained Bodhi (wisdom), an ideal state of intellectual and ethical Enlightenment.

Yijing (Traditional Chinese: 義淨), a Tang dynasty (618–907 AD) Chinese Buddhist monk, who traveled to India in the 7th century AD, differentiated the Dasheng (Traditional Chinese: 大乘; "Great Vehicle"), or Mahāyāna, Buddhism of Bodhidharma (circa 5th or 6th century AD) from the Xiao Sheng, or Hīnayāna, Buddhism promoted by Buddhabhadra as follows:

"Both adopt one and the same Vinaya (rules governing the Buddhist monastic sangha, or community), and they have in common the prohibitions of the five offenses, and also the practice of the Four Noble Truths. Those who venerate (regard with great respect) the bodhisattvas and read the Mahāyāna sūtras are called the Mahāyānists, while those who do not perform these are called the Hīnayānists."

Buddhabhadra's Chinese translations of Buddhist scriptures included: the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra and the Dasabhumika Sutra. A collection of short sayings for twelve figures at an imaginary memorial gathering for Hung-jen (601–674 AD) (Traditional Chinese: 弘忍), the fifth patriarch of China's Zen (Ch’an) school, refer to Buddhabhadra. The sayings, entitled Former Worthies Gather at the Mount Shuang-feng Stūpa and Each Talks of the Dark Principle, contain the following quote: "Dhyana Master Buddha says: 'The extreme principle is wordless. The sagely mind is unimpeded.'"

Buddhabhadra ordained hundreds of monks as disciples. His principle disciples were Sengchou (480–560 AD) (Traditional Chinese: 僧稠) and Huiguang (468–537 AD) (Traditional Chinese: 慧光). Both were martial arts masters, possibly military men, before entering monastic life and beginning their religious studies with Buddhabhadra. Huiguang founded the Southern Dilun Buddhist sect. Sengchou succeeded Buddhabhadra as the abbot of the Shaolin Temple. Following Buddhahadra's parinirvana (Sanskrit: परिनिर्वाण , parinirvāṇa; Traditional Chinese: 般涅槃; pinyin: bān nièpán), nirvana-after-death (the death of the body of one who has attained nirvana during one's lifetime), his disciples spread across China to disseminate Buddhist sutras since he established no rules for the succession of his position.

Buddhabhadra and other Buddhist ācāryas from India and Central Asia built a foundation that Bodhidharma expanded upon. In addition to his translation efforts, Buddhabhadra strongly emphasized the importance of dhyāna (meditation) practice for all monks and nuns. The practice of meditation would decline in the years following Buddhabhadra's time, though, until the arrival of Bodhidharma into China, who reemphasized its importance. The Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple continues this tradition in its martial arts classes for men and women.

 

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