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Insights from the 2019 International Seminar on Mahayana Buddhism at Shaolin Temple

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Dr. Das Bikash Kali, a researcher on India-China cultural relations, was invited to present at the International Seminar on Mahayana Buddhism held at Shaolin Temple from July 16-20, 2019. The seminar brought together scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss the history, teachings, and practices of Mahayana Buddhism, with a particular focus on the role of Bodhidharma in the development of Chan (Zen) Buddhism.

Dr. Das’s presentation on the “Origins of Bodhidharma” was a highlight of the seminar, as there is still much debate among scholars about the life and teachings of this enigmatic figure. As Dr. Das noted in his presentation, there is a dearth of information about Bodhidharma’s life and teachings in India, where he is believed to have been born and trained as a monk.

Despite this lack of information, Dr. Das presented evidence to suggest that Bodhidharma was likely from Kanchipuram, in South India, which was a center of Buddhist learning during his time. However, as Dr. Das acknowledged, more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

Dr. Das also discussed Bodhidharma’s role in the development of Chan Buddhism, which emphasizes meditation and direct experience over-reliance on scriptures and dogma. According to Chinese legend, Bodhidharma travelled to China in the 5th century and became the first patriarch of Chan Buddhism, also known as Zen in Japan.

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One of Bodhidharma’s most significant contributions to Chan Buddhism, as Dr. Das explained, was his emphasis on the practice of seated meditation, or Dhyana in Sanskrit, which is the basis of Chan/Zen practice to this day. Bodhidharma also emphasized the importance of direct transmission of teachings from master to disciple, rather than reliance on texts or doctrine.

Dr. Das presentation was well-received by the attendees of the seminar, many of whom were fellow scholars of Buddhism. The seminar as a whole provided a valuable opportunity for scholars and practitioners to exchange ideas and deepen their understanding of Mahayana Buddhism and its role in shaping the spiritual traditions of East Asia.

Beyond the seminar, Dr. Das research on Bodhidharma and the origins of Chan Buddhism continues to be of great interest to scholars and practitioners of Buddhism worldwide. As more research is conducted and new insights are gained, we may come to a deeper understanding of the life and teachings of this remarkable figure and his lasting impact on the development of Buddhism in East Asia.

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