Sunday, October 20, 2013

but-pen Dalma-do

I found my Monami but-pens (brush pens) at the Home Plus in Gyeongsan City. I need them for the art project that I'm doing for my buddy Charles, but before I could turn to the images he's requested, I needed to take a pen out for a spin, so to speak. Here's one result of that test drive—a Dalma-do, i.e., a brush-art image of the saint that Korean Buddhists know as Dalma Daesa, a.k.a. Bodhidharma, First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism and putative father* of kung fu:

Every Dalma-do, no matter its style, normally bears the following features:

Dalma's large eyes: according to legend, the saint ripped off his eyelids to keep himself from falling asleep during the nine-year meditation (in a cave, or staring at a temple wall) that led to his enlightenment. Where the eyelids fell, tea plants sprang up, and that's how tea came to China.
Dalma's beard: this is a distinguishing feature, since not many East Asian monks permit themselves facial hair (I did once meet a bearded Korean monk in Seoul's Insa-dong district, however, so I know there are exceptions).
Dalma's luxuriant eyebrows: I don't know enough about the history of Bodhidharma, or about the history of Dalma-do art, to say why Dalma Daesa's eyebrows need to be so big and droopy, but that's often how he's drawn.
Dalma's bulbous nose: this is a typically East Asian way to indicate otherness. A non-Chinese, non-Japanese, or non-Korean is frequently depicted as having an exaggerated schnoz. Japanese depictions of the Buddhist hells show demons, who torture the damned, as having large noses. Being from India, Bodhidharma was given a big nose.
Dalma's pendulous earlobe(s): a pendulous earlobe is a mark of the Buddha, so just as some Christian artists, in the Middle Ages, anachronistically** depicted Saint Peter wearing glasses (a medieval metaphor for wisdom and insight), so it is that Dalma is shown with the Buddha's ears as a way of saying that he incarnates Buddha-nature.
Dalma's facial expression: it's the rare artist who draws Dalma Daesa with any expression other than one of stern concentration. Ideally, the saint should look as if he's ready to punch through a stone wall, for such is the degree of his concentration. Goofy or joyful-looking Dalma-do are extremely rare. A smiling Dalma by a prominent artist would be, by my estimation, a collector's item (though also, possibly, an object of ridicule).
Dalma's robe and halo: I mention these together because many clever artists draw Dalma Daesa as if he were a mountain, and the halo then represents the sun rising behind him.

The inclusion of Dalma's mustache appears to be optional. Some artists go for more of an Abe Lincoln approach to the First Patriarch, giving him a bald upper lip.

The two most popular ways to draw Dalma Daesa are (1) a portrait in the style seen above, or (2) an image of Dalma crossing the Yangtze on a reed—his own Jesus-like water-walking miracle, if you will. Scholars interested in the biographies and historiographies of Zen Buddhist saints will note that water-walking is more of a Taoist superpower than a Buddhist one, although Buddhist doctrine does talk of the acquisition of siddhi, i.e., special powers that come with deep practice. In Taoism, water-walking is an expression of harmony with the Tao (see my article, "The Tao of Chance," for more on Taoist sainthood). Attributing this power to Bodhidharma hints at the degree to which the Chinese appropriated the historical figure and Sinicized him. Bodhidharma may be just as much a Taoist saint as he is a Buddhist saint. For more on this, read Ray Grigg's The Tao of Zen. The Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, Hui Neng (pronounce it "hway nung," not "hooey-neng"), underwent the same treatment, which makes it hard to know who, exactly, Hui Neng really was.

*I think that it's a sign of Chinese largesse to give the credit for ancient Chinese fighting systems to an Indian monk.

**Lens-grinding may have been known to Egyptians in the 5th century BCE, so the notion of Saint Peter's wearing glasses might not have been as anachronistic as all that.



hahnak said...

i never tire of your dalma dos, kevin! its an exercise i love.

Anonymous said...

Yes, very nice!

Kevin Kim said...

Thank you, ladies. And as always, humble thanks for your readership.