Sleeplessness and Bodhidharma

Apr 11,2012

It's Wednesday, 4/11, which is the code for information in some parts of the world. I don't have much information to provide today, only to say that it's 14°and raining. The weather report said there was a chance of showers, so I suppose that means there's a chance that they'll stop. I personally believe they'll stop, though, because it doesn't rain more than it does rain.

Several times early this morning I was awakened again by furious gales pounding the branches of nearby trees against the side of my house. At about half past four the noise became unbearable, though I tried with all my might to sleep till six, and failed.

This has nothing to do with anything, really, but this came up in conversation a few days ago and I had to make a thing of it. For most people acquainted with Japanese culture, the daruma doll is a fairly common sight. It looks like this:

Kind of a roly-poly ball of paraplegic pugnaciousness. When asked about the origin of these dolls, it turns out most people respond that a daruma was a person who had all his limbs amputated in China, possibly in punishment for some criminal offence.

A particularly bizarre tale of black humour was related to me by a friend from Kyoto who claims he heard it secondhand: The man wandered into a store someowhere in an area of the city known for its domination by local crime syndicates, and found several 'daruma' (amputees) sitting around. When the shopkeeper stepped out for a smoke, one of the 'daruma' begged the customer to help him escape. Normally one would bleed to death after a double amputation, but, 'Yakuza kept them alive'. Yeah, right. Like the myth of cement shoes told about the Mafia.

It's interesting to me how few people know about the real origin of the daruma doll. I guess I had the benefit of hearing about Bodhidharma, the first Zen Patriarch, credited with first bringing Buddhism from India to China. He's depicted with rather rough demeanor in all the paintings and images made of him. The legend was that he sat so long that his legs atrophied. Some legends go so far as to claim that he sat in a cave for nine years, by which time both of his arms and both of his legs had completely withered up a dropped right off his body. In one version he fell asleep for seven years and was so frustrated with himself that he cut off his eyelids to prevent it happening again, and bouquets of flowers sprang up from the ground in their place.

Now doesn't that just brighten your whole day?

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