The Japanese rendition of the name Boddhidarma, a Buddhist sage who brought a form of Buddhism to South China and became the founding saint of Zen Buddhism. Most of the myths surrounding Daruma are of Chinese origin and in Chinese settings. Daruma arrived in China in a mysterious way, in response to the need to teach the Buddhist Law. He founded the Shπrinji temple (Shaolin in Chinese) and gathered many students. In his pondering upon the Law, he decided that the way to salvation was through meditation. As a result, he spent nine years meditating facing a wall, in which time his legs withered to stumps. Finally, falling asleep just before reaching enlightenment, he ripped off his eyelids in a rage and threw them away. Where they landed grew a magical bush, whose leaves could be brewed into a liquid that would banish sleepiness. This bush became known as cha (tea) and is drunk to this day as a refreshing antidote to sleep.

Daruma noticed that his disciples were having difficulty in maintaining the immobility and concentration required in order to complete their enlightenment. As a consequence, he formulated a series of body and arm exercises, including jumps and kicks, and taught his disciples how to practice martial moves as an aid to concentration. This was the beginning of the various kenpo (fist art) styles that evolved into unarmed combat we know today.

Finally, once the monastery and his teachings were well established, Daruma stepped onto a reed, which bore him across the sea to the West, back to his homeland in India.

Daruma is usually depicted wearing red robes (in reference to the saffron robes of Buddhist monks), one drape of the cloth held over his head like a hood, and barefoot. He is bald, with a beard and fierce staring eyes. He is often depicted in the form of a round-bottomed doll that when pushed over immediately rights itself. He is, in effect, the patron saint of determination and self-discipline. Before undertaking an effortful commitment, many Japanese will acquire a Daruma doll with blanks for eyes, then paint in one eye. The second eye is painted in only when the commitment has been accomplished. Collections of seven such small dolls can be bought, with reference to the idea that even Daruma is reputed to have failed six times before succeeding in the seventh try in reaching enlightenment.



  • Joly, Henri L. 1967. Legend in Japanese Art. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co.


Handbook of Japanese Mythology written by Michael Ashkenazi – Copyright © 2003 by Michael Ashkenazi