Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century CE. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Ch'an to China, and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch. According to Chinese legend, he also began the physical training of the Shaolin monks that led to the creation of Shaolinquan.
Little contemporary biographical information on Bodhidharma is extant, and subsequent accounts became layered with legend. The principal Chinese sources vary on their account of Bodhidharma's origins.
Aside from the Chinese accounts', several popular traditions also exist regarding Bodhidharma's origins.
The accounts also differ on the date of his arrival, with one early account claiming that he arrived during the Liú Sòng Dynasty (420 - 479) and later accounts dating his arrival to the Liáng Dynasty (502 - 557). Bodhidharma was primarily active in the lands of the Northern Wèi Dynasty (386 - 534). Modern scholarship dates him to about the early 5th century.
Several stories about Bodhidharma have become popular legends, which are still being used in the Ch'an and Zen tradition.
Bodhidharma's teachings and practice centered on meditation and the Lankavatara Sutra.
The Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall (952) identifies Bodhidharma as the 28th Patriarch of Buddhism in an uninterrupted line that extends all the way back to the Buddha himself.
Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as a rather ill-tempered, profusely bearded and wide-eyed barbarian. He is referred as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" in Chinese Chan texts.