Historical Figures


Daruma is the Japanese name for Bodhidharma, the semi-legendary Indian monk credited with founding Ch'an Buddhism in China, which is known as Zen in Japan. Thought to be a Hindu or Persian prince, Daruma rejected his former life and travelled across the Silk Road from Central Asia to Northern China. In 520, he settled in China where he meditated for nine years facing a cave wall before achieving enlightenment. Stories of Daruma’s nine-year meditation emphasize both his suffering and his steadfastness. In one, Daruma, frustrated with himself because he kept falling asleep while meditating, cut off his own eyelids and threw them to the ground where they grew into tea trees, the leaves of which would stimulate his later disciples.

For followers of Zen, Daruma can be seen as both a grave religious figure and, because of his reputed deadpan demeanor, a humorous old grump. There are various styles of painting Daruma, ranging from imaginary portraits showing his shoulder and face with eyes wide open and bushy, furrowed brows; portrayals of him under thick robes because his legs purportedly rotted away beneath him during his meditation; and portrayals consisting of a single ink stroke. These representations serve as reminders of Buddhist Law.

Drawn from

  • DMA Connect, 2012.

  • Penelope Mason, History of Japanese Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), 197.

Fun Facts

In Japan, Daruma dolls like the one below, are good luck charms and are associated with achieving goals. The dolls are typically sold with the eyes blank. One is drawn in upon setting a goal and the other upon attaining it.

Traditional Japanese Daruma doll, Kyoto, Japan. Wikimedia Commons image made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.