The following is a recent Tozen teaching on Bodhidharma’s Teacher, Prajnatara:
“In Chinese and Japanese Zen history, Prajnatara is depicted as a man. But there is strong evidence that Prajnataraactually was a woman, a great Mahayana yogini from southern India (Kerala) whom had no problems demonstrating the power and true light of Mahayana. (This is btw shown in the movie by her direct exorcism of a powerful demon possessing the mind of King Simhavarman of the Pallava dynasty and father of Bodhidharma).
According to the story of Prajnatara , originally she was a homeless wife who wandered western India and called herself Keyura, which means “necklace” or “bracelet.”
One day she met Master Punyamitra from Keyrua (Punya-Mitra meaning friend or ally with good merit), and they felt a great dharma connection between them from past lives.
She became Punyamitra’s student and was re-named Prajnatara. She became known as an accomplished yogini and very powerful Siddhi (Dragon) who could see into the past, present and future.
Prajnatara or Prajna-Tara means “Supreme wisdom -Tara”. “Pure Light of Tara” and so on. The re-naming was made by her dharma master Punyamitra . Her dharma name, PrajnaTara, denoted in a way her awakening to pure Mind and the ability to produce bodhicitta, which enabled PrajnaTara to gain great Prajna (noble wisdom) something also Daijan Huineng required from his students (read his platform sutra). The ability to produce bodhicitta was the foremost mark of an authentic Chan master or very advanced chan student.
When Huns swept down through northern India in the 5th century, Prajnatara went further south to escape the chaos and slaughter. The Pallava king of south India, King Simhavarman (~450 CE) , invited her to teach in his capital (As seen in the movie).
In the holy city of Kanchipuram, King Simhavarman’s youngest son, Bodhitara, became her student and was ordained a monk with the name Bodhidharma.
This ability to produce “juice” and use it in many skillful ways (as shown in the movie) certainly caught the full attention of Bodhidharma Spirit (spirit is often called “Heart” in chinese movies).
Prajnatara, seeing that the dharma would leave India, advised Bodhidharma to go to China after she died. And so, some time after his teacher’s death at the age of 67, Bodhidharma traveled to China and eventually to Shaolin.”
The following link to the film contains the “exorcist sequence” Tozen mentions above (notice how at the end the King receives the pure-light (juice) of bodhicitta that results in his ultimate Mind-healing):
Being interested in Bodhidharma and having visited Shaolin and sitting in his alleged cave also and studying as much as I could find on his teaching I was surprised most recently to hear that Prajnatara was actually a woman. I saw the movie many years ago and Prajnatara as a male teacher stayed in my mind. You elaborate a few things on her life – what are your sources? I’d be glad to receive them.
Tozen is the author of this article–have forwarded your request to him.
ps the youtube source you used has a very low picture quality, I found a better one:
Hope this is of benefit and looking forward to hearing from you 🙂
Thanks–it’s been updated.
I am doing a research on the life of Bodhidharma before he left India for China. Where can I get more details on King Simhavarman, his life and family – are there any books or authentic sources on the subject?
This pertains to Tozen’s area of expertise. There have been other questions directly pertaining to this particular blog post (which is his) and he has yet to respond whether directly on the board or in emails directed to him. So, when he reads this perhaps he will respond. We can only hope. Or perhaps others who read this has the information you request.
Thank-you for reading