Bodhidharma: The Original Daruma

Daruma are an interesting tradition in Japan, and their roots in Zen Buddhism are not to be overlooked. Since my original post on the Daruma Festival, I’ve been reading more and more about the doll, its tradition, symbolism, and connection to the figure Bodhidharma and decided that another post to sort out my thoughts was in order.


One story that is quite possibly the most famous is when he undertook his nine-year meditation. It was not a very smooth nine years, however, as around year seven, he felt himself beginning to fall asleep. Frustrated at his lack of control, he, ahem, sliced off his eyelids and discarded them on the ground next to him to prevent this from happening again. From his eyelids sprouted forth green tea plants. Thus why green tea helps you stay awake and why monks drink green tea to help them focus.

Daruma Symbolism

Everything on the Daruma serves a specific purpose in making the doll exceptionally lucky. The eyebrows are meant to appear as cranes, while his beard is meant to appear as turtles. This harkens to the phrase “The Crane lives 1000 years, the Turtle 10,000.” The two animals together are often seen as symbols of longevity in Japanese superstition, adding to the luckiness of the dolls. The symbol on his belly can vary: Some have the symbol for luck, others perseverance, some fortune. Some don’t have anything written there at all. Some people will actually write their wish on the Daruma, adding their own flair to the luck symbol.

It’s amazing how the more you look at and talk to others about certain things, the more you see and can come to appreciate in them. Is there anything that you’ve found that had a hidden meaning in it? Let me know in the comments!


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