I feel greatly sorry for poor Bodhidharma. He has got into trouble – and this trouble was bound to arise because he belongs not only to a tradition of Buddhism, but to a sect of Buddhism, called Mahayana, “the great vehicle.” Anybody who belongs to any tradition, any sect, any doctrine, is bound to be in the same trouble as Bodhidharma. Whatever he is saying is becoming more and more stupid and nonsensical for the simple reason that he cannot say anything against the tradition.
He had been sent from India specially to make Buddhism more solidly grounded. That was the order of his own master, the enlightened woman Pragyatara, who had said, “I am sending you to China not to disturb people but to establish Mahayana in the great land of China, because if the whole country is converted to Buddhism, one-fifth of humanity is converted.” One person out of five people in the world is Chinese.
That reminds me of a man who was reading a newspaper in which he read that out of five people, four people are of different countries, different races, different religions but one is certainly Chinese. He called his wife who was working in the kitchen and told her, “Have you ever realized that out of five people in the world, one is Chinese?”
She said, “My God! It is good you told us because we already have four children. Now is the time for birth control, otherwise the fifth will be Chinese.”
China has been one of the largest lands up to now. But by the end of this century India will go ahead; it will become more populated than China. Otherwise, for the whole of history, China has been the most populated land in the world.
And if Buddhism was spreading like wildfire, it was time to give it a solid foundation. Bodhidharma had been specially sent as a messenger because although during the six hundred years before Bodhidharma, thousands of Buddhist scholars had gone to China at the invitation of emperors to translate all Buddhist scriptures into Chinese, not a single one had been enlightened.
So Bodhidharma was sent specially to give people a certain taste of what enlightenment is. They had heard the word, they were enchanted with the idea, a great longing had arisen in millions of people to attain to enlightenment, but they had not even seen an enlightened person. His presence, his silence, his compassion…they were absolutely unaware; it was only theoretical.
By sending Bodhidharma Pragyatara had a certain specific purpose in her mind: to give China its first enlightened master. The trouble was that he could not say anything against Mahayana that would disturb all the new initiates into Buddhism. He could not say anything against Gautam Buddha, because nobody was going to listen to him.
They were so much impressed with Gautam Buddha and his life and his teachings that in just six hundred years, they created thirty thousand temples and monasteries. Two million people were initiated as Buddhist monks and almost the whole country became Buddhist. They may not all have been monks but they were laymen; they had started the journey hoping that one day they would also become monks. Five percent of the whole population of China had become monks.