My own understanding is that this conversion has not happened because both have something absolutely true about their approach. One is committed to the truth absolutely; one is committed to love, to compassion absolutely. And both values, truth and love, are of equal significance.
I think there is no need for any arhata to become a bodhisattva, or any bodhisattva to become an arhata. Perhaps both are needed. Perhaps people are needed to sing songs of that which cannot be said, and people are needed to remain silent, so silent that their silence itself becomes a magnetic force. Perhaps both have done immense service to humanity, the one by making different efforts – through language, through devices, singing, dancing – and the other by remaining absolutely centered, but available to anyone who knocks at his door.
I don’t see the conflict as it has been seen down the ages. Those who see the conflict are only learned people; they are neither arhatas nor bodhisattvas.
I am reminded of a great master, Ma Tsu. His monastery was just opposite another monastery in the deep mountains, and the other master was absolutely antagonistic to the methods and to the teachings of Ma Tsu. One disciple of Ma Tsu was having difficult times with the master, because Ma Tsu used to hit, beat…
It was known that once Ma Tsu had thrown a disciple out of the window and jumped on top of him. The disciple had a few fractures and Ma Tsu was sitting on his chest asking, “Got it?” And the strangest thing is that he got it! He never asked a question again! That simply shows he must have got it; since then he became absolutely silent.
The other master was very angry at Ma Tsu: “What kind of things does he go on doing? He seems to be a crazy man!”
One day a disciple who was meditating on a koan came in. He had been coming for many days and getting a beating. There are hundreds of koans in Zen – strange puzzles. He was meditating on the famous koan, “the sound of one hand clapping.” Ma Tsu had said, “Whenever you have found the sound, come to me.”
The disciple meditated in the silence of the night, he heard the wind passing through the pine trees, and he jumped. He said, “This is it!” The sound was so sweet and of course so musical that he went to the master and told him that it is the sound when the wind passes through the pine trees…The master hit him hard and said, “Don’t bring any idiotic answers to me, just go back and meditate.”
And this went on happening. One time he heard a cuckoo calling in the night…so sweet, so overwhelming, so touching that he forgot all the beatings and went again. Finally he got tired. He had brought all the sounds possible, and no answer was being received, every answer was being rejected. An idea arose in his mind, “Perhaps this is not the master – at least for me. I am not saying that he is not a master, but at least he is not for me. I should try his opponent who is just nearby.” And he went there.