Gautam Buddha accepted that there are a few people who will become arhatas. And their path will be called hinayana, “the small vehicle,” the small boat in which only one person can go to the other shore. He does not bother to create a big ship and collect a crowd in a Noah’s Ark and take them to the further shore. He simply goes himself in his small boat, which cannot even contain two. He is born alone in the world, he has lived and died millions of times alone in the world; alone he is going to the universal source.
Buddha accepts and respects the way of the arhata – but he also knows there are people who have immense compassion and when they become enlightened, their first longing is to share their joy, to share their truth. Compassion is their way. They also have some profound truth.
These people are called bodhisattvas. They provoke and invite others to the same experience. And they wait on this shore as long as possible to help all seekers who are ready to move on the path, and who just need a guide; they need a helping hand. The bodhisattva can postpone his going to the further shore out of compassion for blind people groping in darkness.
Buddha had such a comprehensive and vast perception that he accepted both – that this is simply the nature of a few people to be arhatas, and it is also simply the nature of a few other people to be bodhisattvas.
And this is the standpoint of Gautam Buddha, that such is the case, nothing can be done about it – an arhata will be an arhata and a bodhisattva will be a bodhisattva. Their natures have different destinies, although they reach to the same goal finally. But after reaching the goal there is a parting of the ways.
The arhatas don’t stay on this shore even for a single moment. They are tired, they have been long enough in this wheel of samsara, moving through birth and death millions of times. It has already been too much. They are bored and they don’t want to stay even a single minute more. Their boat has arrived, and immediately they start moving towards the further shore. This is their suchness.
And there are bodhisattvas who can tell the boatman, “Wait, there is no hurry. I have lingered on this shore long enough – in misery, in suffering, in anguish, in agony. Now all that has disappeared. I am in absolute bliss, silence and peace, and I don’t see that there is anything more on the other shore. So as long as I can manage, I will be here to help people.”
Gautam Buddha is certainly one of those people who can see the truth even in contradictions. He accepts both without making anybody feel lower or higher. But bodhisattvas call their path – against the path of the arhatas – mahayana, “the great vehicle,” the great ship. The other is just a small boat. Poor fellows, they simply go alone. And there has been a continuous conflict for twenty-five centuries after Gautam Buddha, between these two different approaches.
Bodhidharma belongs to the bodhisattvas. Hence, he is making many statements against arhatas which are not true.
I don’t belong either to arhatas or to bodhisattvas. I don’t belong to Gautam Buddha’s path at all. I have my own vision, my own perceptivity. Hence I have no obligation to agree with Bodhidharma on every point – and particularly on this point; even Gautam Buddha would not have agreed with him. He follows a particular party line.