Bodhidharma renounced the kingdom saying to his father, “If you cannot save me from death, then please don’t prevent me. Let me go in search of something that is beyond death.” Those were beautiful days, particularly in the East. The father thought for a moment and he said, “I will not prevent you, because I cannot prevent your death. You go on your search with all my blessings. It is sad for me but that is my problem; it is my attachment. I was hoping for you to be the successor, to be the emperor of the great Pallavas empire, but you have chosen something higher than that. I am your father so how can I prevent you?
“And you have put in such a simple way a question which I had never expected. You say, ‘If you can prevent my death then I will not leave the palace, but if you cannot prevent my death, then please don’t prevent me either.’” You can see Bodhidharma’s caliber as a great intelligence.
And the second thing that I would like you to remember is that although he was a follower of Gautam Buddha, in some instances he shows higher flights than Gautam Buddha himself. For example, Gautam Buddha was afraid to initiate a woman into his commune of sannyasins but Bodhidharma got initiated by a woman who was enlightened. Her name was Pragyatara. Perhaps people would have forgotten her name; it is only because of Bodhidharma that her name still remains, but only the name – we don’t know anything else about her. It was she who ordered Bodhidharma to go to China. Buddhism had reached China six hundred years before Bodhidharma. It was something magical; it had never happened anywhere, at any time – Buddha’s message immediately caught hold of the whole Chinese people.
The situation was that China had lived under the influence of Confucius and was tired of it. Because Confucius is just a moralist, a puritan, he does not know anything about the inner mysteries of life. In fact, he denies that there is anything inner. Everything is outer; refine it, polish it, culture it, make it as beautiful as possible.
There were people like Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, contemporaries of Confucius, but they were mystics not masters. They could not create a counter movement against Confucius in the hearts of the Chinese people. So there was a vacuum. Nobody can live without a soul, and once you start thinking that there is no soul, your life starts losing all meaning. The soul is your very integrating concept; without it you are cut away from existence and eternal life. Just like a branch cut off from a tree is bound to die – it has lost the source of nourishment – the very idea that there is no soul inside you, no consciousness, cuts you away from existence. One starts shrinking, one starts feeling suffocated.
But Confucius was a very great rationalist. These mystics, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, knew that what Confucius was doing was wrong, but they were not masters. They remained in their monasteries with their few disciples.
When Buddhism reached China, it immediately entered to the very soul of the people…as if they had been thirsty for centuries, and Buddhism had come as a rain cloud. It quenched their thirst so immensely that something unimaginable happened.