Christianity has converted many people, but that conversion is not worth calling religious. It converts the poor, the hungry, the beggars, the orphans, not by any spiritual impact on them but just by giving them food, clothes, shelter, education. But these have nothing to do with spirituality. Mohammedanism has converted a tremendous amount of people, but on the point of the sword: either you be a Mohammedan, or you cannot live. The choice is yours.
The conversion that happened in China is the only religious conversion in the whole history of mankind. Buddhism simply explained itself, and the beauty of the message was understood by the people. They were thirsty for it, they were waiting for something like it. The whole country, which was the biggest country in the world, turned to Buddhism. When Bodhidharma reached there six hundred years later, there were already thirty thousand Buddhist temples, monasteries, and two million Buddhist monks in China. And two million Buddhist monks is not a small number; it was five percent of the whole population of China.
Pragyatara, Bodhidharma’s master, told him to go to China because the people who had reached there before him had made a great impact, although none of them were enlightened. They were great scholars, very disciplined people, very loving and peaceful and compassionate, but none of them were enlightened. And now China needed another Gautam Buddha. The ground was ready.
Bodhidharma was the first enlightened man to reach China. The point I want to make clear is that while Gautam Buddha was afraid to initiate women into his commune, Bodhidharma was courageous enough to be initiated by a woman on the path of Gautam Buddha. There were other enlightened people, but he chose a woman for a certain purpose. And the purpose was to show that a woman can be enlightened. Not only that, her disciples can be enlightened. Bodhidharma’s name stands out amongst all the Buddhist enlightened people second only to Gautam Buddha.
There are many legends about the man; they all have some significance. The first legend is: When he reached China – it took him three years – the Chinese emperor Wu came to receive him. His fame had reached ahead of him. Emperor Wu had done great service to the philosophy of Gautam Buddha. Thousands of scholars were translating Buddhist scriptures from Pali into Chinese and the emperor was the patron of all that great work of translation. He had made thousands of temples and monasteries, and he was feeding thousands of monks. He had put his whole treasure at the service of Gautam Buddha, and naturally the Buddhist monks who had reached before Bodhidharma had been telling him that he was earning great virtue, that he will be born as a god in heaven.
Naturally, his first question to Bodhidharma was, “I have made so many monasteries, I am feeding thousands of scholars, I have opened a whole university for the studies of Gautam Buddha, I have put my whole empire and its treasures in the service of Gautam Buddha. What is going to be my reward?”
He was a little embarrassed seeing Bodhidharma, not thinking that the man would be like this. He looked very ferocious. He had very big eyes, but he had a very soft heart – just a lotus flower in his heart. But his face was almost as dangerous as you can conceive. Just the sunglasses were missing; otherwise he was a Mafia guy!