Bodhidharma said, “I will not enter your kingdom, I will remain outside. The day you understand that every action is in itself its reward or punishment, I am available to you, you can come.”
He stayed outside the boundaries for nine years. Bodhidharma was a very strange man – but a very beautiful man, so truthful and so straightforward.
Emperor Wu could not sleep the whole night, and in the morning he was back. And he said, “Forgive me, you have given me such a shock, but I needed it, I was living under an illusion. You have broken my illusion. I’m ready to learn.”
Bodhidharma said, “There is nothing to learn. You have to be ready to unlearn! You already know too much, and all that you know is false. If you want to be in contact with me, think of unlearning. That is the beginning of wisdom.”
Unlearning is the beginning of wisdom. All your priests and popes go on telling you, “Learning brings wisdom.” But a man like Bodhidharma or Socrates or Gautam Buddha will not agree with those people, they will agree with Kahlil Gibran: the function of the master is to help you unlearn everything so that you become again an innocent child.
After nine years, when Bodhidharma came back to India, thousands of people had become his disciples. He had chosen four of them for the final fire-test because, out of those four, one would be chosen as his successor to continue his work in China.
There was great silence, although thousands of disciples were sitting there. They knew that those four people were worthy of it, but it was very difficult to tell who was the most worthy.
Bodhidharma asked the first man, “Tell me the essence of wisdom.”
And the man said, “The essence of wisdom is that the kingdom of God is within you.”
Bodhidharma said, “You have my flesh, but the flesh is not very deep. You are not chosen to be my successor. What you have said has a faraway echo of truth in it, but it is too far away an echo.”
He asked the second disciple, “You tell me – what is the essence of wisdom?”
And he said, “The essence of wisdom is meditation, being absolutely silent.”
Bodhidharma said, “You have my bones, but you don’t have me. You cannot be my successor.”
And he turned to the third man and asked the same question, “What is the essence of wisdom?”
The third person said, “The essence of wisdom is to bring your potential to its ultimate actuality, to blossom, to bring flowers to your being.”
Bodhidharma said, “You have my marrow, but still you are not yet capable of being my successor. You are very close, but even closeness is a distance.”