At the time of departure, Bodhidharma was not dying, he was coming back to the Himalayas. He had gone to China because his master, a woman, had told him to take the message to China. So he traveled for three years to reach China. He remained there for fourteen years until he saw that, “Now a few people are ripe and ready, and I can choose a successor and move back to the Himalayas.”
The Himalayas have attracted for centuries and centuries the mystical people. There is some quality of mystic atmosphere in the Himalayas. No other mountains in the world have that quality – the height, the eternal snow that has never melted, the silence that has never been broken, paths that have never been trodden. There are some similarities between the Himalayan peaks and the inner consciousness.
Bodhidharma said, “Now I am old enough and sooner or later I will have to die. I don’t want to leave my footprints behind me. I want to disappear into the Himalayan snows without leaving a trace behind. And it is time that I should move, because it will take years to reach again to the deepest part of the Himalayas.” So he collected his disciples and the four disciples he called forth. Everybody knew that these four were the probable candidates.
He asked the first one, “What is the essence of my teaching?”
The first man said, and very rightly, “The essence of your teaching is meditation.” It is not a question of right and wrong, it is a question of depth and height. The answer is very flat. “Your teaching is meditation.” Any idiot could have said that.
Bodhidharma said to him, “Your answer to my question is right but not right enough. You have my skin, at the most. Just sit down.”
He asked the second, and he said, “Your essence is to achieve buddhahood.”
The master said, “You are right. Meditation finally leads to buddhahood. But that can be said even by a schoolchild. Those who have heard me for fourteen years, can easily say it. You have at the most my bones. Just sit down. You have gone a little deeper than the first. So you have my bones.”
He asked the third one and he said, “Your essential teaching is to be silent.”
Bodhidharma said, “It is better than the other two answers, but if my teaching is to be silent, why have you spoken? You are breaking my teaching yourself. You have my marrow” – the marrow is the inner side of the bones – “but sit down.”
The fourth came forward with tears in his eyes, bowed down to the master, touched his feet, did not say a single word. Bodhidharma said, “You have my very soul. You are my successor. Your tears have said what the others have missed. Your gratitude has said what the others have missed. Your silence has said what the others have missed.”