It was a tremendous time of upheaval, change, transformation. And Bodhidharma, I think, had not realized the responsibility that he was taking upon his shoulders.
As far as superficial questions were concerned, he was perfectly right and perfectly in tune with his own experience. But when the ultimate questions started arising – which are bound to arise sooner or later – if he had declared, “I do not know” at the first ultimate question, when he was asked “From where does ignorance come?” …if he had accepted his innocence, if he had announced, “I know how awareness can be created, but I don’t know from where ignorance comes. Perhaps ignorance is forever there.”
Ignorance never comes; it is just like darkness. Have you ever seen darkness coming or going? You always see light coming in and the darkness is not there. You always see light going out and the darkness is there. Darkness is always there – no coming, no going. It is the light that comes and goes. Darkness is simply the absence of light.
This would have been the perfect answer to the people: that darkness has always been there. There is no source for it because it is non-existential. Only something that exists can have some source. Light has source. In the same way, awareness has a source, consciousness has a source, but unconsciousness is simply nothing but darkness.
And if he had stopped there he would have done a tremendous job of protecting himself from falling into all kinds of nonsense. But he could not say “I do not know,” because people had been expecting him for three years. The whole country had been waiting, emperor Wu included, with great longing and desire for Bodhidharma, the first enlightened person to enter China. All their thirst would be quenched; all their questions would be answered. And his answers were not scriptural; his answers were from his own experience.
So he hesitated to say, “I don’t know. I’m utterly innocent. At the most I can say darkness has always been there, ignorance has been always there. There is no root to it. It is rootless, causeless, because it is non-existential.” That would have been my answer.
He could have told them, “I have come here to teach you how to get out of ignorance. I don’t know how you have entered into ignorance. That is your business.”
But rather than doing that, he went into long, theological descriptions. And that allowed the disciples to ask more and more about things which he was perfectly capable of answering but then those answers were going to be against Mahayana, or even against Gautam Buddha.