Superficially there is a one thousand years’ gap between Buddha and Bodhidharma, but not even a single moment’s gap in reality, in truth. On the circumference Buddha was already dead for one thousand years when Bodhidharma arrived on the scene, but at the center he is together with Buddha. He speaks the essence of Buddha. Of course he has his own way, his own style, even Buddha will find it strange.
Buddha was a very cultured man, very sophisticated, very graceful. Bodhidharma is just the opposite in his expressions. He is not a man but a lion. He does not speak, he roars. He has not that grace which belonged to Gautama the Buddha. He is rough, raw. He is not polished like a diamond. He is just from the mine, absolutely raw, no polishing. That is his beauty. Buddha has a beauty of his own: very feminine, very polished, very fragile. Bodhidharma has his own beauty, like that of a rock: strong, masculine, indestructible, a great power.
Buddha also radiates power, but his power is very silent, like a whisper, a cool breeze. Bodhidharma is a storm, thundering and lightning. Buddha comes to your door without making any noise. He will not even knock on your door, you will not even hear his footsteps. But when Bodhidharma comes to you he will shake the whole house from its very foundations. Buddha will not shake you even if you are asleep. And Bodhidharma? He will wake you up from your grave! He hits hard, he is a hammer.
He is just the opposite in his expression from Buddha, but his message is the same. He bows down to Buddha as his master. He never says, “This is my message.” He simply says, “This belongs to the buddhas, the ancient buddhas. I am just a messenger. Nothing is mine, because I am not. I am only a hollow bamboo who has been chosen by the buddhas to be a flute for them. They sing; I simply let them sing through me.”
When he reached China, the Emperor Wu came to receive him on the borders. A great enlightened person is coming! And of course Wu was imagining him as something like Gautama the Buddha: very gentle, graceful, kingly.
When he saw Bodhidharma he was shocked. He looked very primitive. And not only that, he looked very absurd, because he was carrying one of his shoes on his head: one shoe on one foot, another shoe on his head!
The emperor was embarrassed. He had come with his whole court and the queens. “What will they think? And what kind of man have I come to receive?” He tried to overlook it, out of politeness. He did not want to ask the question, “Why is this shoe on your head?”
But Bodhidharma would not leave him. He said, “Don’t try to overlook it. Ask directly and be straight from the very beginning. I have already read the question in your head.”
The emperor was at a loss. He had to ask. Now what to do with such a man? He said, “Yes, you are right, the question has arisen in me. Why are you carrying this shoe on your head?”