Bodhidharma, it is said, brought Buddhism from India to China.
He introduced it to China, and it's interesting because Buddhism, which started in India, really kind of died out there. The Buddha lived in India, gave his sermons in India and never left India, and Buddhism first flourished there. But its real growth occurred in China, and then, of course, later in Japan, Thailand, Burma, places like that. Gradually it spread around the world. But it's interesting that it's very much transplanted. A lot of attention is paid to Bodhidharma because he brought Buddhism. He was not the only one - there are historical records of Buddhism really existing there prior to that time, but he brought the essence. It was considered that he was the first one who perhaps was enlightened, who brought the real essence, not just the teachings, but he was a teacher.
Buddhism has existed forever, just like we have. And occasionally it's codified; it's put together into a system by someone who likes to codify it and put it together in a system. But it's really just a structural understanding of how things work in the universe, inside your mind. The idea really - if I can skip the language that they've translated from and just use my own, which I prefer, instead of getting into Noble Truths and all these ideas, I prefer to play with my own deck of cards and not somebody else's - cards I've designed myself.
The essence of Buddhism is simply that the mind is forever. And that there are endless states of mind. And that we are always experiencing different states of mind in one form or another, in one body or another, in one life or another, forever. And that there are states of mind that are painful and unpleasant, there are states of mind that are wonderful and ecstatic. But there are only endless states of mind - viewpoints, plateaus of seeing life.
We can't say what enlightenment is, we can't say what it isn't, because these are words and words have nothing to do with reality.
Most people exist in very clouded states of mind. That is to say, their minds are very clouded. It's sort of like when you're underwater in a big swimming pool and you open your eyes, and you can't see very far and everything you see is distorted. That's how most people perceive reality. They're under a great deal of water and everything is very distorted. They assume that is what life is, that what they perceive is real. But of course, there are states of mind that are not clouded at all, that are perfect, immaculate, vacuous and clear. Void of illusions. Void of things that make those states of mind cloudy and make them antithetical to reality, to the clear seeing of reality.
The chances are you live in a state of mind that's pretty cloudy. You may not see that or realize that because you're used to it. You assume that the way you see things is the way they are. As a matter of fact, we can't imagine, or it's very difficult to imagine, that anything could be other than the way that we perceive it to be. That's the illusory nature of any state of mind. We assume that what we see is what everybody else sees. But that's not true at all.
I can look through lots of different states of minds. I can look at other people's states of minds and look through them, just like picking up a person's glasses and looking through them. I can pick up five or six different pairs and look through them, and everything looks different. If the prescription is different, life looks different through each pair of glasses - different distortions are apparent. Glasses distort the way things look, unless of course your vision is already incorrect, in which case the prescription corrects it. And then you see clearly. But if you have clear vision, were you to look through someone's glasses, it would distort everything.
It's interesting looking through different people's minds. I do that sometimes. And I see various types of distortion. Distortion is real; distortion is part of the cosmos. But the problem with distortion is that when we see things in a distorted way, we tend to trip and fall and we make mistakes. If our vision isn't very clear, something may take place that we don't see - maybe an opportunity that we don't grasp. Things may not be at all as confusing as they appear to be in a distorted state of mind. Maybe things are very simple. Maybe life is very simple, and all the hubbub and noise that everyone makes is simply because they're in very distorted states of mind.
Maybe life isn't complicated. Suppose it's very simple. But the reason it appears complicated to you is because you're in a very distorted state of mind. That's the basic premise of Buddhism - that you're in a very distorted state of mind. Everything you see looks real to you; you can't imagine it being any other way, but you are so far removed from clear seeing that it's impossible to estimate the distance.
We say enlightenment is clear seeing. When you're enlightened, you have a clear view. A clear view implies the absence of thought or impressions in the mind.