Bodhidharma And The Emperor Wu

No sooner had Bodhidharma landed at Kwang Cheu in Southern China than

he was invited by the Emperor Wu, who was an enthusiastic

Buddhist and good scholar, to proceed to his capital of Chin Liang.

When he was received in audience, His Majesty asked him: "We have

built temples, copied holy scriptures, ordered monks and nuns to be

converted. Is there any merit, Reverend Sir, in our conduct?" The

royal host, in all proba
ility, expected a smooth, flattering answer

from the lips of his new guest, extolling his virtues, and promising

him heavenly rewards, but the Blue-eyed Brahmin bluntly answered: "No

merit at all."

This unexpected reply must have put the Emperor to shame and doubt in

no small degree, who was informed simply of the doctrines of the

orthodox Buddhist sects. 'Why not,' he might have thought within

himself, 'why all this is futile? By what authority does he declare

all this meritless? What holy text can be quoted to justify his

assertion? What is his view in reference to the different doctrines

taught by Shakya Muni? What does he hold as the first principle of

Buddhism?' Thus thinking, he inquired: "What is the holy truth, or

the first principle?" The answer was no less astonishing: "That

principle transcends all. There is nothing holy."

The Emperor Wu (Bu-Tei) of the Liang dynasty, whose reign

was A.D. 502-549.]

The crowned creature was completely at a loss to see what the teacher

meant. Perhaps he might have thought: 'Why is nothing holy? Are

there not holy men, Holy Truths, Holy Paths stated in the scriptures?

Is he himself not one of the holy men?' "Then who is that confronts

us?" asked the monarch again. "I know not, your majesty," was the

laconic reply of Bodhidharma, who now saw that his new faith was

beyond the understanding of the Emperor.

The elephant can hardly keep company with rabbits. The petty

orthodoxy can by no means keep pace with the elephantine stride of

Zen. No wonder that Bodhidharma left not only the palace of the

Emperor Wu, but also the State of Liang, and went to the State of

Northern Wei. There he spent nine years in the Shao

Lin Monastery, mostly sitting silent in meditation with his

face to the wall, and earned for himself the appellation of 'the

wall-gazing Brahmin.' This name itself suggests that the

significance of his mission was not appreciated by his

contemporaries. But neither he was nor they were to blame, because

the lion's importance is appreciated only by the lion. A great

personage is no less great because of his unpopularity among his

fellow men, just as the great Pang is no less great because of

his unpopularity among the winged creatures. Bodhidharma was not

popular to the degree that he was envied by his contemporary

Buddhists, who, as we are told by his biographers, attempted to

poison him three times, but without success.

Northern Gi dynasty (A.D. 386-534).

Sho-rin-ji, erected by the Emperor Hiao Ming of Northern Wei

A.D. 497.

Chwang-tsz in his famous parable compares a great sage with

the Pang, an imaginary bird of enormous size, with its wings of

ninety thousand miles. The bird is laughed at by wrens and sparrows

because of its excessive size.

This reminds us of Nan Yoh Hwui Sz (Nan-gaku-e-shi, died

A.D. 577), who is said to have learned Zen under Bodhidharma. He says

in his statement of a vow that he was poisoned three times by those

who envied him.