When Patriarch Bodhidharma first went from Canton Province to Nan Qing to save the Emperor Wu of Liang, the Emperor said to him,“Throughout my entire life I have build many temples, sponsored many left-home people, and have made offerings to the Sangha. How much merit and virtue have I amassed?”
Now you should realize the Emperor Wu was a person who wanted to be first in everything. That’s why when he met Patriarch Bodhidharma, he didn’t seek the Dharma. He first wanted to hear a few words of praise from the Patriarch. He wanted to be given a tall hat to wear. Concerned that the Patriarch might not have known about all the good things he had done, like his building of temples, sponsoring of Sangha, and his vegetarian offerings, the Emperor introduced himself: “Let me tell you about myself. I’ve constructed over a hundred temples-such-and-such temple, so-and-so monastery. Each monastery is filled with left-home people. It was I who sponsored those monks. I’ve also done a tremendous number of good deeds and made ample offerings to the Sangha. How much merit and virtue would you say I have?” The point of introducing himself was to make it clear:“Ha! You see! I am an emperor unlike any other emperor! I am a magnanimous and beneficent emperor! I specialize in doing meritorious and virtuous deeds. Tell me, how much virtue would you say I've got?” It didn’t occur to him to ask for the method to end birth and death. He had to first show off his own merit and virtue.
He was like certain strong supporters who say:“Do you know who I am? I am Buddhism’s most powerful Dharma protector. I offer my money to the Triple Jewel.” Actually the money he spends enjoying women surpasses the amount he offers to the Triple Jewel by several tens of millions.
Really something, huh? He never mentions how much he spends on his nightlife, but when he gives a dollar to the temple, he makes a big deal of it.“Do you know I offered a dollar?” I’m telling you, he’s a disciple of the Emperor Wu of Liang. Any of you who create merit and virtue may end up as emperors.
When Patriarch Bodhidharma heard Emperor Wu of Liang being so infatuated with himself, giving himself a royal introduction, showing off his virtue, advertising his merits, listing all his good points and in general praising himself, he just listened. How could a sage possibly say flattering things? An ordinary person, upon hearing the emperor talk like that would say things like:“Ah! You are certainly virtuous! What tremendous merit you have! There’s nothing like it in the world!” That’s what most people would say. But Bodhidharma was a patriarch. How could he possible bow and scrape? And so he replied,“None. You don’t have any merit and virtue.” Actually he didn’t have any merit and virtue. In fact he didn’t have any merit and virtue.
You shouldn’t be skeptical about the patriarch’s answer. Emperor Wu’s mind was not proper.His biggest concern was fishing for a name and hooking himself a reputation. He was only interested in fame, he wasn’t interested in seeking the Proper Dharma.“Building temples, sponsoring Sangha, and making vegetarian offerings is defined as seeking blessings.” All those belong to the category of seeking blessings; of planting blessings in the field of blessings.Blessings are not the same as merit and virtue. Merit and virtue are found within your Dharma body.Cultivating blessings does not amass merit and virtue.
Originally Patriarch Bodhidharma wanted to save Emperor Wu of Liang. But the emperor’s ego was too inflated-his view of self was horrendous. He thought his position of emperor automatically endowed him with infinite merit and virtue.He thought that his deeds of building temples, sponsoring Sangha, donating a lot of money, and making offerings to the Triple Jewel gave him even greater merit and virtue. Hoping to break through the emperor’s attachment to that, Patriarch Bodhidharma said he didn’t have any merit and virtue at all.
Well, saying that he didn’t have any merit and virtue wasn’t such a big deal, but when the emperor heard that he was furious. After that, the emperor refused to acknowledge the patriarch. No matter what Dharma the patriarch spoke, the emperor refused to listen.“Why should I have to listen to you!” was his attitude. ince the emperor wouldn’t listen, then even though Patriarch Bodhidharma wanted to be compassionate and rescue him, his efforts were to no avail. Since the emperor was not receptive, the patriarch decided to leave. He left him, and in the end Emperor Wu of Liang died of starvation.
Think about it. If he really had merit and virtue, how could he have starved to death? It was just because he didn't have merit and virtue that he died of starvation. Patriarch Bodhidharma had wanted to turn the tide and keep him from starving. He wanted to wake him up. Too bad the emperor was so arrogant that the patriarch had no way to save him!
And so, do good deeds and forget about them. We shouldn't always be thinking,“Wow! I donated $500. I also gave $1000 to help others! I’ve got a lot of merit and virtue. It’s higher than the heavens!” Thoughts like that lack wisdom. That’s to be no smarter than the Emperor Wu of Liang.