emperor wu
< Daruma Meets Emperor Wu >
The Daruma came to China and visited the Emperor Wu, well known as a patron of Buddhism. The emperor asked Bodhidharma, "What is the highest meaning of noble truth?" Bodhidharma answered, "There is no noble truth." The emperor then asked Bodhidharma, "Who is standing before me?" Bodhidharma answered, "I don't know." The emperor then asked Bodhidharma, "How much karmic merit have I earned by ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?" Bodhidharma answered, "None.

The emperor was not pleased with Daruma’s responses.

From then on, the emperor refused to listen to whatever Bodhidharma had to say. Although Bodhidharma came from India to China to become the first patriarch of China, the emperor refused to recognize him. Since he refused to believe in what Bodhidharma told him, he practically missed his chance to come face to face with someone who was important to Buddhism.

Bodhidharma knew that he would face difficulty in the near future, but had the emperor been able to leave the throne and yield it to someone else, he could have avoided his fate of starving to death. According to the teaching, Emperor Wu's past life was as a bhikshu. While he cultivated in the mountains, a monkey would always steal and eat the things he planted for food, as well as the fruit in the trees. One day, he was able to trap the monkey in a cave and blocked the entrance of the cave with rocks, hoping to teach the monkey a lesson. However, after two days, the bhikshu found that the monkey had died of starvation. Supposedly, that monkey was reincarnated into Hou Jing of the Northern Wei Dynasty, who led his soldiers to attack Nanjing. After Nanjing was taken, the emperor was held in captivity in the palace and was not provided with any food, and was left to starve to death. Though Bodhidharma wanted to save him and brought forth a compassionate mind toward him, the emperor failed to recognize him, so there was nothing Bodhidharma could do. Thus, Bodhidharma had no choice but to leave Emperor Wu to die and went into meditation in a cave for nine years. This encounter would later form the basis of the first kōan of the collection The Blue Cliff Record

©Copyright 2011, Steve Naegele. All rights reserved.