The emperor had heard so many strange stories about Bodhidharma that finally he became so excited that he could not wait for him to enter the capital. On the contrary, he traveled hundreds of miles to receive him on the borders of China. But he could not believe his eyes. He remembered those stories… “They were right! I should have believed those stories rather than traveling so far, taking unnecessary risks.”
Bodhidharma was coming with one shoe on his head, and one shoe on his foot. Obviously curiosity arises, although the Chinese emperor and the whole Chinese culture is based on Confucian etiquette. Wu tried to avoid seeing the shoe on his head, because it is not mannerly for a man like him to point to the shoe. But it is very difficult. He remembered that even Confucius in his Analects has no mention of it, that if you see a man with a shoe on his head….
You should not ask because it is unmannerly; it might make the other man feel embarrassed, and it is not right for a man who is cultured. But the shoe was so prominent that everything else that he had thought about on the way…he was going to ask Bodhidharma about the lotus paradise, what is enlightenment, what is the essential teaching of Gautam Buddha – everything became secondary and the shoe became primary. In spite of himself he blurted, “Why are you carrying the shoe on your head?”
Bodhidharma said, “I will not enter into the territory of your empire. If a man is not even free to have his own shoe on his own head, this is not the place for me. This shoe was simply to check you out.”
He never crossed the Chinese boundary. He remained outside in a mountain cave. Wu was very much disturbed. Certainly he was right; the shoe was his, the head was his, and who are you to ask? This is interfering. He had to go to offer an apology: “I am absolutely sorry and I will never be able to forgive myself for interfering in your freedom.”
But Bodhidharma said, “I am not very far away from your boundary. Whenever you have any essential question to ask, you can come to me.”
He said, “I have an essential question. So many Buddhist monks have arrived before you and I have opened many monasteries, many temples. I have put the whole empire’s treasure into translating all the Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. Thousands of scholars are working. What will be my reward for all these virtuous acts?”
Bodhidharma said, “It is better you do not come near me because your question has not changed, it is still the shoe. You think you are doing anything virtuous? The very idea that you are doing something virtuous and you are asking what reward you are going to get shows the mind not of an emperor, but the mind of an ordinary businessman. You are trying to do business with existence, and existence is not available to the businessman’s mind. The businessman is always trying to have more by giving less. That is simply the whole economics of business. Give less and get more – that is the profit.”