The first thing that he asked Bodhidharma was, “I have done so much, what is my merit? What have I gained? What virtue?”
Bodhidharma looked at him very sternly. If you have seen Bodhidharma’s pictures you will be puzzled. He looks more like a lion than like a man – very fierce; his eyes are very penetrating, like swords. He must have cut Wu down to his proper size just by his look.
Wu started trembling, he had never come up against such a man. He had conquered many enemies, he had conquered many dangerous kings, but Bodhidharma was the most dangerous person he had come across. It was a cool morning, but he started perspiring.
And Bodhidharma said, “Merit? Virtue? You are stupid! Now this is the ego and nothing else getting nourished and fat in the name of religion and spirituality. You are bound for the seventh hell, mind you!”
Wu could not believe his ears, could not believe his eyes. He said, “But thousands of other monks have come from India and they have all said, ‘Wu, you have done a great service to Buddha’s religion. You are a beloved of Buddha, you are blessed by Buddha.’ But you are saying just the opposite!”
Bodhidharma said, “Forget all about those monks! They were buttressing you, they were praising you because they knew that that’s what you expected from them. They are cunning and crafty people. They know nothing of Buddha and his message. I am a buddha myself, I am not a Buddhist monk. I speak on my own authority, and I say to you: You are cursed!”
Emperor Wu asked, “Do you mean to say there is nothing holy, nothing spiritual, in all these beautiful acts?”
Bodhidharma said, “No action is holy, because every action arises out of the ego. When you forget all about actions, when you disappear and things start happening on their own and you cannot claim that they are your actions, only then does something of immense value, of immense beauty penetrate your life.
“Spirituality has nothing to do with doing, spirituality is the fragrance of being, and you are not a being yet. You are still concerned that you have done this, you have done that.
“The ego is a doer, your self-nature is a non-doer. Your self-nature simply allows existence to flow through it, it simply allows the ultimate law to function through it. Your self-nature is just a hollow bamboo. In the hands of the ultimate nature it becomes a flute and a beautiful song is born out of it. But the flute cannot say, ‘This is my song. What is my merit? What am I going to gain out of it? To what heaven, to what joys will I attain?’ The bamboo flute is just nothing. Its whole being consists of nothingness. That’s why the song can flow through it, it is utterly empty.”