Emperor Wu was immensely happy. He had come to welcome the guest on the border of his country. He had managed a great festival in his whole empire to celebrate the moment, the entry of Bodhidharma. But the entry never happened, because when Bodhidharma came, Emperor Wu, after formal questions, asked some questions that he had waited and waited and always wanted to ask an enlightened person. Now the person was there, a person of the caliber of Buddha was there – and in some ways far more juicy than Gautam Buddha himself.
He asked Bodhidharma, “What is the way to the ultimate truth?”
And Bodhidharma said, “Way? Are you crazy or something? There is no way and there is no ultimate truth. The truth is immediate, not ultimate. And because it is immediate there is no way.”
The Emperor Wu was shocked. For a moment there was silence, he could not figure it out, what is he saying, because all the Buddhist masters who had come were talking about the way and the ultimate goal. And this man, in a single statement, demolishes the whole thing: “There is no ultimate truth, the truth is immediate, hence there is no possibility of any way.”
He was afraid now to ask anything more – this man seems to be dangerous. But he gathered courage and he asked a few more questions.
He said, “I have done many religious works. I have made many temples of Buddha, many ashramas for Buddhist bhikkhus, sannyasins, monks. I have put thousands of scholars to translate all Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. What is my merit?”
Bodhidharma looked at him – and he had really big eyes, and very ferocious – and he said. “Merit? You are waiting for merit and reward? You will fall in the seventh hell for doing all this!”
Now it was too much. Everybody had said to Wu, “You will reach to the seventh heaven.” And here comes this mad monk, and he says, “You will fall in the seventh hell!”
Bodhidharma said, “You have earned great demerit. You have committed great sin against religiousness.”
Wu asked, “What do you mean? I have not done anything that is wrong.”
Bodhidharma said, “You don’t understand me. The very idea of doing is wrong. ‘I have made the temples, I have made the ashramas, I have arranged for the translations of the Buddhist scriptures…’ This I, this doer, this is your demerit. This will take you to the seventh hell. It has become too loaded too heavy. You cannot fly upward, you will fall downward. You are carrying too much weight!”
Now, even Emperor Wu, a very cultured man…and China has known real culture because of Confucius. Confucius transformed China into a very cultured country. The whole religion of Confucius is nothing but mannerism, etiquette. And Emperor Wu was taught and brought up by Confucian masters. He was very polite, but he forgot all his politeness. He became angry and he said, “Sir, can I ask you one question more? Who are you?”
Bodhidharma laughed and said, “I don’t know!”