Updated: Feb 29
During his reign as Emperor of China, Emperor Wu of Liang (502–549 C.E.) embraced and promoted the golden age of Chinese Buddhism. He came to be seen as the Chinese counterpart of the Indian Buddhist Emperor Ashoka the Great.
Bodhidharma, the first Zen patriarch of China, came to visit Emperor Wu around 520 AD.
The emperor told Bodhidharma, " I have built numerous temples and given financial support to the monastic community. Please tell me how much merit will I get for these deeds?".
Bodhidharma replied, "None whatsoever.You have not done anything out of piety nor out of wanting to do good. Pretending to do good you only wanted to purchase merit, but remember that merit cannot be purchased."
Furious and perplexed, the emperor asked Bodhidharma, "Who are you to tell me such things? I demand to know, who are you?'
Bodhidharma replied, "Your Majesty, I don't know."
What can be learnt from this great historical encounter?
'Know thyself and then be thyself'.
Everyday we have people who do not know who they themselves are, telling others what to be or become.
Even those who know a little about themselves are trapped in a state of confusion, trying to be someone else.
Who are we?
We are nothing, but existence at play.
We are given a name, a religion, a country, a race, various official qualifications, a work title and finally a social title. In the end we will die to be relegated to the dustbin of existence, clueless about who we really are.
We know we are nothing, and we will remain nothing. Everything is given to us by others. All that is given to us will one day be taken away from us.
So we create this delusional concept that we are something or someone, who is going to journey to some far away place, where we will be surrounded by sweet music, where angels dance for us, where rivers of alcohol flow. In paradise we will feast and dine on the most wonderful of foods and be attended to, by beautiful virgins who will ceaselessly fulfil our every sexual desire.
Somehow this ridiculous notion survives, and we ridiculously foolish humans, lap it up and swear by it. So we will go out there, maim, kill, destroy for our place in this fantasy called heaven and 'paradise'.
Even as we know we are nothing, we believe so greatly in our puny intellect to analyse and discover the so called reason of our existence.
The birds, the flowers and the animals never ask this question nor do the seasons, the sea, and win. They bestow unconditionally their wonderful grace and sometimes their awesome fury upon us.
Who are you?
Spiritually speaking shorn of all those props and labels, you are merely another nobody, just like me. Someone who is on a journey from birth to death in a body that is perishing slowly by the moment.
Let us just, live and let live. Find harmony and balance between us and our world. To celebrate life, amongst its splendid wonders and bounty, and to die happily.