On the first day of the tenth month Emperor Wu sent a messenger to Bodhidharma to invite him to the palace.
Bodhidarma went to the city of Jinling and met with Wu, who said, "Ever since I ascended the throne, I have built temples, copied sutras, approved the ordination of more monks than I can count. What is the merit of having done all this?"
Bodhidharma said, "There is no merit." The Emperor said, "Why is that so?"
Bodhidharma said, "These are minor achievements of humans and devas, which become the causes of desire. They are like shadows of forms and are not real."
The Emperor said, "What is real merit?"
Bodhidharma said, "When pure wisdom is complete, the essence is empty and serene. Such merit cannot be attained through worldly actions."
The Emperor said, "What is the foremost sacred truth?"
Bodhidharma said, "Vast emptiness, nothing sacred."
The Emperor said, "Who is it that faces me?" Bodhidharma said, "I don't know."
The Emperor did not understand. Bodhidharma knew that there was no merging (*) and that the time was not ripe. Thus without a word he left on the nineteenth day of the tenth month and he traveled north to the River Yangzi.
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(*) Note on compassion from the translator's introduction: The experience of nonduality is the basis for the Buddhist teaching of compassion. When one does not abide in the distinction between self and other, between humans and nonhumans, and between sentient beings and insentient beings, there is identification with and love for all beings. Thus [enlightenment] the wisdom of nonduality, prajna, is inseparable from compassion.