When Bodhidharma Met Emperor Wu

When Bodhidharma met Emperor Wu


Emperor Wu of Liang (the Emperor of China) asked Bodhidharma: “How much merit have I gained for ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?”

Bodhidharma: “None. Good deeds done with worldly intent bring good karma, but no merit.”

Emperor Wu: “So what is the highest meaning of noble truth?”

Bodhidharma: “There is no noble truth, there is only void.”

Emperor Wu: “Then who are you to tell me this?”

Bodhidharma: “I don’t know.”

The Emperor did not grasp his meaning. Thereupon Bodhidharma crossed the river and went to the land of Wei.

The Emperor later spoke of this to Shiko who said, “Do you in fact know who this person is?”

The Emperor said, “No.”

Shiko said, “This is the Bodhisattva Kannon, the Bearer of the Buddha’s Heart Seal.”

The Emperor was full of regret and wanted to send for Bodhidharma, but Shiko said, “It is no good sending a messenger to fetch him back. Even if all the people went, he would not turn back.”


Bodhidharma took the inspiration of Gautama Buddha from India to China approximately 1500 years ago. He was the first living Buddha to make the journey. On arrival he met the Chinese Emperor and important religious figures with whom he was deeply disappointed. His encounter with Emperor Wu is a classic story of a spiritual master meeting a powerful ruler.