Emperor Wu of Liang Boasts of His Own Merit and Virtue
When Patriarch Bodhidharma first arrived in Nanjing from Guangzhou, he went to convert Emperor Wu. Emperor Wu asked him, “In my whole life, I have built many temples, helped many people to leave the home-life, provided the needy with money from the national treasury, and also made vegetarian meal offerings to the Sangha. What merit and virtue have I created?” At that time, whoever left the home-life would be treated well by the Emperor, with everything including food, dwelling, and clothing provided for. As long as you were a left home person, the emperor would make offerings to you, pay reverence to you, and bow to you.
Emperor Wu was the kind of person who wanted to be number one in everything. That was why when he met Patriarch Bodhidharma, he didn’t seek Dharma from him. Instead he was totally engrossed in how to win praise from the Patriarch. He wanted to inflate his ego. Concerned that the Patriarch might not know of the good deeds that he had done, such as building temples, converting monks, practicing giving, and making vegetarian meal offerings, he went ahead and pointed them out as he introduced himself to the Patriarch. He said, “You see, I have built hundreds of temples. This one and that one all house many monks whom I helped to leave the home-life. The amount of giving I have done is not small and the number of monks I have provided for is not small. How much merit and virtue would you say I’ve amassed?” Basically, he was providing his own promotion campaign. He was saying, “Look at me! I am different from other emperors. I specialize in doing good deeds, creating merit and virtue. How much merit and virtue would you say I have?” He did not want to seek the Dharma for ending birth and death; instead, he wanted to boast of his own merit and virtue first.