I just came across this the other day. Pay close attention to the interview between Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu. It is quite different than the one we are all used to reading and much better, in my opinion. It doesn't leave us with a kind of nihilism that Bodhidharma taught "vast emptiness, nothing holy." Far from it. Enjoy!
How Under Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty Bodhidharma Crossed to China
AGES AGO, in South India, there was a sage called preceptor Bodhidharma. Among his disciples was a monk called Buddhayasha. To Buddha-yasha, Bodhidharma said, "You must get to China at once and spread the doctrine." Obedient to his master's instructions, Yasha took ship and crossed to China. He tried to spread the doctrine, but there were thousands of monks in the country, each diligently at work. Of the persons who heard him, not one would accept Buddhist doctrine as Yasha taught it. In the end they drove Yasha out, banished him to the temple called Tung-lin-ssu on Lü-shan.
Now at Lü-shan there was a supreme sage called great-teacher Yüan. Seeing that this Yasha had come because forced to, he asked a question before admitting him. "You have come from the west country because forced to," he said. "What sort of Buddhism can you be trying to propagate here that they should drive you out like this?" Whereupon, instead of answering in words, Yasha clenched his fist and opened it, then said, "It is all one." Great-teacher Yüan soon perceived that the fist when closed was the striving after temporal good, when open the striving after future good, and knew Yasha's meaning to be that the striving after temporal good and the striving after future good are one.
Later on, Yasha died there. Great-teacher Bodhidharma over in India then knew without being told that his disciple Yasha had died in China and he himself took ship and crossed to China.
This was in the reign of Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty.
Along about then, Emperor Wu had founded a large monastery, cast numerous Buddha images, erected a pagoda, copied numerous sutra scrolls, and was thinking to himself, "We have done meritorious works. Let us now show them to some competent monk and get his approval." He then made inquiry as to whether there was in the country at that time any wise and devout sage, and was informed that a sage had recently crossed from India. His name was Bodhidharma and he was wise, devout, a supreme sage.
Emperor Wu was glad to hear this. "We shall summon this man," he thought, "show him the monastery, buddhas, and sutras, get his approval on these, and when he also hears of my noble acts he will judge my accomplishment even more meritorious."
Accordingly he had preceptor Bodhidharma sent for, and in response to the summons the preceptor duly presented himself. Then after taking him through the monastery and showing him such things as hall, pagoda, buddhas, and sutras, Emperor Wu addressed this question to Bodhidharma: "When I build hall and pagoda, convert people, have sutra rolls copied, Buddha images cast, is there any merit in this?" To which great-teacher Bodhidharma replied, "No, this is not meritorious." Then Emperor Wu thought, "When the preceptor saw the layout of my temple, I certainly expected him to express approval, but if he so thoroughly disapproves, how unwise of him to say so!"
And he asked another question, "In what sense, then, is it unmeritorious?" To which great-teacher Bodhidharma replied, "In such building of pagoda temples we may mean to be performing meritorious acts, but being a temporal matter it is in no true sense meritorious. True merit as such resides in the pure buddha, the seed of salvation within us which by inner revelation becomes true merit. Measured against that, these things can only be evaluated as transitory."
Now when Emperor Wu heard this he was displeased. What use was such talk as this? "When we are convinced of having performed incomparably meritorious acts, it is presumption so to discredit them," he thought, and under a misapprehension his majesty banished the great teacher.
When banished, the great teacher trudged with priest's staff for cane to a place called Liang mountain. There he met a man called meditation-master Hui-k'o. To this man he imparted the buddha doctrine complete. Later on, great-teacher Bodhidharma died in that place, and the monks his disciples laid Bodhidharma in a coffin and carried it to the grave.
Twenty-seven days later, a man called Sung-yün, who had gone as imperial emissary, chanced to meet on the Onion range of Central Asia a foreign monk. On one foot he wore a straw sandal. His other foot was then bare. To Sung-yün the foreign monk said, "No doubt you know that the king of your country died today." Upon hearing this, Sung-yün got out paper and jotted down the day and the month. Some months later when Sung-yün returned to the imperial palace and inquired he was told of the emperor's passing. He thought of the date he had jotted down. It tallied exactly.
Wondering who the foreign monk could have been who had informed him of this event on Onion range, he realized that it was preceptor Bodhidharma. Along with the palace officials and the monks who had been Bodhidharma's disciples he then went to Bodhidharma's grave to make sure. When they opened the coffin and looked, not a trace of Bodhidharma's body was visible. All that they found in the coffin was one straw sandal. In view of which fact, the foreign monk he had met on Onion range must certainly have been Bodhidharma returning to India in one straw sandal.
It was by leaving one sandal behind that he made himself known to the people of China, as everybody knows. The whole country then knew that he had been a supreme sage, and no end of respect was paid him.
That this preceptor Bodhidharma was the third son of the king of the great Brahman-land kingdom of South India is the tale that has been handed down. (S. W. Jones, trans., Ages Ago: Thirty-Seven Tales from the Konjaku Monogatari Collection [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959])