Bodhidharma’s alleged interview with the Emperor Wu of Liang is typical of his abrupt and direct manner. For the Emperor described all that he had done to promote the practice of Buddhism, and asked what merit he had gained thereby — taking the popular view that Buddhism is a gradual accumulation of merit through good deeds, leading to better and better circumstances in future lives, and finally to nirvana. But Bodhidharma replied, “No merit whatever!” This so undermined the Emperor’s idea of Buddhism that he asked, “What, then, is the sacred doctrine’s first principle?” Bodhidharma replied, “It’s just empty; there’s nothing sacred.” “Who, then, are you,” said the Emperor, “to stand before us?” “I don’t know.”

Alan Watts, The Way of Zen