相书-有一种文化叫孤独 The Culture of Solitude
[Xiang’s Essay] - The Culture of Solitude #
In the year of 526 A.D., near the end of September, an ordinary foreign merchant ship pulled over at Guangzhou port. Through the verification course in the customhouse, an intellectual, who described himself as a beggar and a culture-teller, was discovered. To fulfill their obligation, the officers sent this weirdo to the provincial government. After the enquiry, the governor of Guangdong wrote an official letter about cultural communication to his superior, saying “a master from India has brought along mysterious culture, and wants to preach it to our people. What do you think?”
Half a month later, the foreigner was escorted by the government from Guangzhou to the capital Jiankang (nowadays Nanjing). On October the 15th on lunar calendar, the Chinese emperor, representing the whole Chinese Nation, met with him. The foreigner called himself Bodhidharma. He came to China to preach the orthodox dharma. Emperor Xiao Yan 【萧衍】 (posthumous name: Emperor Wu of Liang Dynasty【梁武帝】), a king, a Buddhist, an intellectual, asked politely as a junior, “What is the highest meaning of noble truth?” It was not easy for Bodhidharma to answer the question as a cultural communicator, because it involved the problems of cultural priority. If Bodhidharma’s culture was lower in priority than Emperor Wu’s, this became a diplomatic activity; if higher, what about the magnificence of Chinese culture, represented by the emperor? So Bodhidharma answered, “Nothing.” In some versions it was translated as “No idea.” That was a much appropriate answer, yet in the imperial court filled with hundreds of officials, it still sounded a bit offensive. But how else? He didn’t come to China to feed himself. He came to preach. Politeness had to be abandoned if you wanted to keep your attitude toward the culture. Emperor Wu did know the courtesy and stopped pressing on with it. He thought they were even in the first round and that Bodhidharma was a sly dog. So, Emperor Wu asked another question, which supported the core value of a religion (and also very personal), “How much karmic merit have I earned for giving Dāna(in buddhism: generosity or giving, a form of alms)?” Out of respect to our Emperor Wu, Bodhidharma answered in such politeness, “None.” (In some versions, “There’s no merit.”)
Then, Emperor Wu understood that there was nothing special about the man in front of him. “In this confrontation between cultural systems, Chinese native culture overwhelmed the foreign culture completely. But we Chinese are too gentlemanly to drive it out. We just ignore it. Shōbōgenzō or whatever, we don’t care. Chinese culture is mature and stable, while foreign culture is nothing compared to ours.”
So, Bodhidharma, a rover in solitude, left and went to the north.