“Emperor Wu of Liang asked the great master Bodhidharma, “What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?”
Bodhidharma said, “Empty, without holiness.””
Emeror Wu had been trying to earn merit and Bodhidharma was unimpressed. Wu’s efforts, such as building monasteries and ordaining monks, were simply irrelevant.
What I love about the encounter is the negation of holiness.
As a former Christian, I have some understanding of holiness and, its Latin cousin, “sanctification”. Holiness and sanctification are excuses for egomania. The roots of these words is to be “called out” or “set apart.” To be set apart, in my mind, is also to be “set aside,” or useless in the ordinary business of life. Even in the church, people talk about folks that are “so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good.” I have seen clergy that revel in their “set apart” status and demand to be treated specially. They seldom get what they desire (or, more accurately, desperately need for ego satisfaction), making their pastorates never-ending sources of frustration. Their demand for respect comes at the cost of actually earning the respect of their flocks. It is painful to watch and I’ve seen enough of it for several lifetimes and then some.
Bodhidharma had no patience for such nonsense.
“Without holiness” translates into: useful in the real world, intimate with reality, up-close-and-personal, no separation (duality), humble, etc.
I am at a point where I am letting go of all that is not useful. Nothing is being treated specially. I don’t have the resources (time, energy, and money) to invest in things or people that serve no positive purpose right now. I am not capable of looking down the road more than two weeks. If you poke me too hard, I will break down in tears. I am barely coping with life this moment. If it’s not helpful or useful right now, it’s got to go.
Depletion greatly simplifies life and instantly prioritizes everything. Everything I previously considered holy is now gone. I had set them apart (aside) and, consequently, rendered them useless. Perhaps I could have found uses for some of these things (such as icons and bibles), but that would have “desecrated” them. That’s the irony: everything “holy” that demands special treatment is worthless in times of need. It just takes up space. It adds no value or merit to one’s life.
Bodhidharma was smart. He got it.