Thus Have I Heard: Buddhist Parables and Stories
THUS HAVE I HEARD
Buddhist Parables and Stories
Committee of the U.S. & Canada
(Dharma Master Lok To, Director)
New York - San Francisco - Niagara Falls - Toronto
Buddhism has always been fond of parables and many of these were used by the Buddha himself. He taught by parables, "for men of good understanding will readily enough catch the meaning of what is taught under the shape of a parable."
So wrote a distinguished lexicographer whose name has been lost to us. We could not, however, agree more, and have therefore compiled this modest collection of Buddhist parables and stories.
Our sources are the oral teachings of several masters, sutras such as the Avatamsaka and the Brahma Net, various dictionaries, encyclopedias and monographs and, especially, the Seeker's Glossary of Buddhism, itself an extensive compilation of several hundred works, old and new, on Buddhism.
As with most stories, these parables can be read on many levels, for many ends. Whatever his background, whatever his purpose, we hope the reader will always keep in mind two crucial principles: the Bodhi Mind and serious practice. Without practice, and without the determination to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings (Bodhi Mind), parables merely feed the intellect and may become, in the words of D.T. Suzuki, "mere bubbles".
Tell me everything that happened while you were away, said the old monk. So the boy started to tell of his journey down from the mountain. He told of villages and towns he passed through, of rivers forded and mountains climbed. Then he told how one day he came upon a stream in flood...
We wish the reader a pleasant journey, a fruitful journey, leading to rebirth in the Pure Land -- in the Pure Mind.
We respectfully acknowledge the following teachers and friends whose advice and assistance have made this book possible. In the order of our temporal association with them, they are: Dharma Master Lok-to; Rev. Ta-yi; Prof. Forrest G. Smith; Messrs. John Ironmount and Sang Lam; as well as Dr. Michael E. Moriarty and our consulting editor, Upasaka Harry Leong, both of whom spent numerous hours assisting us in many ways on this project.
This book is respectfully dedicated to two persons of special significance in our lives: Upasaka Nguyen Van By and Mrs. Mildred Ulrich. Uncle By will always be appreciated for his support of several branches of the Nguyen and Le-Trung families in post World War II Vietnam and Mrs. Ulrich for her sponsorship, directly and indirectly, of some threescore members of the extended Van Hien clan to these shores. Both are responsible, in great measure, for our successful integration in North America on the threshold of this new millennium.
Minh Thanh, MA, MBA &
P.D. Leigh, MS
Rye Brook, NY
Vesak, May '99
Updated: Jan. 2000
PARABLE 001: FATE IS IN OUR HANDS
In a time long past, there was an old monk who, through diligent practice, had attained a certain degree of spiritual penetration.
"He had a young novice who was about eight years old. One day the monk looked at the boy's face and saw there that he would die within the next few months. Saddened by this, he told the boy to take a long holiday and go and visit his parents. 'Take your time,' said the monk. 'Don't hurry back.' For he felt the boy should be with his family when he died. Three months later, to his astonishment, the monk saw the boy walking back up the mountain. When he arrived he looked intently at his face and saw that they boy would now live to a ripe old age. 'Tell me everything that happened while you were away,' said the monk. So the boy started to tell of his journey down from the mountain. He told of villages and towns he passed through, of rivers forded and mountains climbed. Then he told how one day he came upon a stream in flood. He noticed, as he tried to pick his way across the flowing stream, that a colony of ants had become trapped on a small island formed by the flooding stream. Moved by compassion for these poor creatures, he took a branch of a tree and laid it across one flow of the stream until it touched the little island. As the ants made their way across, the boy held the branch steady, until he was sure all the ants had escaped to dry land. Then he went on his way. 'So,' thought the old monk to himself, 'that is why the gods have lengthened his days.'
Compassionate acts can alter your fate. Conversely, acts of viciousness can adversely affect your fate."
PARABLE 002: TWO MORE DAYS TO MOUNT WU-T'AI
Long ago, in T'ang China, there was an old monk going on a pilgrimage to Mount Wu-t'ai, the abode of Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Aged and weak, he was treading the long dusty road alone, seeking alms along the way. After many long months, one morning he gazed upward and saw the majestic mountain in the distance. By the roadside, there was an old woman working the field. "Please tell me," he asked, "how much longer I must proceed before reaching Mount Wu-t'ai?" The woman just looked at him, uttered a guttural sound and returned to her hoeing. He repeated the question a second and third time, but still there was no answer.
Thinking that the woman must be deaf, he decided to push on. After he had taken a few dozen steps, he heard the woman call out to him, "Two more days, it will take you two more days." Somewhat annoyed, the monk responded, "I thought you were deaf. Why didn't you answer my question earlier?" The woman replied, "You asked the question while you were standing put, Master. I had to see how fast your pace was, how determined your walk!"
A cultivator is in the same position as the old monk in this story. As he practices the Dharma, seeking to help himself and others, he sometimes wonders why no one comes to his assistance. However, others may simply be trying to assess him, to gauge his strength and determination. This process can take five years, twenty years, or even a lifetime. Therefore, seekers of the Way, do not be discouraged, but forge ahead!
PARABLE 003: ALL IS VANITY (AMITABHA & SUKHAVATI)
In a long time past, in a certain country at the foot of the Himalayas, there dwelled a rare species of monkeys. Their blood, of a deep translucent red, was highly prized as a dye, for it would neither fade nor streak. The monkeys were therefore sought after by cloth merchants, as well as by kings and princes.
The monkeys themselves were clever and savvy -- adept at escaping all the traps and nets set out for them. However, they had two weaknesses: they loved rice wine and they enjoyed parading themselves in fancy shoes.
One day, a group of hunters, having discovered the monkeys' whereabouts, set up several huge kegs of wine on a hill and let the wind carry the bouquet afar. They also scattered hundreds of brightly colored wooden clogs near the barrels before hiding themselves in the surrounding bushes.
Sure enough, the monkeys, attracted by the aroma of the wine, approached the hillside. Furtively looking over their shoulders and surveying the area with their piercing eyes, they told one another: "This is bound to be a trap set by the men in the village below. You know how wicked and cruel they are. If we were to taste the wine, we would be caught and killed for our blood. Let's get out of here."
So they began to run towards the forest, to the safety of the tall, leafy trees and the dense underbrush. However, as the pack was running for cover, a few monkeys let their eyes dart back to the wine kegs. Finally, several returned to the hill they had just left, telling themselves: "It is very dangerous to be exposed this way, we'd better just try a few drops of wine and then leave -- remember, just a few drops! Otherwise, we will be captured and skinned alive...!"
They then furtively dipped half of one finger into the kegs and tasted the wine. Soon afterward, they inserted a whole finger and ... a whole hand. Poor monkeys, earlier, they could not resist the mere smell of the wine, how could they now resist its taste? After watching from a safe distance, the rest of the pack soon came swarming around the kegs. They drank and drank and drank some more, all of their caution and reluctance by now long forgotten. They then discovered the gorgeous clogs, their favorite attire ...
Observing all this from the bushes, the hunters waited patiently for the wine to take effect. They then emerged from hiding and surrounded the whole pack. There was no possible escape for the poor monkeys, who were not only drunk but also weighed down by heavy wooden clogs!
We humans are no different from the monkeys. We, too, know of the dangers of the five desires. Yet, while we may resist them for a while -- at certain times -- few of us can do so at all times. This is the rationale for seeking rebirth in the Pure Land, an ideal environment, free of temptation, free of suffering:
"In an infinite time in the past, Bhiksu Dharmakara [the future Buddha Amitabha] observed the misery of all sentient beings, and moved by compassion, vowed to establish a pure and perfect land where all could be liberated ... " Editor: na
PARABLE 004: ATTACHMENT (NEITHER HATRED NOR LOVE)
"It once happened that a monk, having awakened to the Way under the eminent Master Fu Shan, went to reside in a famous monastery. Although living among the Great Assembly, he did not practice meditation or seek guidance in the Dharma; all he did all day was lie sleeping. Upon hearing this, the abbot arrived at the meditation hall, a big staff in hand. Seeing the guest master reclining with eyes closed, he admonished: 'This place does not have surplus rice to allow you to do nothing but eat and rest!' Reply: 'What would you, High Master, advise me to do?' The abbot said: 'Why don't you sit in meditation?' Answer: 'Succulent food cannot tempt those who have eaten their fill.' The abbot continued, 'A great many people are unhappy with you.' Answer: 'If they were happy, what would I gain?' Hearing these unusual replies, the abbot inquired further, 'Who was your master?' Answer: 'I arrived here after having studied under the eminent Master Fu Shan.' The abbot said, 'No wonder you are so headstrong!' They then clasped hands, laughing aloud, and headed toward the abbot's quarters.
"One day, many years later, the guest Zen Master, having washed himself, ascended the Dharma seat, bid farewell to the Great Assembly, wrote a parting stanza, immediately dropped the pen and expired in a seated position. The guest master, as we can see, conducted himself easily and freely, having mastered life and death. Is it not because he had truly internalized the meaning of the passage 'when neither hatred nor love disturbs our mind, serenely we sleep?'" (quotation from the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng.)
Master Tam: 157-160
PARABLE 005: ATTACHMENT (MONK / YOUNG GIRL)
The following story forms the basis of a well-known koan.
"Once there was a devoted old woman who built a place of retreat for a monk, arranging that he would not lack for anything, so that he could concentrate upon his meditation and practice. One day, after twenty years, she instructed her daughter: 'Today, after serving the Master his meal, take advantage of the situation to embrace him tightly, asking him at the same time, 'how does it feel to be hugged these days?' Come back and let me know his answer as faithfully as you can.'
The daughter dutifully did as she was told, putting her arms around the Master and asking the question. The Master replied, 'I am not moved in the very least by sexual desire, no different from a dried up tree leaning against a cold mass of rocks in the middle of winter, when not even a drop of warmth can be found.' The young girl repeated the answer to her mother, who said unhappily, 'I have really wasted my time and effort during the last twenty years. Little did I know that I was only supporting a common mortal!' Having said this, she went out, evicted the monk, lit a fire and burned the meditation hut to the ground.
In truth, it is rare enough these days for anyone to cultivate to the level of that monk. As far as the old woman is concerned, she is said to have been a saint in disguise. Her action of burning down the hut was to 'enlighten' the Master. Why is this so? It is because, while not moved by sexual desire, he still saw himself as pure and was still attached to the empty and still aspects of samadhi. Thus, he had not attained true and complete Awakening." Master Tam: 147
PARABLE 006: DAUGHTER OF GENGHIS KHAN
"Seated on the ground, I watched with amusement the various performances in which lama and believers played their parts with the utmost gravity, tinged, however, by that special good humour and overflowing gaiety which makes life among Tibetans so pleasant. I delightedly forgot Western lands, that I belonged to them, and that they would probably take me again in the clutches of their sorrowful civilization. I felt myself a simple dokpa of the Koko nor. I chatted with the women about my imaginary black tent in the Desert of Grass, my cattle, and the feast days when the menfolk race on horseback and show their cleverness as marksmen.
I knew by heart the region I described, for I had lived there long, and my enthusiasm for my so-styled mother country was so genuinely sincere that no one could have guessed my lie... After all, was it entirely a lie? I am one of the Genghis Khan race who, by mistake and perhaps for her sins, was born in the Occident. So I was once told by a lama." A.David-Neal: 61
PARABLE 007: ATTACHMENT (TEACHING OF THE BUDDHA)
For the seasoned practitioner, even the Dharma (teachings of the Buddha) must not become an attachment. As an analogy, to clean one's shirt, it is necessary to use soap. However, if the soap is not then rinsed out, the garment will not be truly clean. Similarly, the practitioner's mind will not be fully liberated until he severs attachment to everything, including the Dharma itself. Editor: na
PARABLE 008: ATTACHMENT (TO EXTERNAL FORMS OF CULTIVATION)
"There was once a Zen Master who practiced meditation with extreme diligence. He usually slept in a sitting position rather than lying down, and hardly rested much at all. However, despite practicing meditation for many years, he still had not become enlightened to the Way. One day, a novice of unknown provenance sought permission to join the Order. This novice was habitually lazy, to the point where he would often remain in bed even after the bell announcing the early prayer session had been rung. Informed of this, the Master summoned him and scolded him in the following terms, 'How is it that you have joined the Order but are still so lazy as to be always lying down? Don't you remember what the rules of discipline say: 'Remaining in bed and failing to arise after hearing the bell will bring the future retribution of rebirth as a snake?' The novice replied, 'You said, Master, that I often lie down and therefore will become a snake. How about you, who are attached to the sitting posture? You will be reborn a toad. What can you ever hope to awaken to?'
Immediately after this exchange, the novice disappeared. However, the Master had been awakened.
As the story goes, the novice was in fact a Bodhisattva, who had assumed the appearance of a novice in order to enlighten the Master..." (Master Tam)
Note: "The Master picked up a brick and began grinding it with a stone. The student asked what he was doing, and the Master replied, 'I am trying to polish this brick into a mirror.' - 'But no amount of polishing will ever make a mirror out of a brick.' - 'and no amount of sitting cross-legged will ever make a Buddha out of you.'"
PARABLE 009: AWAKENING TO THE WAY IS NOT ENOUGH
"In T'ang Dynasty China, in a temple called Fragrant Mountain in the district of Loyang, there was a Buddhist monk named Mirror of Emptiness. He came from a destitute family, and, though diligent in his studies, was a mediocre student in his youth. As an adult, he used to compose poems, few of which are quoted or remembered. He would travel throughout central China seeking support from local leaders, without much result. As soon as he would accumulate some savings he would fall ill, exhausting all his funds by the time he recovered. Once, he travelled to a neighboring district, which at that time was struck by famine. He was thinking of reaching the Temple of the Western Land to eat and regain strength, but on the way, felt too hungry to go further. He decided to rest by a snow-covered spring, reciting verses of self-pity and despondency. Suddenly, an Indian monk appeared and sat down beside him. Smiling, he asked, 'Elder Master, have you already exhausted the sweet dew of distant travel?' He answered, 'I have indeed exhausted the nectar of travel; however, my name is...and I have never been a high-ranking Buddhist master.' The Indian monk replied, 'Have you forgotten the time you were preaching the Lotus Sutra at the Temple of ... ?'-- Answer: 'For the last forty-five years, since I was born, I have always been in this vicinity. I have never set foot in the capital and therefore cannot have preached at the temple you mentioned.' The Indian monk answered, 'Perhaps you are starving and have forgotten all about the past.' Thereupon, he took an apple as big as a fist from his bag and gave it to the famished poet, saying, 'This apple comes from my country. Those of high capacities who eat it can see the past and future clearly. Those of limited capacities can also remember events of their past lifetimes.' The poet gratefully accepted the apple, ate it, and proceeded to drink the spring water. Feeling suddenly drowsy, he rested his head on the rocks and began to doze off. In an instant, he awakened and remembered his past life as a high-ranking Buddhist monk, preaching the Dharma along with fellow monks, as clearly as though everything had happened the previous day. He wept and asked, 'Where is the Great Abbot Ch'an these days?' The Indian monk replied, 'He did not cultivate deeply enough. He has been reborn a monk in Western Szechuan.' The starving poet asked further, 'What has become of the great masters Shen and Wu?' 'Master Shen is still alive. Master Wu once joked in front of the rock monument at the Fragrant Mountain Temple, 'If I cannot attain Enlightenment in this life, may I be reborn as a high-ranking official in the next one.' As a result, he has now become a top general. Of the five monks who were close in the past, only I have managed to escape Birth and Death. The three others are as described...and you, the fourth and last one, are still plagued by hunger in this place.' The starving poet shed a tear of self-pity and said: 'In my previous life, for forty long years I took only one meal a day and wore only one robe, determined to rid myself of all mundane preoccupations. Why is it that I have fallen so low as to go hungry today?' The Indian monk replied: 'In the past, when you occupied the Dharma seat, you used to preach many superstitions, causing the audience to doubt the Dharma. In addition, you were not entirely faultless in keeping the precepts, resulting in today's retribution.' Having finished, the Indian monk took a mirror from his bowl, with flawless reflection on both sides, and said 'I cannot undo what happened in the past. However, If you want to know your future destiny, whether you will be rich or poor, have a long or short life, even the future ups and downs of the Dharma, just have a look in the mirror and all will be clear.' The poet took the mirror and gazed into it for a long time. Returning it, he said, 'Thanks to your compassionate help, I now know causes and retribution, honor and disgrace.' The Indian monk put the mirror back in his bowl, took the poet by the hand, and started to walk away. After about ten steps, he disappeared.
That same night, the poet entered the Order at the Temple of the Divine Seal, and was given the Dharma name 'Mirror of Emptiness.' After receiving the complete precepts of a Bhikshu, he travelled throughout the country practicing the Way, his high conduct and ascetic practices being praised by all. Later on, Zen Master Mirror of Emptiness once met with a certain layman from the Temple of the Western Land. Telling the latter about his past, he said: 'I am now 77 years old, my Dharma age is 32. I have only nine more years to live. After my death, who knows if the Dharma will still exist as it is now?' The layman, puzzled, tried to inquire further. The Master did not reply. He just requested a pen and began scribbling some lines on the north wall of the tower which housed the Tripitaka (Buddhist canon)...The words represented the prophecy of Zen Master Mirror of Emptiness, the gist of which is as follows: The Dharma will experience a decline. There will be ruthless persecution of Buddhism, the period of persecution beginning in the 840's. However, the Dharma will survive; the light of the Dharma will not be extinguished. This prophecy is consonant with the destruction of Buddhism under the Chinese Emperor T'ang Wu Tsung, who ordered the razing of some 47,000 temples and forcibly returned hundreds of thousands of monks and nuns to the laity." Master Tam: 22
Note: To cultivate without seeking escape from Birth and Death does not normally lead to Enlightenment in one lifetime. This is the basis for the Pure Land emphasis on rebirth in the Land of Bliss as the safest route to Buddhahood.
PARABLE 010: THE BIRD IS MINE (COMPASSION)
"It is recorded in the Mahabhinishkramana that Devadatta, the cousin of Prince Siddhartha, took a bow and arrow and shot down a swan. The creature was grounded but not killed. The future Buddha took the bird upon his knees and comforted it. Devadatta was sent to claim his prize, no doubt intending to kill it, but the Buddha refused to hand over the swan, saying that the bird was his:
'Then our Lord
Laid the swan's neck beside his own smooth cheek
And gravely spake, "Say no! the bird is mine,
The first of myriad things that shall be mine
By right of mercy and love's lordliness...'" (The Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold)
Note: "In the psycho-ethical social philosophy of Buddhism, the concept of compassion has two main aspects. First, as a desirable quality in human character, it is meant to regulate our attitude to other people. Secondly, it has its transcendental aspect known as Great or Grand Compassion (maha-karuna) found only in sages like Buddhas, [Bodhisattvas] and Arhats. It is the higher kind and is super-individual in scope and covers all beings in their entirety. It 'seeketh not its own' and hence is the result of coming into contact with spiritual reality. Cleansed of individualised exclusiveness, it becomes unlimited ... If compassion is the desire to relieve the suffering of others, the best way to do so is to lead them to the freedom of Buddhahood and hence it is this kind of compassion that makes the concept truly meaningful." (Encyclopedia of Religions. Malalasekera: Vol. 4, p. 201)
PARABLE 011: THE GREAT MATTER OF BIRTH AND DEATH
"In India there was once a king who believed in a non-Buddhist religion which taught many kinds of bitter practices ... some spread ashes on their bodies, and some slept on beds of nails. They cultivated all kinds of ascetic practices. Meanwhile, the Bhikshus who cultivated the Buddhadharma had it 'easy,' because they didn't cultivate that way. Now, the king of that country said to the Buddha's disciples, 'It's my belief that the ascetic practices which these non-Buddhists cultivate still don't enable them to end their afflictions. How much the less must you Bhikshus, who are so casual, be able to sever the affliction of your thoughts of sexual desire.'
One of the Dharma Masters answered the king this way: 'Suppose you take a man from jail who had been sentenced to execution, and you say to him 'Take this bowl of oil and carry it in your two hands as you walk down the highway. If you don't spill a single drop, I'll release you when you return.' Then, suppose you send some beautiful women musicians out on the highway to sing and play their instruments where the sentenced man is walking with his bowl of oil. If he should spill any oil, of course, you'll execute him. But if he should come back without spilling a single drop, what do you suppose he will answer if you ask him what he's seen on the road?'
The king of country did just that: he took a man destined to be executed and said to him, 'Today you should be executed but I'm going to give you an opportunity to save your life. How? I'll give you a bowl of oil to carry in your two hands as you take a walk on the highway. If you can do it without spilling a single drop, I'll spare your life. Go try it.' The sentenced man did as he was told. He went out on the highway, and when he returned he had not spilled one drop. Then the king asked him, 'What did you see out on the highway?' The sentenced man said, 'I didn't see a single thing. All I did was watch the oil to keep it from spilling. I didn't see anything else or hear anything at all.'
So, the king asked the Dharma Master, 'Well, what is the principle here?' The Dharma Master answered, 'The sentenced man was like the novice who has left the home life. Both see the question of Birth and Death as too important to waste time on thoughts of sexual desire, [the most dangerous affliction for ascetics].
Why can't people sever their afflictions? Because they don't understand Birth and Death. They don't realize how great the importance of this matter is [and therefore, are not single-minded in their determination to transcend it].'"
Master Hsuan Hua/77: 78-79
PARABLE 012: BODHI MIND (MIND OF ENLIGHTENMENT)
The crucial role of the Bodhi Mind in Buddhist cultivation is illustrated in the following parable.
Suppose a person is trying to fill a small tank of perhaps three cubic feet with rain water for drinking purposes. As soon as the tank is filled, all excess water escapes and is lost. The same is true if instead of a tank, he has only a small container, or for that matter, a teacup to fill up. However, if his vessel is as vast as a city's reservoir, or the Amazon River, or for that matter the Pacific Ocean, he can store whatever rain water falls without ever losing a single drop!
This is the same for a devotee. If he is only seeking personal liberation or the good of his immediate family, his vessel is only as big as a cup or at most a three-cubic-foot tank. However, if his mind is like the mind of the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas seeking enlightenment for all, his vessel is as great as the rivers and oceans of the entire world. No amount of merit and virtue can ever be lost. Therefore, developing the Bodhi Mind -- the aspiration to rescue all sentient beings -- is not only necessary, it is the very essence of Buddhist practice.
PARABLE 013: BODHISATTVAS & ARHATS
In days of yore, an older master was traveling along a country road, followed by a disciple carrying his bags. As they walked, they saw lands being tilled while farmers and oxen were strained to the utmost.
Countless worms and insects were killed in the process, and birds were swooping to eat them. This led the disciple to wonder to himself, "How hard it is to make a living. I will cultivate with all my strength, become a Buddha and save all these creatures." Immediately the Master, an Arhat able to read the thoughts of others, turned around and said, "Let me have those heavy bags and I will follow you." The disciple was puzzled but did as instructed and walked in front. As they continued on their way with the hot sun bearing down on them, dust swirling all around them, the road stretching endlessly in front, the disciple grew more and more tired. It wasn't long before he thought to himself, "There are so many sentient beings and there is so much suffering, how can I possibly help them all? Perhaps I should try to help myself only." Immediately, the Master behind him said, "Stop. Now you carry the bags and follow me." The puzzled disciple did as told, knowing he was not supposed to ask questions. He took up the bags again and walked behind. This sequence repeated itself several times. The Master walked in front with the disciple carrying the bags, then the disciple in front with the Master carrying the bags, back and forth, until they stopped for lunch. Then the disciple gathered his courage and asked the reason why. The Master said, "When you had exalted thoughts of saving all sentient beings, you had the Bodhi Mind, the mind of a Bodhisattva, and I as an Arhat had to follow you. But as soon as you had selfish thoughts, you were no longer a Bodhisattva, and being junior to me in years and cultivation, you had to carry my bags!"
PARABLE 014: BOILING POT
"An effort to reform society which is not coupled with an equal effort to develop one's spiritual self cannot bring about lasting results. It is like trying to cool a pot of boiling soup by merely stirring it, while ignoring the blazing fuel underneath."
PARABLE 015: BUDDHA RECITATION
In the Awakening of the Faith Treatise after summarizing the essential points of Mahayana doctrine and explaining the path of cultivation, the Patriarch Asvaghosha added:
"'Next, suppose there is a man who learns this teaching for the first time and wishes to seek the correct faith but lacks courage and strength. Because he lives in this world of suffering, he fears that he will not always be able to meet the Buddhas and honor them personally, and that faith being difficult to perfect, he will be inclined to fall back.
He should know that the Tathagathas have an excellent expedient means by which they can protect his faith: that is, through the strength of wholehearted meditation-recitation on the Buddha [Amitabha], he will in fulfillment of his wishes be able to be born in the Buddha-land beyond, to see the Buddha always, and to be forever separated from the evil states of existence.'
It is as the sutra says: 'If a man meditates wholly on Amitabha Buddha in the world of the Western Paradise and wishes to be born in that world, directing all the goodness he has cultivated toward that goal, then he will be born there.' Because he will see the Buddha at all times, he will never fall back ... [If a cultivator follows this path], he will be able to be born there in the end because he abides in the correct samadhi." (Asvaghosha, The Awakening of the Faith, Y. Hakeda, tr., p. 102.)
Note: "Diligent Buddha Recitation is a wonderful expedient to swiftly attain correct samadhi."
Master Tam: 218
PARABLE 016: FORGIVE AND FORGET (AVALOKITESVARA BODHISATTVA)
"During the Ch'ing Dynasty in China, in Yang Chou, there was a person named Ch'eng Pai Lin. One day he had a dream in which Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva told him, 'Tomorrow the Ch'ing army will arrive. Out of the seventeen people in your household, sixteen will survive. But you cannot escape your fate. Tomorrow Wang Ma Tze will kill you, because in a past life you stabbed him twenty-six times and killed him.' Then Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva added, 'There is still an expedient method that may work. Prepare a fine feast tomorrow, and when he comes, invite him to eat with you. Afterwards, allow him to kill you. Perhaps that will change things.'
The dream was vivid and when Ch'eng Pai Lin awoke the following morning, he went out and bought wine and vegetables, brought them back, and had a feast prepared. Then noontime came, someone knocked at the door. He opened the door and said, 'Are you Wang Ma Tze?' 'How strange,' said the man at the door, 'I'm from the north, how did you know my name?' His host invited him in and said, '... You're welcome; I've prepared a feast for you. Won't you join me?' Then he related the dream he'd had the night before. 'Last life I killed you with twenty-six stabs of a knife, and so this life you have come to kill me. After we've finished this meal, you can do it.' Wang Ma Tze pondered over this and said, 'But if you killed me last life, and I kill you this life, won't you kill me again next life? It will just go on and on. No, I won't kill you.' Then he took his knife and scratched twenty-six marks on his host's back to represent that the debt had been repaid.
Not only did Wang Ma Tze not kill his host, but afterwards they became very good friends. Wang said to his host, 'The Ch'ing army is following en masse. They are not reasonable, so the best would be for you and your family to go to Su Chou. It's safe there.' So that is what Ch'eng Pai Lin did. This is a case of turning grievance into friendship and reversing the retribution that is due one. From this you can see that it's possible to alter one's fate." (Master Hui Seng)
"'He beat me, he robbed me. Look at how he abused and injured me.' Live with those thoughts and you will never stop hating...Abandon such thoughts and your hatred and suffering will cease." (Dhammapada, Anne Bancroft, tr.)
PARABLE 017: BURNING HOUSE
Lotus Sutra (ch. 3):
"A rich man had a very large house. The house had only one entrance, and the timber of which it was made had dried out thoroughly over the years. One day the house caught fire, and the rich man's many children, heedless of the fire, continued to play in the house. Their father called to them from outside that the house was afire and that they would perish in the flames if they did not come out. The children, not knowing the meaning of 'fire' or 'perish,' continued to play as before. The man called out once more, 'Come out children, and I will give you ox-drawn carriages, deer-drawn carriages, and goat-drawn carriages!' Tempted by the desire for new playthings, the children left the burning house, only to find ox-drawn carriages (the best vehicle, that of the Bodhisattvas/Buddhas) awaiting them." Hurv: xi
Note: In this parable, the burning house represents mundane existence; fire, the passions of greed, anger and delusion; the rich man, the Buddha; the children, sentient beings; games the children play, the pleasures of the senses. Just like the children who all received ox-drawn carriages, sincere Buddhist seekers will all receive the ultimate prize: Buddhahood.
PARABLE 018: BODHIDHARMA'S ZEN
"After [Bodhidharma's] arrival in what is today the port city of Canton, he traveled at the invitation of the Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty (6th C.) to visit him in Nanking. The first example in the Pi-yen-lu reports the encounter between Bodhidharma and the emperor. Wu-ti was a follower and fosterer of Buddhism and had many Buddhist monasteries built in his realm. Now he asked the master from India what merit and virtues for succeeding lives he had accumulated thereby. Bodhidharma answered curtly, 'no virtues, none' ... The encounter with Emperor Wu of Liang showed Bodhidharma that the time was not yet ripe for the reception of his teaching in China. He crossed the Yangtse -- as the legend tells us, on a reed (this is a favorite subject in Zen painting) -- and traveled on to north China, where he finally settled at Shao-lin Monastery. It is not certain whether he died there or again left the monastery after he had transmitted the patriarchy to Hui-k'o. The form of meditative practice that Bodhidharma taught still owed a great deal to Indian Buddhism. His instructions were to a great extent based on the traditional sutras of Mahayana Buddhism; he especially emphasized the importance of the Lankavatara Sutra."
Note: According to the ancient masters, the reason Emperor Wu did not understand Bodhidharma was that he did not grasp the difference between merit and virtue. Merit results from good deeds and therefore brings benefits within the realm of Birth and Death. Virtues, on the other hand, are the result of actions that the practitioners take to improve themselves and others (i.e., decrease in greed, anger and delusion). Thus, the benefits accrued are beyond Birth and Death. Therefore, merits are finite and considered of minor value in comparison to virtues. Had the emperor understood the distinction and realized that Bodhidharma had meant that he (the emperor) only received merits (as he was building temples, etc. with the expectation of receiving blessings, health, and wealth) not virtues (i.e., decrease in greed, anger, and stupidity), Bodhidharma would not have left him, the second Zen patriarch Hui K'o would not have had to cut his arms to prove his sincerity and the history of Zen might well have taken a different course!
PARABLE 019: DEATH OF HONEN, FOUNDER OF JAPANESE PURE LAND
"At the hour of the serpent (10 a.m.), on the day of his death, his disciples brought him an image of Amida, three feet high, and as they put it on the right side of his bed, asked him if he could see it. With his finger pointing to the sky he said, 'There is another Buddha here besides this one. Do you not see him?' Then he went on to say, 'As a result of the merit of repeating the sacred name, I have, for over ten years past, continually been gazing on the glory of the Pure Land, and the very forms of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, but I have kept it secret and said nothing about it. Now, however, as I draw near the end, I disclose it to you.' The disciples then took a piece of cord made of five-colored strands, fastened it to the hand of the Buddha's image, and asked Honen to take hold of it." (Honen, the Buddhist Saint: His Life and Teaching, p.636.)
Note: It is an ancient practice in northern India (and later China and Japan) to exhort a dying person to face west, holding onto a thread attached to the finger of an Amitabha Buddha statue. This practice, which stems from a samadhi ("light") in the Avatamsaka Sutra, is meant to remind the dying of their vow to be reborn in the Pure Land.
"To exhort the dying to remembrance of Buddha, / And show them icons for them to behold,/ Causing them to take refuge in the Buddha,/ Is how this light can be made." (T. Cleary, Flower Ornament Sutra/Avatamsaka Sutra, v.I p.350)
PARABLE 020: CARNALITY
"You should teach worldly men who practice Samadhi to cut off their lustful minds at the very start. This is called the Buddha's profound teaching of the first decisive deed. Therefore, Ananda, if carnality is not wiped out, the practice of dhyana (meditation) is like cooking gravel to make rice; even if it is boiled for hundreds and thousands of eons, it will be only gravel. Why? Because instead of rice grains it contains only stones."
PARABLE 021: CAUSE AND EFFECT (ILLEGITIMATE CHILD)
Once, it is said, Buddha Sakyamuni was falsely accused of fathering a certain woman's child. When the deceit was discovered, the Buddha's followers wanted to beat the culprit to death. The Buddha calmly stopped them, saying: "Oh, Bhikkus, in a previous lifetime when I was a king, I was once in a grove together with my courtiers. At the sight of an ascetic, the ladies of the party surrounded him, turning their backs on me. Jealous and angry, I exclaimed, How do you know that this ascetic is not a fake? How do you know that he does not spend his nights revelling with women? It is because of that slanderous remark that I have now had to endure that woman's deceit. Oh, monks, release her and let her go in peace."
In the Buddhist world view, nothing happens without cause. To transcend suffering, we must stop causing further suffering. Acting otherwise is no different than trying to escape one's shadow by running in the blazing sun!. Editor/BWF: 310
PARABLE 022: CHARITY OF THE DESTITUTE
"During the lifetime of a certain transhistorical Buddha there was a couple so destitute that husband and wife had but one robe between them. When the husband would leave their shack to seek work, his wife had to shut the door and stay home, nude, and vice versa. However, upon hearing wandering monks teach that charity would extinguish the sufferings of poverty and want, husband and wife discussed the matter between themselves. They decided to donate their only piece of cloth by passing it through the window, determined to remain in the shack, completely without clothing, resigned to death. This resolute good action came to the attention of the local ruler, who then showered them with garments and riches. From that time on, through each succeeding lifetime, they never again were in want for the necessities of life, and ultimately attained complete liberation. Thus, although it may be difficult to practice charity when we are destitute ourselves, we should understand that the cause of such poverty and want is our own past stinginess. If we are determined to endure deprivation and suffering, charity is something that can still be accomplished."
Master Tam: 302
PARABLE 023: CHIKO MANDALA
The story of this Japanese mandala, which is based on an eighth century legend, is as follows.
"Thee monks Chiko and Raiko of Gango-ji shared a room in which they had practiced religious austerities from the time of their youth. At one year's end, Raiko ceased speaking, never replying to any of Chiko's questions. Several years later, Raiko died. Worried about Raiko's future existence, Chiko prayed that he might learn what had happened to his friend. One night in a dream he met Raiko. The setting was an ethereal, splendid place, and when Chiko asked where they were, Raiko replied that it was the Pure Land. He went on to explain that from his earliest days he had studied the sutras and holy scriptures and had longed for birth in Paradise, knowing all the while that this was no easy feat to achieve. He had stopped talking in order to focus his inner vision exclusively on the countenance of Amida and on the magnificence of the Pure Land. As a result, he had finally attained birth in Paradise. But, continued Raiko, Chiko was still disordered in mind and body and his good deeds were few. Since it seemed impossible for him to be born there as well, he should return home straightaway.
Chiko began to lament, begging to know how it might be possible for someone like him to achieve birth in the Western Paradise, whereupon Raiko, replying that Chiko should ask that question of the Buddha himself, guided Chiko to Amida. Amida told Chiko that it was necessary to devote one's full attention to an inner visualization of the extraordinary excellences of the Buddha (Amida) and the sublimity of the Pure Land in order to attain birth there. When Chiko confessed that he could not hold in his mind's eye the mysterious and limitless vision of the Western Paradise-- that this was a feat beyond the capabilities of ordinary men-- Amida held out his right hand and revealed a miniature Paradise in his palm.
Immediately upon waking from the dream, Chiko went to an artist and had him paint the vision of the Pure Land as it had appeared in the dream. The monk devoted the rest of his life to a contemplation of this mandala and finally achieved rebirth in the Western Paradise."
PARABLE 024: COMPASSION (ANIMAL SANCTUARY)
From Patriarch Hsuan-tsang's Records of the Western Regions:
"The lord of Varanasi once hunted and killed many deer on this land. The deer king implored him to stop the unnecessary killing and promised that each day he himself would give the lord the number of deer which he required. One day, he was faced with the necessity of sending a pregnant deer. Rather than sacrifice her with her unborn child, the deer king went to the lord to offer his own flesh instead. The lord was so moved by the deer king's compassion that he stopped the daily killing and gave it the land. Hence it was named the Deer Park."
Note: The Deer King was Buddha Sakyamuni in a previous life. His great act of compassion was met by an equally lofty act which resulted in the creation of an animal sanctuary and a pilgrimage site.
PARABLE 025: COMPASSION (THE HIMALAYAN PARROT)
"In a thicket at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains there once lived a parrot together with many other animals and birds. One day a fire started in the thicket from the friction of bamboos in a strong wind and the birds and animals were in frightened confusion. The parrot, feeling compassion for their fright and suffering, and [remembering] the kindness he had received in the bamboo thicket where he could shelter himself, tried to do all he could to save them. He dipped himself in a pond nearby and flew over the fire and shook off the drops of water to extinguish the fire. He repeated this diligently with a heart of compassion [for all the animals in the thicket]. This spirit of compassion and self-sacrifice was noticed by a heavenly god who came down from the sky and said to the parrot: 'You have a gallant mind, but what good do you expect to accomplish by a few drops of water against this great fire?' The parrot answered: 'There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by the spirit of compassion and self-sacrifice. I will try over and over again and then over in the next life.' The great god was impressed by the parrot's spirit and they together extinguished the fire." (The Teaching of the Buddha)
PARABLE 026: CULTIVATION (EASY PATH)
Pure Land School.
"The ancients used to say, by way of comparison: Practicing other methods is as difficult and laborious as an ant climbing a high mountain; reciting the Buddha's name seeking rebirth in the Pure Land is as swift and easy as a boat sailing downstream in the direction of the blowing wind.
Moreover, once reborn there, living in an auspicious and peaceful environment, always in the company of Buddha Amitabha and the Bodhisattvas, the practitioner will swiftly achieve success in whatever Dharma method he chooses. He is like a log rolling down a high mountain, which just keeps going and never stops, even for a moment."
Master Tam: 236
PARABLE 027: CULTIVATION (METAPHYSICAL SPECULATIONS)
Arrow Smeared With Poison
"It is as if a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and kinsmen were to get a surgeon to heal him, and he were to say, I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know by what man I was wounded, whether he is of the warrior caste, or a brahmin, or of the agricultural, or the lowest caste. Or if he were to say, I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know of what name or family the man is -- or whether he is tall, or short, or of middle height ...Before knowing all this, that man would die. Similarly, it is not on the view that the world is eternal, that it is finite, that body and soul are distinct, or that the Buddha exists after death that a religious life depends.
Whether these views or their opposites are held, there is still rebirth, there is old age, there is death, and grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow, and despair...I have not spoken to these views because they do not conduce to an absence of passion, to tranquility, and Nirvana. And what have I explained?
'Suffering have I explained, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering, and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering have I explained. For this is useful.'"
PARABLE 028: CULTIVATION (MIND AND BODY)
"The Buddha said:
'There was once someone who, plagued by ceaseless sexual desire, wished to castrate himself. The Buddha said to him, 'To cut off your sexual organs would not be as good as to 'cut off' your mind. Your mind is like a supervisor: if the supervisor stops, his employees will also quit. If the deviant mind is not stopped, what good does it do to cut off the organs?'"
Master Hsuan Hua/77: 62
PARABLE 029: CULTIVATION (MIND EMPTY & STILL)
Once upon a time there was a Zen monk who practiced in a deserted mountain area.
"Lonely and isolated, he had a deluded thought, wishing to have some fellow monks practicing along with him to make life more bearable. Immediately, an old woman appeared from nowhere, leading two beautiful young girls by the hand, who, she said, lived in the village down in the valley. They had come to seek guidance in the Way. The monk, unsuspicious, immediately gave a Dharma talk to the group. One day, after many such visits over a period of time, the old woman respectfully requested that the two girls be allowed to become attendants to the monk and relieve him of his daily chores. The monk, hearing this, became suspicious. He reprimanded the old woman severely and refused the offer. The three women left, looking angry and ashamed.
The monk, intrigued, followed them discreetly until they disappeared around a bend in the road. When he reached the spot, he found it was a dead end with no habitation or anything else around, except for three very old trees, one big tree and two smaller ones. He thought it over and realized that he had been 'tested.' A fleeting thought occurred to him, that he should cut down the trees, start a bonfire, and burn them to the ground. At that moment, the three women reappeared, repentant, begging him to forgive them and spare their lives.
Therefore, the cultivator should remember: when the mind is still, all realms are calm; when delusion arises, demons are born."
Master Tam: 211
PARABLE 030: CULTIVATION (MONKS AND KINGS)
Once the Chinese Emperor Mu Chung of the Tang dynasty, impressed by the level of cultivation of National Master Wu Yeh invited him to come for an audience. To just about any subject, this would have been an overwhelming honor. However, the master kept refusing because he did not want to be disturbed by worldly matters. So the emperor told his envoy, "If you cannot persuade Master Wu Yeh to come, you will have to forfeit your life." The envoy sought out the master and tearfully asked for his cooperation.
The monk, unable to refuse the request at this point, said, "All right, I will go." So he gathered the whole assembly and asked his followers, "Who would like to join me for an audience with the emperor?" When a disciple raised his hand, the master asked, "How many miles can you travel in one day?" The disciple answered, "Fifty." The monk said, "That's not good enough". A second disciple was asked the same question and said, "Sixty-five," to which the monk replied again, "That's not good enough." A third disciple said, "Seventy miles," and for the third time, the monk said, "That's not good enough."
Then a young monk raised his hand and said, "I will go wherever you go, Master." So the Master did his ablutions, then went back and sat on his elevated seat, entered Samadhi and expired on the spot, in a seated position. The young monk, seeing that, said, "Oh, Master, you have gone. Let me go too." And he expired standing.
This anecdote illustrates that truly accomplished monks are free of mundane preoccupations --beyond Birth and Death.
PARABLE 031: CULTIVATION (SUKHAVATI / PURE LAND)
When Buddha Sakyamuni was alive, during His many travels, a group of devotees sought to join His order. He assigned two of the most promising to Maha-kasyapa, the highest in wisdom among Arhats. Maha-kasysapa accordingly taught the first disciple the breath-counting meditation (to counter mind-scattering) and assigned to the second disciple the meditation on corpses (to extinguish desire).
A long time elapsed however but despite their best efforts, neither of the two achieved any breakthrough. The Buddha, having learnt of this, met with them and asked the first one: "When you were at home, before you cut your hair, what was your family doing for a living?" "Lord Buddha, my father and my grandfather before him were gate-keepers at our local charnel-ground (cemetery)," came the reply. "And what were you doing for a living?" the Buddha inquired of the other. "Since a young age, I helped my father in his work," came the reply. "I fanned the fire in my father's kiln." The Buddha then and there decided to switch the meditation topics of the disciples based on their previous experiences. The first one was reassigned the meditation on corpses and the second the counting of the breath practice. In a short time, both made significant progress and ultimately achieved liberation.
This story illustrates the crucial role of a good spiritual advisor--as even Maha-kasyapa, the wisest of Arhats, could err. Since Buddha Amitabha and the highest Bodhisattvas themselves are teachers and guides in Sukhavati (the Land of Bliss), the Buddha taught that rebirth in this Pure Land is the safest shortcut to Enlightenment and Buddhahood. Editor: na
PARABLE 032: HUMAN CONDITION (DARK NIGHT OF SUFFERING)
The Buddha compares the human condition to that of a traveller on a stormy night. Only from time to time does the dark night give way to a flash of lightning. Suffering (dukkha) is like the dark night that surrounds the traveller, while the flashes of lightning are those rare occasions of joy that excite the human mind (birth, marriage, a promotion, etc.). Editor: na
PARABLE 033: DELUSION
"The human excrement that we consider fetid and dirty is regarded as fragrant, clean and succulent by animals such as insects and worms--because of their deluded karma. They therefore compete and struggle to gobble it up. The defiled desires of this world are considered by humans as lovely and clean. However, the Gods and Immortals see them as foul-smelling, dirty and unclean, not unlike the way human beings regard insects and worms eating filthy substances. The various desires of sentient beings, defiled and upside down, are generally thus. The practitioner should strive gradually to destroy them."
Master Tam: 145
PARABLE 034: KING BIMBISARA AND PRINCE AJATASATRU
"According to the Parinirvana Sutra, since King Bimbisara had no heir by his wife Vaidehi, he consulted a diviner, who said that there was a hermit presently living in the mountains who, after he died, would be reborn as Bimbisara's son. Bimbisara was so impatient for the birth of an heir that he had the hermit killed. Shortly after, Vaidehi conceived, but the diviner foretold that the child would become the king's enemy.' In fear of this child, the king dropped him from atop a tower [but the child survived the fall]... It is said that as a young man Ajatasatru was persuaded to rebel against his father by Devadatta, who told him the story of his birth...Together with Devadatta, he contrived a double conspiracy: since Devadatta was eager to take over the leadership of the Buddhist order, he was to murder the Buddha, and Ajatasattu was to kill his own father. The plot was discovered. Bimbisara pardoned his son and ceded him the throne. Ajatasattu, nevertheless, did not feel secure with his father still alive and had him incarcerated and starved together with his wife, Queen Vaidehi." (Sham: 3). "After Bimbisara's death, Ajatasatru came to regret his conduct deeply. Tormented by guilt over the death of his father, he broke out in virulent sores during the second month of his fiftieth year, and it was predicted that he would die in the third month. At the advice of his physician and minister Jivaka, he sought out Sakyamuni Buddha who taught him the doctrines of the Parinirvana Sutra, enabling him to eradicate his evil karma and prolong his life."
Note: The story of King Bimbisara and Prince Ajatasattru appears at the beginning of the Meditation Sutra, a key Pure Land text.
PARABLE 035: DEMONS OF THE MIND
In his Awakening of the Faith Treatise, the patriarch Asvaghosa (first century) admonished:
"There may be some disciples whose root of merit is not yet mature, whose control of mind is weak and whose power of application is limited -- and yet who are sincere in their purpose to seek enlightenment -- these for a time may be beset and bewildered by maras and evil influences who are seeking to break down their good purpose. Such disciples, seeing seductive sights, attractive girls, strong young men, must constantly remind themselves that all such tempting and alluring things are mind-made, and, if they do this, their tempting power will disappear and they will no longer be annoyed. Or, if they have visions of heavenly gods and Bodhisattvas and Buddhas surrounded by celestial glories, they should remind themselves that these, too, are mind-made and unreal. Or, if they should be uplifted and excited by listening to mysterious Dharanis, to lectures upon the paramitas, to elucidations of the great principles of the Mahayana, they must remind themselves that these also are emptiness and mind-made, that in their essence they are Nirvana itself. Or, if they should have intimations within that they have attained transcendental powers, recalling past lives, or foreseeing future lives, or, reading others' thoughts, or freedom to visit other Buddha-lands, or great powers of eloquence, all of [these] may tempt them to become covetous for worldly power and riches and fame. Or, they may be tempted by extremes of emotion, at times angry, at other times joyous, or at times very kind-hearted and compassionate, at other times the very opposite, or at times alert and purposeful, at other times indolent and stupid, at times full of faith and zealous in their practice, at other times engrossed in other affairs and negligent. All of [these] will keep them vacillating, at times experiencing a kind of fictitious samadhi, such as the heretics boast of, but not the true samadhi. Or later, when they are quite advanced [they] become absorbed in trances for a day, or two, or even seven, not partaking of any food but upheld by inward food of their spirit, being admired by their friends and feeling very comfortable and proud and complacent, and then later becoming very erratic, sometimes eating little, sometimes greedily, the expression of their face constantly changing. Because of all such strange manifestations and developments in the course of their practices, disciples should be on guard to keep the mind under constant control. They should neither grasp after nor become attached to the passing and unsubstantial things of the senses or concepts and moods of the mind. If they do this they will be able to keep far away from the hindrances of karma."(Wei-tao, tr., in Goddard, A Buddhist Bible. p.402-403)
See also Parable: The Horizontal Path (no. 062)
PARABLE 036: DEMON OF SORROW & SADNESS
"Long ago in China there was a layman who had engaged in meditation for some thirty years. One day, he suddenly attained the faculty of transcendental vision. At the beginning, he would see through walls; later on, he could see things within a few dozen miles as clearly as though they were in front of his eyes. Realizing that he had achieved 'transcendental vision,' he was very astonished and happy! As time went on, he was not only able to 'see' but also 'hear' the voices of human beings and animals from far away. This is transcendental hearing, which develops after transcendental vision. As time went by, he could see and hear things that occurred within a radius of several thousand miles. Still later, he was able to predict future events. Thus, he 'knew' in advance of a war between two neighboring kingdoms and 'witnessed' the pitiful sight of countless dead and dying among the populace. He was so moved that he would weep and lament to whomever he met, 'A great, violent uprising is going to occur. There will be massacres and utter misery. The people deserve pity and compassion. How can they be helped?' At the time, everyone who heard him thought he was insane. Later on, however, war and rebellion did occur as he had predicted. Even when the disturbances were over, he continued to go around lamenting.
A respected Master once commented: 'This is a case of possession by the 'demons of sorrow and sadness.' The cultivator who has reached a certain high level of practice suddenly develops 'transcendental vision.' He should reflect it toward the Self-Nature, not letting Worldly Dusts move and disturb his mind. He should realize that these psychic powers have always been in his possession and should therefore not be unduly happy or astonished or consider them strange and wonderful occurrences.'"
Master Tam: 205
PARABLE 037: THE DHARMA IS PRICELESS
"At that time Sessen Doji (a previous incarnation of Buddha Sakyamuni) had mastered the Brahman and other non-Buddhist teachings but had not yet heard of Buddhism. The god Indra decided to test his resolve. He appeared before Sessen Doji in the form of a hungry demon and recited half a verse from a Buddhist teaching: 'All is changeable, nothing is constant. This is the law of Birth and Death.' Hearing this, Sessen Doji begged the demon to tell him the second half. The demon agreed but demanded his flesh and blood in payment. Sessen Doji gladly consented and the demon taught him the latter half of the verse: 'Extinguishing the cycle of Birth and Death, one enters the joy of Nirvana.' Sessen Doji scrawled this teaching on the rocks and trees for the sake of others who might pass by, and then jumped from a tall tree into the demon's mouth. Just at that moment the Demon changed back into the god Indra and caught him before he fell. He praised Sessen Doji's willingness to give his life for the Dharma and predicted that he would certainly attain Buddhahood." Sokk: 374
PARABLE 038: DHARMAKARA/ THE FUTURE AMITABHA BUDDHA
"In the sacred Buddhist texts of [Asia], the Longer Amitabha Sutra concerns Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land. On a certain occasion, Sakyamuni Buddha (the Buddha of our present age) was on Vulture Peak, surrounded by his disciples. Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant, noticed the radiant beauty of Buddha and inquired about the cause of the Buddha's joy. Sakyamuni related the following story: In an infinite time in the past, Bhiksu Dharmakara observed the misery of all sentient beings, and moved by compassion, vowed to establish a pure and perfect land where all could be liberated from their suffering. He then made forty-eight Vows in which he promised to establish this land or else he would not attain Enlightenment. The Sutra states that Bhiksu Dharmakara practiced for many eons until he accomplished all his vows. Since he has achieved his aims, he is the Buddha of that land--The Buddha of Infinite Light and Life."
PARABLE 039: (OF) DREAMS AND ILLUSIONS
"There was once a monk who spent a good deal of effort and money hiring stonecutters, carpenters and masons to build a large temple complex on top of a mountain. As soon as the temple was completed, the monk, by then completely exhausted, became gravely ill. Before passing away, he requested his disciples to carry him around the temple on a hammock, as he touched each and every stone, weeping and lamenting!"
Note: External dharmas (things, events, etc.) are illusory and dream-like. A cultivator should let go of them, and avoid bringing suffering upon himself and others.
PARABLE 040: ELEPHANT AND BLIND MEN
"It is said that a group of blind men, each touching a different part of an elephant, argued among themselves as to what its shape was".
To most people the blind men were indeed wrong; yet in another sense, they were also right because what each felt and described was indeed an aspect of the elephant. On the higher level of noumenon, since "all is one and one is all" (Avatamsaka sutra), each aspect in fact represents the whole and therefore the blind men, although wrong, were also right.
PARABLE 041: IMPERMANENCE (THE ETERNAL POTTER)
"Deeply grieved over the death of his old grandmother, King Kosala approached Buddha and said that he would have given everything within his means to save his grandmother who had been as a mother to him. The Buddha consoled him, saying: 'All beings are mortal; they end with death, they have death in prospect. All the vessels wrought by the potter, whether they are baked or unbaked, are breakable; they finish broken, they have breakage in prospect.'" (Narada Maha Thera)
PARABLE 042: ETERNITY
A simile, used in a discourse of Buddha, is as follows: "Suppose, O monks, there was a huge rock of one solid mass, one mile long, one mile wide, one mile high, without split or flaw. And at the end of every 100 years a fairy should come and rub against it with a silken cloth. Then that huge rock would wear off and disappear quicker than a Kalpa [eon].' Of such world-periods, according to Buddha, there have been many hundred thousands. In the Buddhist view of things, there is no limitation to the process of world-dissolution, chaos, world-formation and world-continuation, nor to the number of Buddhas who will appear in the course of this process."
PARABLE 043: EXPEDIENT TEACHINGS
"In one birth long ago, as told in the Dummedha Jataka, the Buddha, a prince of Benares, was appalled by the sacrificial massacre of sheep, goats, pigs, and other animals, in accordance with Vedic ritual. Each year, until the death of his father, he performed his own rituals--without killing animals to the spirit of a special banyan tree. After the death of his father, he ascended the throne and revealed to his subjects the nature of his worship at the tree, announcing that he had promised to offer to the tree the lives of one thousand humans who violated the precept of nonviolence. Once this proclamation had been made, all the townfolk forever renounced the practice of animal sacrifice. Thus, without harming a single one of his subjects, the Bodhisattva made them observe the precepts."
PARABLE 044: TRUTH (EYES OF THE BEHOLDER)
"One leisurely evening, a king asked a certain courtier, 'You appear to be a man of integrity. Why is it that you are the target of so much criticism, slander and hatred?'
The official replied, 'Your Majesty, when the torrential rains of spring arrive, farmers are elated because their fields are well-irrigated. Pedestrians, on the other hand, are unhappy because the streets are muddy and slippery. When the summer moon is as clear and bright as a mirror, poets and writers rejoice at the opportunity to travel and compose couplets and poems, while thieves and felons are distressed at the brightness of the moonlight! If even the impartial heaven and earth are the object of blame and resentment, love and hate, how can this subject of yours, imperfect and full of blemishes, escape denigration and criticism?
'Thus, I venture to think, we should remain calm in the face of praise or criticism, think it over, and not rush to believe it. If a king believes gossip, his subjects lose their lives; if parents believe gossip, their children are hurt; if brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, believe words of gossip, they experience separation; if relatives, friends and neighbors believe gossip, they sever relations with one another. Fault-finding is really more noxious than snakes and serpents, sharper than swords and knives, killing without spilling a single drop of blood.'
According to the judgement of history, this courtier was a disloyal official; however, his answer was sound and reasonable, and a worthy example for later generations. It is therefore still quoted today."
Master Tam: 154-5
PARABLE 045: PURE LAND (FAITH / VOWS / PRACTICE)
"During the Later Lê dynasty in Vietnam, there was a certain monk at the Temple of Light who diligently practiced Buddha Recitation, but had not vowed in earnest to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. After his death, so the story goes, he was reborn as a prince in Ch'ing dynasty China. At his birth, he had certain red spots on his shoulders pointing to his previous incarnation. A hermit summoned to the palace prophesized that these spots would disappear only if they were washed away with water taken from a well at the Temple. Years later, while scrubbing the red spots with water taken from the well, the prince was moved to compose a poem with the following lines:
'I was originally a disciple of Amitabha Buddha in the West, Why have I now strayed into a royal household?'
Although the prince was aware of his previous life as a novice practicing Buddha Recitation at the Temple of Light, in his high royal position, enjoying countless blessings and pleasures, he could not, in the end, pursue his cultivation. Such are the unhappy results of reciting the Buddha's name while lacking Faith and Vows!"
Master Tam: 97
['West' means Vietnam, which is Southwest of China. It also refers to Amitabha's Pure Land].
PARABLE 046: FATAL WORDS
"The Kokalika Jataka tells that many years ago in Benares, the king had a bad habit of talking too much. A wise and valued minister decided to teach the king a lesson. A cuckoo, rather than rearing her own young, had laid an egg in a crow's nest. The mother crow, thinking the egg to be one of her own, watched over the egg until it hatched and then fed the young infant bird. Unfortunately, one day, while not yet grown, the small intruder uttered the distinct call of the cuckoo. The mother crow grew alarmed, pecked the young cuckoo with her beak, and tossed it from her nest. It landed at the feet of the king, who turned to his minister. 'What is the meaning of this?' he asked. The wise minister (the future Buddha) replied that: 'They that with speech inopportune offend/Like the young cuckoo meet untimely end./No deadly poison, nor sharp-whetted sword/Is half so fatal as ill-spoken word.'
The king, having learned his lesson, tempered his speech, and avoided a possible overthrow of his rule. In his commentary, the Buddha notes that he was the wise minister and the talkative king one of his garrulous monks, Kokalika." Tucker: 136
PARABLE 047: FAULT-FINDING (GOOD SPIRITUAL ADVISOR)
According to the Brahma Net and Avatamsaka Sutras, we should ignore appearances and external forms when seeking a good teacher. For example, we should disregard such traits as youth, poverty, low status or lack of education, unattractive appearance or incomplete features, but should simply seek someone conversant with the Dharma, who can be of benefit to us. Nor should we find fault with good spiritual advisors for acting in certain ways, as it may be due to a number of reasons, such as pursuing a hidden cultivation practice or following an expedient teaching. Or else, they may act the way they do because while their achievements may be high, their residual bad habits have not been extinguished. If we grasp at forms and look for faults, we will forfeit benefits on the path of cultivation.
'Thus, when Buddha Sakyamuni was still alive, the Bhikshu Kalodayin was in the habit of moving his jaws like a buffalo; a certain Bhikshuni used to look at herself in the mirror and adorn herself; another Bhikshu liked to climb trees and jump from one branch to another; still another always addressed others in a loud voice, with condescending terms and appellations.
In truth, however, all four had reached the stage of Arhatship. It is just that one of them was a buffalo in a previous life, another was a courtesan, another was a monkey, and still another belonged to the Brahman class. They were accustomed to these circumstances throughout many lifetimes, so that even when they had attained the fruits of Arhatship, their residual habits still lingered.
'We also have the example of the Sixth Patriarch of Zen. Realizing that the cultivators of his day were attached to a literal reading of the sutras and did not immediately recognize their Buddha Nature, he took the form of an ignorant and illiterate person selling wood in the marketplace. Or else, take the case of a famous Zen Master who, wishing to avoid external conditions and concentrate on his cultivation, took the expedient appearance of a ragged lunatic, raving and ranting. As a result, both distinguished Masters were criticized during their lifetimes. The Sixth Patriarch was faulted for his ignorance, while the Zen monk was called insane and berserk. Therefore, finding a good spiritual advisor is a difficult task indeed."
Note: The story is told in the sutras of a group of people lost in a deep, dark ravine. Among them is a leper who happens to have a torch. A wise person would suppress his revulsion and follow the leper to safety.
PARABLE 048: FIXED KARMA (MONK AND KILLER)
"There was an Elder Master who practiced assiduously. Thanks to such diligence, auspicious signs would appear wherever he went. One day, a vagrant appeared, requesting permission to stay overnight at the temple. The monk, being endowed with spiritual penetration, glanced at the man and told his young assistant, 'This man is a criminal; let him eat his fill and tell him to go elsewhere.' However, the novice, being compassionate, was swayed by the man's repeated supplications and did not have the heart to follow his Master's instructions. Sure enough, a few days later, the man slipped furtively into the master's room in the middle of the night, broke his arms and legs and killed him. He then stole a few things from the temple and disappeared. The ancients have commented that such occurrences are the result of 'fixed karma' and are virtually unavoidable."
Master Tam: 244
Note: "The doctrine of karma repudiates any notion of 'fate' or 'fixed destiny,' inasmuch as these circumstances and our response to them are constantly changing. Clearly, then, everyone has the potential at each moment to alter the course of his future karma. Within the period of a single lifetime, however, every being has in addition to his mutable karma a particular 'fixed karma,' as for example the species and race into which he is born. These karmic traits, though set for life, are then recast at the next rebirth in accordance with the individual's ever-ripening past actions" (P.Kapleau). Negating the impact of such fixed karma requires extremely diligent practice, which is practically beyond the capacity of most people. Thus, the need for reliance on both self-power and Other-power, the assistance of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Editor: na
PARABLE 049: FIXED KARMA (BIMBISARA)
"After his conversion [to Buddhism, Bimbisara, the King of Magadha at the time of the Buddha], led the life of an exemplary monarch. Vaidehi, daughter of King Maha Kosala and sister of King Pasenadi Kosala, was his chief loyal queen. Ajatasattu was their son...Though Bimbisara was a pious monarch, yet, due to his past evil karma, he had a very sad and pathetic end.
Prince Ajatasattu, successor to the throne, instigated by wicked Devadatta Thera, attempted to kill him and usurp the throne. The unfortunate prince was caught red-handed, and the compassionate father, instead of punishing him for his brutal act, rewarded him with the coveted crown. The ungrateful son showed his gratitude to his father by casting him into prison in order to starve him to death. His mother alone had free access to the King daily. The loyal queen carried food concealed in her waist-pouch. To this the prince objected. Then she carried food concealed in her hair-knot. The prince resented this too. Later she bathed herself in scented water and besmeared her body with a mixture of honey, butter, ghee, and molasses. The King licked her body and sustained himself. The over-vigilant prince detected this and ordered his mother not to visit his father. King Bimbisara was without any means of sustenance, but he paced up and down enjoying spiritual happiness...Ultimately the wicked son decided to put an end to the life of his noble father. Ruthlessly he ordered his barber to cut open Bimbisara's soles and put salt and oil thereon and make him walk on burning charcoal.
The King, who saw the barber approaching, thought that the son, realizing his folly, was sending the barber to shave his long beard and hair and release him from prison. Contrary to his expectations, he had to meet an untimely sad end. The barber mercilessly executed the inhuman orders of the barbarous prince. The good King died in great agony.
On that very day a son was born unto Ajatasattu. Letters conveying the news of birth and death reached the palace at the same time. The letter conveying the happy news was first read. Lo, the love he cherished towards his first-born son was indescribable! His body was thrilled with joy and the paternal love penetrated to the very marrow of his bones.
Immediately he rushed to his beloved mother and questioned, 'Mother dear, did my father love me when I was a child?'
'What say you, son! When you were conceived in my womb, I developed a craving to sip some blood from the right hand of your father. This I dared not say. Consequently I grew pale and thin. I was finally persuaded to disclose my inhuman desire. Joyfully your father fulfilled my wish, and I drank that abhorrent potion. The soothsayers predicted that you would be an enemy of your father. Accordingly you were named Ajatasattu (unborn enemy). I attempted to effect a miscarriage, but your father prevented it. After you were born, again I wanted to kill you. Again your father interfered. On one occasion you were suffering from a boil on your finger, and nobody was able to lull you into sleep. But your father, who was administering justice in his royal court, took you into his lap and caressing you sucked the boil. Lo, inside his mouth it burst open. my dear son, that pus and blood! Yes, your affectionate father swallowed it out of love for you.'
Instantly Ajatasattu cried, 'Run and release my beloved father quickly!' His father had closed his eyes for ever. The other letter was then placed in his hand..."
Note: Law of Cause and Effect. "According to the Parinirvana Sutra, since King Bimbisara had no heir by his wife Vaidehi, he consulted a diviner, who said that there was a hermit presently living in the mountains who, after he died, would be reborn as Bimbisara's son. Bimbisara was so impatient for the birth of an heir that he had the hermit killed. Shortly after, Vaidehi conceived, but the diviner foretold that the child would become the king's enemy" (Sokk: 7-8). The story of King Bimbisara and Ajatasatru appears at the beginning of the Meditation Sutra, a key Pure Land text. It is a good illustration of the concepts of "fixed karma" and "cause and effect". For an explanation of fixed karma, see last paragraph of Parable: Fixed Karma (Monk and Killer), no. 048.
PARABLE 050: FIXED KARMA (GREAT COMPASSION DHARANI)
"There was once a man who recited the Great Compassion Dharani for about twelve years...every day at least 108 times, and sometimes many more times...
Once, while travelling, he stopped for the night at an inn. The innkeeper was a thief [who] just sat in his inn and waited for rich guests to come by. He would give them a fine room, a strong dose of drugged wine, and then, in the middle of the night...he would sneak into their rooms to rob them and sometimes even murder them. The man who recited the great Compassion Dharani believed in the Buddha, however, and so he didn't drink the wine...At about one o'clock in the morning, he heard someone slowly open the door and sneak into his room. Opening his eyes just a crack, he saw the glint of a butcher's shiny blade flash in the moonlight. 'Someone means to kill me,' he thought, paralyzed with fear. At that very moment, there was a knock on the door. The would-be murderer quickly put the blade behind his back and went to the door. 'Who is it?' he whispered. 'My name is Dou Shu Peng,' came the reply. Peeking through the keyhole, the innkeeper saw a large man dressed in a policeman's uniform. 'What do you want?' he asked nervously. 'I have come to visit my friend who is staying in this room. Won't you please tell him to stop by my house tomorrow morning for breakfast?' 'Yes, I'll do that,' said the innkeeper and the policeman left...
The innkeeper decided he had best do no murdering that night. The next morning the innkeeper told the guest, 'A friend of yours named Dou Shu Peng was by last night. He came to invite you to his house for breakfast.' 'Dou Shu Peng?...'said the guest, and then he remembered that in the Great Compassion Mantra, there is a line 'Dou Shu Peng'. 'Yes!' he exclaimed, 'I do have such a friend. I was just on my way to meet him.'"
Master Hsuan Hua/Dharani: 6
PARABLE 051: FLEETING PLEASURES
Buddha Sakyamuni compared sentient beings chasing after the fleeting pleasures of this world to a child licking honey off a sharp knife. There is no way they can avoid hurting themselves and ultimately others as well.
PARABLE 052: FLEXIBILITY IN CULTIVATION (DEDICATION OF MERIT)
"A novice once told the author that in his dreams, from time to time he would see some thirty to forty persons armed with knives and spears coming at him, striking and slashing him all over. In his daily practice, he would diligently recite mantras, alternating between the Great Compassion Dharani and the Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara Mantra, without success, as each time he recited either mantra a few times, he would develop a headache which lasted the whole day. He sought medical treatment to relieve these symptoms, to no avail. Knowing that his karma was heavy, the novice vowed to bow to the three thousand Buddhas in repentance. However, when he entered the main Buddha hall, he saw a huge, tall, fierce-looking man, who approached him and pushed him to the floor, preventing him from bowing. For this reason, he came to see the author, weeping in anguish, and asked, 'the sutras teach repentance and cultivation to extinguish bad karma, but if you are prevented from repenting and cultivating, what else are you expected to do?' This author pondered for a moment. He reflected that the novice must have committed a heavy 'killing' karma, and been responsible for many deaths in past lives. Moreover, he knew that the Great Compassion Dharani and the Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara Mantra had a powerful, beneficial effect, while vowing to bow to the three thousand Buddhas was an all-encompassing, lofty resolution. In this case, however, the novice had made the mistake of just praying and thinking of himself alone, forgetting those whom he had wronged in past lifetimes. Moreover, he was not being flexible in cultivation. This is not unlike a debilitated person suffering a heavy bout of influenza. He should take a mild analgesic, to recover little by little; instead, he begins to ingest a powerful antibiotic. This, of course, provokes a strong reaction which overwhelms him. Therefore, the author advised the novice to bow each night while reciting the short repentance liturgy, and then kneel to recite the rebirth mantra twenty-one times. After that, he should repeat the Buddha's name some five hundred times, seeking repentance, and transfer the merit to all whom he had wronged in previous existences, so that they, too, could swiftly escape the cycle of Birth and Death. He should continue this regimen for some time, and, if nothing untoward occurred, gradually increase the number of recitations. The novice followed the author's advice and as expected, his predicament was in time resolved."
Master Tam: 249
PARABLE 053: SKILL-IN-MEANS (FOREST SPIRITS)
"In the Kusanjali Jataka, the future Buddha dwelt as a clump of kusa grass near a beautiful wishing tree (Mukkhaka) with a strong trunk and spreading branches. The spirit of this tree had once been a mighty queen. The grass was an intimate friend of this noble tree. Nearby, the palace of King Brahmadatta in Benares had only one main pillar, which had become shaky. The king sent his carpenters to find wood with which to replace the pillar, and they came upon the wishing tree. They resisted cutting it down, and yet could find no alternative. When they told the king of their troubles, he told them to cut the wishing tree to make his roof secure. The carpenters went and made a sacrifice to the tree, asking for its forgiveness and announcing that they would return the next day to execute their deadly deed. The tree burst into tears, and the various spirits of the forest came to console her, yet none could think of a way to thwart the carpenters. Finally, the kusa grass Buddha called up to her and assured her that he had a plan. The next day, the kusa grass took on the personality of a chameleon and worked his way up from the roots of the tree through the branches, making the tree appear as if it were full of holes. When the carpenters came, the leader exclaimed that the tree was rotten and that they had not properly inspected it the day before. Consequently, the tree was saved. The noble tree rejoiced and lauded the lowly clump of grass for saving her life ... After telling this story, the Buddha explains that Ananda, his loyal follower, was the tree spirit, and that he, the Buddha, was the kusa grass."
PARABLE 054: KARMA (THE FOUR WIVES)
"In one of the Agama sutras, the Buddha's early sermons, there is a very interesting story:
Once there was a man who had four wives. According to the social system and circumstances of ancient India, it was possible for a man to have several wives. Also, during the Heian period in Japan, about a thousand years ago, it was not unusual for a woman to have several husbands. The Indian had become very ill and was about to die. At the end of his life, he felt very lonely and so asked the first wife to accompany him to the other world.
'My dear wife,' he said, 'I loved you day and night, I took care of you throughout my whole life. Now I am about to die. Will you please go with me wherever I go after my death?'
He expected her to answer yes. But she answered, 'My dear husband, I know you always loved me. And you are going to die. Now it is time to separate from you. Goodbye, my dear.'
He called his second wife to his sickbed and begged her to follow him in death. He said, 'My dear second wife, you know how I loved you. Sometimes I was afraid you might leave me, but I held on to you strongly. My dear, please come with me.'
The second wife expressed herself rather coldly. 'Dear husband, your first wife refused to accompany you after your death. How can I follow you? You loved me only for your own selfish sake.'
Lying in his deathbed, he called his third wife and asked her to follow him. The third wife replied, with tears in her eyes, 'My dear, I pity you and I feel sad for myself. Therefore I shall accompany you to the graveyard. This is my last duty to you.' The third wife thus also refused to follow him to death.
Three wives had refused to follow him after his death. Now he recalled that there was another wife, his fourth wife, for whom he didn't care very much. He had treated her like a slave and had always showed much displeasure with her. He now thought that if he asked her to follow him to death, she certainly would say no.
But his loneliness and fear were so severe that he made the effort to ask her to accompany him to the other world. The fourth wife gladly accepted her husband's request.
'My dear husband,' she said; 'I will go with you. Whatever happens, I am determined to be with you forever. I cannot be separated from you.'
This is the story of 'A Man and His Four Wives.'
Gautama Buddha concluded the story as follows:
'Every man and woman has four wives or husbands. What do these wives signify?
THE FIRST WIFE
The first 'wife' is our body. We love our body day and night. In the morning, we wash our face, put on clothing and shoes. We give food to our body. We take care of our body like the first wife in this story. But unfortunately, at the end of our life, the body, the first 'wife' cannot follow us to the next world. As it is stated in a commentary, 'When the last breath leaves our body, the healthy color of the face is transformed, and we lose the appearance of radiant life. Our loved ones may gather around and lament, but to no avail. When such an event occurs, the body is sent into an open field and cremated, leaving only the white ashes.' This is the destination of our body.
THE SECOND WIFE
What is the meaning of the second wife? The second 'wife' stands for our fortune, our material things, money, property, fame, position, and job that we worked hard to attain. We are attached to these material possessions. We are afraid to lose these material things and wish to possess much more. There is no limit. At the end of our life these things cannot follow us to death. Whatever fortune we have piled up, we must leave it. We came into this world with empty hands. During our life in this world, we have the illusion that we obtained a fortune. At death, our hands are empty. We can't hold our fortune after our death, just as the second wife told her husband: 'You hold me with your ego-centered selfishness. Now it is time to say goodbye.'
THE THIRD WIFE
What is meant by the third wife? Everyone has a third 'wife.' This is the relationship of our parents, sister and brother, all relatives, friends, and society. They will go as far as the graveyard, with tears in their eyes. They are sympathetic and saddened...
Thus, we cannot depend on our physical body, our fortune, and our society. We are born alone and we die alone. No one will accompany us after our death.
THE FOURTH WIFE
Sakyamuni Buddha mentioned the fourth wife, who would accompany her husband after his death. What does that mean? The fourth 'wife' is our mind [or Alaya consciousness]. When we deeply observe and recognize that our minds are filled with anger, greed, and dissatisfaction, we are having a good look at our lives. The anger, greed, and dissatisfaction are karma, the law of causation. We cannot be separated from our own karma. As the fourth wife told her dying husband, 'I will follow you wherever you go.'"
H. Seki: 106ff
PARABLE 055: GEM IN THE ROBE (BUDDHA NATURE)
Lotus Sutra (ch. 8):
A destitute man once visited the home of a close friend, seeking his help. As the two were enjoying wine together, the poor man fell asleep. Meanwhile, his host was called away on urgent business. Before departing, however, he "sewed a jewel into one corner of his friend's garment. The friend, not aware of this, made no attempt to use the jewel even when in serious straits. Then upon meeting his friend many years later, the man who had sewed it into his garment pointed it out to him and thus enabled him to get out of his difficulties."
The jewel stands for the omnipresent Buddha-Nature which we all possess as our birthright. Unaware of this, many of us do not seek Buddhahood, but settle for lesser goals. Editor: na
PARABLE 056: GHOST STORY (SAMADHI)
"Zen Master Nan-Ch'uan was meditating in a hut next to a river. One night he heard two ghosts conversing. One of them was rejoicing that his term was coming to an end because the next day someone would be replacing him. The second ghost asked, 'Who will be replacing you?' He replied, 'A man wearing an iron hat.' The master wondered to himself who this person could be. The next day there was heavy rain and the river rose to a higher level. The master looked out of his hut and saw a man about to cross the river. He had covered his head with a wok (a bowl-shaped cooking utensil) for protection against the rain. Immediately, the master knew that this was the man of the iron hat, so he cautioned him saying, 'Don't cross the river today. It's too dangerous.' The man asked, 'Why?' 'Because the water is very deep and running rapidly.' The man listened to the old monk's advice and returned home. You must understand that in Chinese lore, water ghosts are prisoners until another person drowns and takes their place. That night as he was meditating, the master heard the two ghosts again. This time the first ghost was complaining, 'I have been stuck here for so many years, and I thought my chance for freedom had finally come. But now the old monk interfered and messed everything up. I'll show him what I can do.' (Master Sheng-yen)
Upon hearing this exchange, the master immediately entered samadhi. He saw the demons enter, exit and go around his hut, as if searching for someone. However, thanks to the fact that his mind in samadhi was empty and still, 'not influenced by the environment, no longer tied to mental objects,' the demons could not see him. Discouraged, they finally left." Master Tam: 205
PARABLE 057: GODDESS OF WEALTH / GODDESS OF POVERTY
"Once a beautiful and well-dressed woman visited a house. The master of the house asked her who she was and she replied that she was the goddess of wealth. The master of the house was delighted and so greeted her with open arms. Soon after another woman appeared who was ugly looking and poorly dressed. The master asked who she was and the woman replied that she was the goddess of poverty. The master was frightened and tried to drive her out of the house, but the woman refused to depart, saying, 'The goddess of wealth is my sister. There is an agreement between us that we are never to live apart; if you chase me out, she is to go with me.' Sure enough, as soon as the ugly woman went out, the other woman disappeared.
Birth goes with death. Fortune goes with misfortune. Bad things follow good things. Men should realize this. Foolish people dread misfortune and strive after good fortune, but those who seek Enlightenment must transcend both of them." ( from The Teaching of the Buddha)
PARABLE 058: GOOD ROOTS (GOOD KARMA)
"There was once an old man who wanted to leave home [to become a Buddhist monk]. Although he was about seventy or eighty years old, couldn't get around well, and was aware of his impending death, he thought he could easily leave home and be a High Master of Buddhism. When he arrived at Jetavana, the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary, he found that Sakyamuni Buddha had gone out to receive offerings. His disciples, the Arhats, opened their heavenly eyes and took a look at this man's past karma. Seeing that he hadn't done a single good deed in the past eighty-thousand great aeons, they told him that he couldn't leave home. When he heard this,the old man's heart turned cold and he ran, thinking, 'If I can't leave home, I'll kill myself.' Just as he was about to throw himself into the ocean, Sakyamuni Buddha caught him and said, 'What are you doing?'
'I wanted to leave home,' cried the man, 'but the Buddha wasn't at the Garden, and the great Bhiksus told me that I couldn't because I have no good roots. My life is meaningless. I'm too old to work, and no one takes care of me. I might as well be dead.' Sakyamuni Buddha said, 'Don't throw yourself into the ocean. I'll accept you.' 'You will?' said the man. 'Who are you? Do you have the authority?'
Sakyamuni Buddha said, 'I am the Buddha, and those Bhiksus are my disciples; none of them will object.' The old man wiped his eyes and blew his nose. 'There's hope for me,' he said.
The old man's head was shaved. He became a monk and immediately certified to the first stage of Arhatship. Why? When he heard that he couldn't leave home, he had decided to drown himself; although he didn't really die, he was as good as dead. 'I've already thrown myself into the sea,' he said, and relinquished all his attachment to life. He saw right through everything, won his independence, and certified to the first stage of Arhatship.
This bothered the Bhiksus. 'How strange,' they murmured, 'the man has no good roots. We wouldn't let him leave home, but the Buddha accepted him and now he's certified to Arhatship. People without good roots can't do that. Such a contradiction in the Teaching will never do. Let's go ask the Buddha.'
Then they went before the Buddha, bowed reverently, and asked, 'We are basically clear-minded. How could that old man without good roots certify to Arhatship? How can the Buddha-Dharma be so inconsistent?'
Sakyamuni Buddha said, 'As Arhats you see only the events of the past eighty thousand great aeons. More than eighty thousand aeons ago, the old man was a firewood gatherer. One day in the mountains he was attacked by a tiger and quickly climbed a tree. The tiger leaped and snapped his jaws, but missed.
'This tiger, however, was smarter than the average tiger, 'I'll show you,' it said. 'I'll chew through the trunk of the tree and when it falls I'll eat you.' Now, if a mouse can gnaw through wood, how much the more so can a tiger. Tigers can make powder out of human bones. It chewed halfway through the tree and terrified the old man whose life was hanging by a thread. Then he remembered, 'In times of danger, people recite the Buddha's name' and he called out, NAMO BUDDHA!...
After that incident, the old man forgot to recite, and so on this side of eighty thousand great aeons, he failed to plant good roots. However, the one cry of NAMO BUDDHA was the good seed which has now ripened and allowed him to leave home and certify to the fruit [of sainthood]."
Master Hsuan Hua: 22
PARABLE 059: SUKHAVATI
"The Longer Amitabha Sutra ... which was in existence around A.D. 200, describes a discourse offered by the Buddha Sakyamuni ... in response to questions of his disciple Ananda. Sakyamuni tells the story of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, who had for eons past been deeply moved by the suffering of sentient beings and who had determined to establish a Land of Bliss where all beings could experience emancipation from their pain ... In the presence of the eighty-first Buddha of the past, Lokesvararaja, Dharmakara made forty-eight vows relating to this Paradise, and promised that he would not accept Enlightenment if he could not achieve his goals ... When, after countless ages, Dharmakara achieved Enlightenment and became a Buddha, the conditions of his [18th] vow were fulfilled: he became the Lord of Sukhavati, the Western Paradise, where the faithful will be reborn in bliss, there to progress through stages of increasing awareness until they finally achieve Enlightenment." (Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis, in Joji Okazaki, Pure Land Buddhist Painting, p. 14-15.)
PARABLE 060: DELUSION
The following parable illustrates the fleeting nature of life and its alluring pleasures.
"A man was forcing his way through a thick forest beset with thorns and stones. Suddenly to his great consternation, an elephant appeared and gave chase. He took to his heels through fear, and seeing a well, he ran to hide in it. But to his horror he saw a viper at the bottom of the well. However, lacking other means of escape, he jumped into the well, and clung to a thorny creeper that was growing in it. Looking up, he saw two mice--a white one and black one--gnawing at the creeper. Over his face there was a beehive from which occasional drops of honey trickled.
This man, foolishly unmindful of this precarious position, was greedily tasting the honey. A kind person volunteered to show him a path of escape. But the greedy man begged to be excused till he had enjoyed himself.
The thorny path is Samsara, the ocean of life. Man's life is not a bed of roses. It is beset with difficulties and obstacles to overcome, with opposition and unjust criticism, with attacks and insults to be borne. Such is the thorny path of life.
The elephant here resembles death; the viper, old age; the creeper, birth; the two mice, night and day. The drops of honey correspond to the fleeting sensual pleasures. The man represents the so-called being. The kind person represents the Buddha.
Temporary material happiness is merely the gratification of some desire. When the desired thing is gained, another desire arises. Insatiate are all desires. Sorrow is essential to life, and cannot be evaded./ Nirvana, being non-conditioned, is [quiescent]."
Narada Maha Thera: 294
PARABLE 061: THE BRAHMA NET SUTRA
According to tradition, around the time that Bodhidharma arrived in China (6th century), the Indian Master Paramartha, who was residing in China, heard of the existence of a text that taught the moral code of the Bodhisattvas. He immediately returned to India and succeeded in acquiring the entire Brahma Net Sutra -- all 61 chapters, comprised of 120 fascicles. However, as Paramartha was sailing toward China with his treasure, a sudden storm arose and his ship began to sink. Piece by piece, all baggage was thrown overboard, but to no avail. Finally, Paramartha had no choice but to let go of the Brahma Net Sutra -- after which the ship miraculously righted itself. Paramartha then realized the sad truth: the people of the "Eastern Kingdom" (China) were not yet ready for the Brahma Net Sutra.
Note: The Brahma Net Sutra expounds the precepts of the Bodhisattvas, those higher beings who seek Enlightenment for all.
PARABLE 062: THE HORIZONTAL PATH
Suppose we have a worm, born inside a stalk of a bamboo. To escape, it can take the hard way and crawl "vertically" all the way to the top of the stalk. Alternatively, it can poke a hole near its current location and escape "horizontally" into the big, wide world. The horizontal escape, for sentient beings, is to seek rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.
PARABLE 063: HUMAN CONDITION (WORMS IN ROTTEN APPLES)
To illustrate the point that suffering is an inevitable part of our world, consider the example, adapted from the sutras, of worms feeding on rotten apples. The worms are 'running' hither and thither among the apples, each worm 'elbowing' the others for a better spot, a larger piece of the rotten matter. They all feel their actions necessary and desirable. They all seem very busy and very happy. To us humans, however, theirs is indeed a pitiable lot.
The human condition is the same from the viewpoint of celestials, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas--such a pitiful sight indeed, whether of beggars or presidential hopefuls!
PARABLE 064: THE TRUE GOAL OF MEDITATION
"We could use a parable to describe the process of teaching meditation. When people first come along to learn to meditate, they quite often ask 'What is the goal of meditation?' You wouldn't usually reply, straight off, 'Well, the goal of meditation is to become like a Buddha', because that's the last thing most people want to be. They're not interested in anything religious or spiritual; they just want peace of mind in the midst of their everyday life and work. And it's perfectly true to say that meditation gives you peace of mind. But when they've been through meditation, then they might ask 'Well, is this all, or is there something more to meditation?' That would be the right time to say 'Yes, there is something more. Peace of mind in the ordinary psychological sense is not the final goal of meditation, but only an intermediate stage. Beyond it there's a spiritual goal-- Supreme Enlightenment or Buddhahood.' Here 'peace of mind' is the magic city in which the traveller is nourished and allowed to rest for the long journey to Enlightenment."
PARABLE 065: CIRCLE OF LIGHT
"This method of Buddha Recitation was specially designed for certain practitioners who, as soon as they close their eyes to recite, suddenly see filthy forms and marks (ugly grimacing faces, for example), or dark forms and colors swirling around. With this technique, the practitioner, while reciting the Buddha's name, visualizes himself seated in the middle of an immense, brilliant zone of light. Within that zone of light, when his mind has quieted down, the practitioner feels bright and refreshed. At that time, not only have deluded thoughts been annihilated, but filthy, evil forms have also disappeared. After that, right thought is reinforced and samadhi is, in time, achieved.
Although this is a special expedient to destroy evil deluded marks, even the practitioner who is not in this predicament can apply this method to clear his mind and enter deeply into the Buddha Recitation Samadhi."
Master Tam: 127-128
Note: Buddha Recitation is the main practice of the Pure Land school.
PARABLE 066: HUMAN CONDITION (BLIND TURTLE)
"The story is told in a Buddhist sutra of a lone blind turtle who dwells in the depths of a vast ocean, coming up for air only once every hundred years. On the surface of the same ocean floats a golden yoke. It is more common for the turtle to place its head through the yoke when it takes its centennial breath, the sutra says, than it is for a being imprisoned in the cycle of rebirth to be born as a human with the good fortune to encounter the teaching of the Buddha. Human birth in a Buddhist land is compared to a rare jewel, difficult to find and, if found, of great value, because it is in the human body [that one may most easily travel] the path that leads to liberation." Lopez: 266
Note: The notion that rebirth as a human being is difficult may run counter to current ideas of overpopulation. However, the Buddha was speaking on a macrocosmic level: "there are more...intestinal bacteria in your colon at this moment than there are human beings who have ever lived" (NYT Magazine, 18 April '99, p. 87).
PARABLE 067: IMPERMANENCE (HUMAN LIFE IS ONLY LONG AS ONE BREATH)
"Buddha Sakyamuni taught on many occasions that human life is only as long as one breath, because if we exhale but do not inhale, we have already died and stepped over into a new lifetime. Therefore, death awaits us at all times; behind each year, each month, each day, each hour and even each and every second lurks our impending demise. No one can predict the length of his own lifespan, as reflected in the following stanzas:
'Yesterday, at the crossroads, he still rode his horse;/ Today he lies still in his coffin!'
'Do not wait until old age to recite the Buddha's name,/ In abandoned cemeteries can be found the graves of many youths.'
These stanzas reflect the facts of life. Thus, to avoid being surprised by the God of Impermanence, let us at all times apply ourselves to earnest recitation of the Buddha's name. Only then will we escape bewilderment and confusion in our last moments."
Master Tam: 225
PARABLE 068: IMPERMANENCE (KISAGOTAMI)
"Kisagotami was married to a banker's son of considerable wealth. As a young wife, Kisagotami was mistreated by her in-laws, as new brides who moved into their husbands' home sometimes were. When she gave birth to a son, she finally received an honorable place among her husband's relatives. But her child died while still a toddler, and Kisagotami, who had never seen death before, went mad. In her state of insanity, Kisagotami took up the dead child and carried him on her hip from house to house, begging for medicine. One kind old man directed her to the Buddha. The Buddha said, 'Go and bring a white mustard seed from a house where no one has died.' Hearing his words, she immediately rushed off in the innocent faith that if she brought a white mustard seed to this enlightened sage, it would be the medicine that could miraculously bring her child back to life. Kisagotami went from house to house, at each house asking, and at each house learning that there too, someone had died. The truth struck home. Her sanity returned. 'Little son,' she said. 'I thought that death had happened to you alone; but it is not to you alone. It is common to all people.' Then, still holding the body of her child in her arms, she carried him gently to the forest and left him there."
PARABLE 069: IMPERMANENCE (A LIFE STORY)
"'You have breast cancer,' the surgeon said, a serious look on his face. I just laughed and said, 'No, I don't. The lump is nothing. You said so yourself.' 'You have breast cancer,' he repeated. All I could do was look into his eyes and say, 'It has to be a joke. I'm only twenty-seven...' I had thought that breast cancer was a disease of my mother's generation or of women who have a family history of the disease. But on February 24, six weeks after my twenty-seventh birthday, I started a war with my body.
My doctor was ashen when he broke the news to me. I stared for what seemed like hours at the picture of his daughter, who looked like me -- young, black hair, brown eyes. A lawyer, I was told. It could have been her; she could have been me. But it wasn't her. I had the disease for which there is no cure -- just treatments that might or might not work. No promises, no guarantees. At twenty-seven, I had thought I had a lifetime in front of me. The day before my biopsy, I wanted a family, kids, a house, a car. Now, three hours after the biopsy, I wanted someone to tell me how I was going to tell my friends that I might not live out the year.
I had recently attended my fifth reunion, where I caught up on what people were doing with their careers and lives. For many of us at the reunion, the fifth year after graduation, seemed to mark a transition time. We were making choices about the direction of our lives -- starting, finishing, or otherwise thinking about going to graduate school, getting married, moving... I never expected that less than a year later, I would be making decisions about how I was simply going to survive."
Barnard: Fall 97
PARABLE 070: IMPERMANENCE (WISE OFFICIAL)
"A well-known Master once advised a lay friend to recite the Buddha's name. The latter replied, 'There are three things I have not yet attended to: one, my father's coffin is not yet entombed; two, my son does not yet have a family; three, my youngest daughter is still unmarried. Let me take care of these three things and then I will follow your advice.' A few months later, the layman was struck by a grave illness and suddenly passed away. After the memorial, the monk offered a stanza in lieu of condolences: 'My friend, the wise official,/ When I advised him to recite the Buddha's name, he countered with three things;/ The three things have not been accomplished,/ Yet impermanence has already snatched him away./ Lord of Hell, how inconsiderate can you be!' Reading this stanza, who among us dares claim he is not another wise official? Therefore, those who are determined to cultivate should take advantage of every single instant, and recite the Buddha's name at that very moment. They should avoid stepping in the doomed footprints of those who have erred before them--with cause for regret for a thousand autumns to come." Master Tam: 226
PARABLE 071: THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM
The Buddha likens human beings to actors and actresses in the great drama of the universe. Every day they take on a different role with a different set of duties and obligations -- as mothers or fathers, sons or daughters, employees or employers etc. However, in all these roles, the common denominator of change and loss is ever present: loss of loved ones, loss of cherished property, loss of health and youth until the biggest loss of all -- death itself. How do we escape from this vicious cycle? Just walk out of the playhouse, quit acting and return home to our native place where we are always welcomed and loved -- return to our True Nature and Mind. This is the basic teaching of all Buddhist schools.
Question: Life cannot be all suffering. Are there not instances of pleasure and joy? -- Yes, there are, but these instances are just temporary -- like a mountain climber shifting a heavy burden from one shoulder to another. Moreover, to the sages, these pleasures and joyful moments are illusory and false -- just like the pleasures and joys of a child eating candy. Down the road a visit to the dentist is inevitable!
PARABLE 072: HUMAN INTELLECT
"A blind man denies the existence of things seen by others. A physician traces his blindness to former sinful actions, and when he heals the man, the latter admits his mistakes but learns that he is far from being wise. This illustrates spiritual blindness regarding the true Dharma." (Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, Vol.9, p.631)
PARABLE 073: JEWEL NET OF INDRA
"Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each 'eye' of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.
The Avatamsaka school has been fond of this image, mentioned many times in its literature, because it symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos. This relationship is said to be one of simultaneous mutual identity and mutual intercausality." (Francis H. Cook, Hua-Yen Buddhism)
PARABLE 074: THE JETA GROVE
At the time of the Buddha's ministry, there was a wealthy merchant named Sudatta living in the kingdom of Sravasti. Because of his concern and generosity towards the less fortunate, he was given the epithet 'Anathapindika' or 'provider for widows and orphans'. It once happened that having invited the Buddha to preach in Sravasti, Anathapindika set about trying to find a suitable place for the World-honored One and his company of 1,250 monks. Determining that the estate of Prince Jeta, son of King Prasenajit, with its grassy fields and leafy trees, would be ideal, he approached the prince and offered to buy it. The prince, startled, said in jest, 'I am prepared to sell you as much land as you can cover with gold.' Anathapindika remained silent for a moment, at which point the Prince laughed, 'That seems to be too much for you, does it not?' 'Why, no,' replied the merchant, 'I was simply considering which of my storehouses to take the gold from ...' The next day, as the prince watched in amazement, bullock cart after bullock cart arrived at his estate, and the workers laid a carpet of gold upon the land, stretching in all directions. The only patches of ground which could not be covered were those where the trees stood. Prince Jeta, realizing that the Buddha must be an exceptional man, then decided to donate these patches of land. In honor of the two benefactors, the estate was henceforth known as the Garden of Jeta and Anathapindika.
"Here the Buddha spent nineteen rainy seasons. This monastery where the Buddha spent the major part of his life was the place where he delivered many of his sermons."
In Buddhist literature, the name of Anathapindika has become synonymous with selfless, extreme generosity in the cause of the Dharma (supporting the clergy, building temples, printing sutras and commentaries, etc.)
PARABLE 075: IMMORTALITY
There is a beautiful account of the meeting between the Pure Land Patriarch T'an Luan and the famed translator/monk Bodhiruci. T'an Luan (488-554), seeking immortality, travelled about China obtaining teachings from various noted sages, including the Taoist master T'ao Hung-ching. Eventually (ca. 530) he met with the Indian Buddhist teacher Bodhiruci:
"T'an Luan opened the conversation by saying 'Is there anything in the Teaching of the Buddha which is superior to the methods for obtaining immortality found in this country's scriptures on the immortals?'
Bodhiruci spat on the ground and said, 'What are you saying? There is no comparison! Where on this earth can you find a method for immortality? Suppose that you can obtain youth in your old age, and never die: even having done that, you would still be rolling around in the Triple World!'
So he gave him the Meditation Sutra and said, 'These are the recipes of Amitabha Buddha: if you rely on his practices, you will be liberated from Samsara.'" (The Healing Buddha.)
Note: The Triple World (Triple Realm) is our mundane world and the two worlds superior to it in the merit and virtue of its inhabitants. Samsara is the cycle of Birth and Death which Buddhist practitioners seek to transcend.
PARABLE 076: TURN EASTWARD AND LOOK AT THE WESTERN LAND
D.T. Suzuki quotes the Zen Patriarch Fa Yen as follows:
"The sutras preached by the Buddha during his lifetime are said to amount to five thousand and forty-eight fascicles; they include the doctrine of emptiness and the doctrine of being (existence); there are teachings of immediate realization and of gradual development. Is this not an affirmation?
But, according to [Zen Master Yun Chia in his Song of Enlightenment], 'there are no sentient beings, there are no Buddhas; sages as numerous as the sands of the Ganges are but so many bubbles in the sea; sages and worthies of the past are like flashes of lightning.' Is this not a negation?
"O you, my disciples, if you say there is, you go against [Yung Chia]; if you say there is not, you contradict our old master Buddha. If He were with us, then how would He pass through the dilemma?...
If you confess your ignorance, I will let you see into the secret. When I say there is not, this does not necessarily mean a negation; when I say there is, this also does not signify an affirmation. Turn eastward and look at the Western Land; face the south and the North Star is pointed out there!"
D.T. Suzuki/65: na
PARABLE 077: KARMA OF AN ANT
One day, during the time of the Buddha, Mahakasyapa (the highest in wisdom among Arhats) was standing beside Anathapindika (the most famous benefactor of the Order) in the Jeta grove. They were overseeing the ground- breaking for the Jetavana Monastery. Suddenly, a hint of sadness crossed Mahakasyapa's face. Anathapindika asked him what had happened. Pointing to a black ant scrambling amidst the rubble, Mahakasyapa recalled that for untold eons past, during the times of six transhistorical Buddhas, that ant had remained an ant. Even now, under Buddha Sakyamuni, the seventh Buddha, when Mahakasyapa himself had become an Arhat, the poor ant, after eons of rebirth, was still just an ant, condemned to scavenge for scraps of food, condemned to the sufferings of an insect's life -- as devoid as ever of wisdom! "It is only thanks to my spiritual penetration that I know this," explained Mahakasyapa. On hearing this, Anathapindika was deeply moved and could not but shed a tear of sadness.
PARABLE 078: (BAD) KARMA / SORE WITH A HUMAN FACE
"During the Han dynasty in China, an official named Yuan-Nang murdered an official named Ch'ao Ts'o. Afterwards, day and night, he saw the ghost of Ch'ao Ts'o coming to take revenge. Realizing his mistake, he left home and became a Bhiksu, cultivated vigorously, and was no longer troubled by the ghost. Because he did not encounter the ghost again, he vowed to become a Bhiksu in his succeeding lives and became a great, renowned Dharma Master who lectured on Sutras and taught widely, coveting neither fame nor wealth.
For ten lives he cultivated diligently and met no more ghosts. He rose to a higher and higher position in every life until, in his tenth life, he became the Emperor's teacher and was given the title 'National Master Wu Ta.' The Emperor made him a gift of an aloeswood chair, the kind only emperors used. It was so handsome and beautifully carved that when National Master Wu Ta sat down on it he suddenly thought, 'Just how many Dharma Masters are there as lofty as I? How many have received a gift from an Emperor as fine as this chair?' His one thought of arrogance laid him open for the attack of the revengeful ghost of Ch'ao Ts'o of ten lives past.
Instantly, one of his legs began to swell, and a sore which had the shape of a human face formed on it. It was complete with a mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. Not only that, it could talk. 'You want to get away from me,' it would say, 'but you can't. I am determined to take your life.' It also demanded to be fed, and would eat only fresh, raw meat. If Wu Ta didn't give meat to the sore, it would cause him unbearable pain. Even though he was a National Master, Wu Ta had no way to get rid of the sore...
Earlier, National Master Wu Ta had taken care of [a certain] Venerable Kanaka when the latter's body had broken out with noxious boils. He had waited on him, served him broths and medicines, and had cured him. At that time, the Venerable Kanaka had said to him, 'In the future, no matter what difficulty besets you, no matter how insoluble your problem may seem, come to such and such a place in Szechwan and I will find a way to help you.' Wu Ta had no recourse but to find Kanaka in Szechwan. The Venerable Kanaka used 'samadhi water' to wash Wu Ta's sore, and the human face disappeared. Actually, the Venerable Kanaka, who was a fourth stage Arhat, did not really have an illness. He deliberately manifested a disease as a method to save National Master Wu Ta in the future."
Master Hsuan Hua
PARABLE 079: TRANSFERENCE OF MERIT
"The concept of merit transference, or sharing one's own merits and virtues with others, is reflected in the following passage:
'Some of us may ask whether the effect of evil karma can be ... changed by repeating the name of Kuan-Yin (Avalokitesvara). This question is tied up with that of rebirth in Sukhavati [the Pure Land] and it may be answered by saying that the invocation of Kuan-Yin's name forms another cause which will right away offset the previous karma. We know, for example, that if there is a dark, heavy cloud above, the chances are that it will rain. But we also know that if a strong wind should blow, the cloud will be carried away somewhere else and we will not feel the rain. Similarly, the addition of one big factor can alter the whole course of karma ... It is only by accepting the idea of life as one whole that both Theravadins and Mahayanists can advocate the practice of transference of merit to others. With the case of Kuan-Yin then, by calling on Her name we identify ourselves with Her and as a result of this identification, Her merits flow over to us. These merits which are now ours, then counterbalance our bad karma and save us from calamity. The Law of Cause and Effect still stands good. All that has happened is that a powerful and immensely good karma has overshadowed the weaker one.'" (Lecture on Kuan-Yin by Tech Eng Soon - Penang Buddhist Association, c. 1960. Pamphlet.)
PARABLE 080: BURDENING THE DEAD
Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth-Store Bodhisattva:
"The dead one might be due to receive a good retribution and be born among men and gods in his next life or in the future, but because of offenses committed by his family in his name, his good rebirth will be delayed. Everyone must undergo the Evil Paths in accordance with his own deeds; it is even more unbearable when survivors add to those deeds.
It is as if a man had been traveling from a distant place with a hundred-pound load and had been cut off from his provisions for three days. If he were suddenly to encounter a neighbor who gave him a few more things to carry, his load would become heavier and more distressing...creating bad karma for a dead person is like adding more weight to the burden of one who is already weak with hunger. The addition of further weight can only make him stumble more heavily...the neighbor who adds this weight stands for the relative who [makes non-vegetarian offerings to the dead]."
Master Hsuan Hua, tr.: 170ff
PARABLE 081: KARMA IS MIND-MADE
A practitioner should have a clear understanding of the causes and conditions of calamities and fortunate events. These occur as a result of bad or good karma -- and karma has its source in the mind. Reciting or explaining sutras has the power to change a wicked mind into a pure mind, a deluded mind into an enlightened mind. Thus, to recite or explain sutras is to create good karma, enabling sentient beings, alive or dead, to escape or mitigate the impact of negative karma. Since a Bodhisattva's mission is to rescue sentient beings and guide them to enlightenment, he should recite and explain Mahayana sutras on all occasions, and particularly during the ceremonies for the dead. (Master Prajna-Suddhi)
PARABLE 082: LAMP OF A BUDDHA (SINCERE MIND)
"King Ajatasatru invited the Buddha to preach and offered as a token of his piety several tens of thousands of lamps. At the time, an old woman (named Nanda) who had been begging, and had only managed to collect two coins, bought some oil with them and offered it all in a small lamp to the Buddha. [With this offering she vowed to eliminate the darkness of the sufferings of all people.] Old and hungry, she later collapsed and died. By the next morning the many lamps offered by the king had already burned themselves out, but the lamp of the poor old woman was still burning with increasing brilliance. When it proved impossible to extinguish it, the Buddha explained that it was so because of the donor's extremely fervent faith and transcendental vow. 'The light of a Buddha can never be extinguished' said the Lord who then predicted that she would attain Buddhahood." Dait: 117
PARABLE 083: CAUSE AND EFFECT (WILD FOX)
Story of Ch'an master Pai Chang who liberated a wild fox: "One day, after a Ch'an meeting, although all his disciples had retired, the old master Pai Chang noticed an elderly man who remained behind. Pai Chang asked the man what he was doing and he replied: 'I am not a human being but the spirit of a wild fox. In my previous life, I was the head-monk of this place. One day, a monk asked me, 'Is an enlightened person still subject to cause and effect?' I replied, 'No, He is not subject to causality.' For this reply alone, I got involved in retribution and have now been the spirit of a wild fox for five hundred years, and am still unable to get away from it. Will the master be compassionate enough to enlighten me on all this.' Pai Chang said to the old man: 'Ask me the same question and I will explain it to you.' The man then said to the master: 'I wish to ask the master this: Is an enlightened person still subject to cause and effect?' Pai Chang replied: 'He is not blind to cause and effect.'
Thereupon, the old man was greatly awakened; he prostrated himself before the master to thank him and said: 'I am indebted to you for your appropriate reply to the question and am now liberated from the fox's body. I live in a small grotto on the mountain behind and hope you will grant me the usual rites for a dead monk.' The following day, Pai Chang went to a mountain behind his monastery, where in a small grotto he probed the ground with his staff and discovered a dead fox for whom the usual funeral rites for a dead monk were held.
Dear friends, after listening to [this story], you will realize that the law of causality is indeed a dreadful thing. Even after His attainment of Buddhahood, the Buddha still suffered a headache in retribution for His former acts. Retribution is infallible and fixed karma is difficult to escape. So we should always be heedful of all this and should be very careful about creating new causes." (Chan Master Hsu Yun). Yu: 13-14
PARABLE 084: THE BUDDHA'S LEGACY
"The Buddha's active preaching career lasted forty-five years... Recognizing at last that his death was close at hand, he asked to be placed in a clearing in the Sala Grove outside of Kusinagar. He realized that Nirvana was coming near, and he preached his last sermon, the Great Nirvana Sutra (Parinirvana Sutra). Then, with his head pointing north, his face looking west, lying on his right side, he died. He was eighty years old. After his death, the Malla Tribe, in whose territory he was, moved his body to a temple inside Kusinagar, and held a service for seven days. According to the law of the Wheel-turning King, they cremated his body. Ambassadors from eight great countries of the time arrived to claim his relics. Their conflicting claims were settled by Drona-brahmana, who divided the relics into eight parts. Drona-brahmana obtained for himself the jar in which the relics were put, and gave the ashes to the representative of the Maurya Tribe, who arrived late. Thus there were eight portions in all, and these were placed by the respective owners in eight stupas erected on ground sacred to the Buddha in various areas of India. Four months after the Buddha's death, the First Buddhist Council, chaired by the senior monk, Maha-kasyapa, was held near Rajagrha, the capital of Magadha. This marked the commencement of the effort to institutionalize the Sangha (Buddhist Order) and codify the scripture, which has continued to this day."
PARABLE 085: ATTACHMENT (SUGAR CANE / WORMS)
"Once, in times past, there were two monks who cultivated together. One liked the high mountain scenery, while the other built himself a hut on the banks of a brook, near a forest. Years went by. The monk who resided by the brook passed away first. Learning the news, his friend went down to visit his grave. After reciting sutras and praying for his friend's liberation, the visiting monk entered samadhi and attempted to see where his friend had gone--to no avail. The friend was nowhere to be found, neither in the heavens nor in the hells, nor in any of the realms in between. Emerging from samadhi, he asked the attending novice, 'What was your Master busy with every day?' The novice replied, 'In the last few months before his death, seeing that the sugar cane in front of his hut was tall and green, my Master would go out continually to apply manure and prune away the dead leaves. He kept close watch over the cane, and seemed so happy taking care of it.' Upon hearing this, the visiting monk entered samadhi again, and saw that his friend had been reborn as a worm inside one of the stalks of sugar cane. The monk immediately cut down that stalk, slit it open and extracted the worm. He preached the Dharma to it and recited the Buddha's name, dedicating the merit to the worm's salvation."
Master Tam: 274
PARABLE 086: LETTING GO
In a time long past, Maitreya was in his incarnation as a laughing, big-bellied monk with a sack perpetually on his back. He used to travel about the countryside seeking alms and sharing them with whomever happened to be nearby. He would customarily sit under a tree, surrounded by young children, to whom he would tell stories to illustrate Buddhist teachings. Seeing this, an elder monk became annoyed at what he perceived as untoward conduct on the part of Maitreya. One day, he cornered Maitreya and tried to test him with the following question: "Old monk, pray tell me, just what do you think is the essence of the Buddha's teachings?" Maitreya stopped for a moment, looked him in the eye, and just let his sack fall to the ground. As the puzzled monk wondered what to make of this singular action, Maitreya bent down, picked up his sack and walked away. Dropping the sack, "letting go", forgive and forget -- that is the teaching of Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. Editor: na
PARABLE 087: LUST & DESIRE
Subtle delusive thoughts
"Once there were two famous Zen Masters who had been awakened to the Way. One day, as they sat in meditation together, the young master had a thought of lust and desire, which he immediately severed. However, the Elder Master, seated opposite, already knew of the occurrence. After emerging from meditation, the Elder Master composed a poem, intending to tease his friend. The latter, sad and ashamed, immediately 'gathered up his vital energy,' and expired on the spot. The Elder Master, filled with remorse, called his disciples together and followed his friend in death, leaving these parting words: 'My friend, while in meditation, had a false thought of lust and desire and will therefore certainly be entangled in love relationships in his next life. He died while unhappy with me, and therefore, upon rebirth, will cause havoc to the community of monks. I am partly responsible for all of this, so if I do not follow and guide him, I will not escape the consequences...'
The Elder Master went on to be reborn as a distinguished Zen Master, while the former young master had by then become the famous Chinese poet Su Tung-P'o (T'ang dynasty). Because of his previous cultivation, Tung-P'o was a mandarin, endowed with intelligence and wisdom. However, being amorous in nature, he was entangled in the conflicting demands of seven wives and concubines. Moreover, with his learning and intelligence, he often challenged the Zen Masters of his day. Only after he was vanquished by his former friend did he return to Buddhist practice.
This story shows that subtle delusive thoughts should be feared even by seasoned cultivators. The ancients had a verse: 'Though one's cultivation has reached the stage of no excess or want, it is not easy to destroy ten thousand eons of greed and delusion.'"
Master Tam: 135
PARABLE 088: MAHASTHAMA BODHISATTVA
"Mahasthama, a son of the [Buddhas and] the head of a group of fifty-two Bodhisattvas, rose from his seat, prostrated himself with his head at the feet of the Buddha and declared: 'I still remember that, in the remotest of eons countless as the sands in the Ganges, there was a Buddha called Amitabha who was succeeded by eleven other Tathagatas in that kalpa. The last one was called the 'Buddha Whose Light Surpassed that of the Sun and Moon'; he taught me how to realize the state of Samadhi by thinking exclusively of Amitabha Buddha. By way of illustration, if a man concentrates his mind on someone else while the latter always forgets him, both may meet and see, but without recognizing, each other. However, if both are keen on thinking of each other, their keenness will grow from one incarnation to another until they become inseparable like a body and its shadow. The Tathagatas in the Ten Directions have compassion for all living beings and always think of them, like a mother who never ceases thinking of her son. If the son runs away, her thoughts of him will not help. But if he also thinks of her with the same keenness, they will not be separated in spite of the passing of transmigrations. If a living being remembers and thinks of the Buddha, he is bound to behold Him in his present or future incarnation. He will not be far from the Buddha and thus without the aid of any other expedient, his mind will be opened [awakened]. He is like a man whose body, perfumed by incense, gives out fragrance; hence his name 'One Glorified by (Buddha's) Fragrance and Light.' From my fundamental cause-ground and with all my thoughts concentrated on the Buddha, I achieved the patient endurance of the uncreate (Tolerance of Non-Birth). This is why I help all living beings of this world to control their thoughts by repeating the Buddha's name so that they can reach the Pure Land.
As Buddha now asks about the best means of perfection, I hold that nothing can surpass the perfect control of the six senses with continuous pure thoughts [i.e., Buddha Recitation] in order to realize Samadhi.'"
PARABLE 089: MAHAYANA / THERAVADA
"Let's suppose that there is famine somewhere, a terrible famine of the kind that still happens in Africa. People are gaunt and emaciated, and there is terrible suffering.
In a certain town in the country which has been struck by this famine there live two men, one old, one young who each has an enormous quantity of grain, easily enough to feed all the people. The old man puts outside his front door a notice which reads: 'Whoever comes will be given food.' But after that statement there follows a long list of conditions and rules. If people want food they must come at a certain time, on the very minute. They must bring with them receptacles of a certain shape and size. And holding these receptacles in a certain way, they must ask the old man for food in certain set phrases which are to be spoken in an archaic language. Not many people see the notice, for the old man lives in an out-of-the-way street; and of those who do see it, a few come for food and receive it, but others are put off by the long list of rules...When the old man is asked why he imposes so many rules, he says 'That's how it was in my grandfather's time whenever there was a famine. What was good enough for him is certainly good enough for me. Who am I to change things?' He adds that if people really want food they will observe any number of rules to get it. If they won't observe the rules they can't really be hungry.
Meanwhile the young man takes a great sack of grain on his back and goes from door to door giving it out. As soon as one sack is empty, he rushes home for another one. In this way he gives out a great deal of grain all over the town. He gives it to anyone who asks. He's so keen to feed the people that he doesn't mind going into the poorest, darkest and dirtiest of hovels. He doesn't mind going to places where respectable people don't usually venture. The only thought in his head is that nobody should be allowed to starve. Some people say that he's a busybody, others that he takes too much on himself. Some people go so far as to say that he's interfering with the law of karma. Others complain that a lot of grain is being wasted, because people take more than they really need. The young man doesn't care about any of this. He says it's better that some grain is wasted than that anyone should starve to death.
One day the young man happens to pass by the old man's house. The old man is sitting outside peacefully smoking his pipe, because it isn't yet time to hand out grain. He says to the young man as he hurries past, 'You look tired. Why don't you take it easy?' The young man replies, rather breathlessly, 'I can't. There are still lots of people who haven't been fed.' The old man shakes his head wonderingly. 'Let them come to you! why should you go dashing off to them?' But the young man, impatient to be on his way, says 'They're too weak to come to me. They can't even walk. If I don't go to them they'll die.' 'That's too bad,' says the old man. 'They should have come earlier, when they were stronger. If they didn't think ahead that's their fault.'
But by this time the young man is out of earshot, already on his way home for another sack. The old man rises and pins another notice beside the first one. The notice reads: 'Rules for reading the rules.'
No doubt you've already guessed the meaning of the parable. The old man is the Arhat, representing Southern Buddhism, and the young man is the Bodhisattva, representing the Mahayana. The famine is the human predicament, the people of the town are all living beings, and the grain is the Dharma, the teaching. Just as in principle both the old and the young man are willing to give out grain to everybody, so in principle both Southern Buddhism and the Mahayana are universal, meant for all. But in practice we find that the Theravada imposes certain conditions. To practice Buddhism within the Theravada tradition, even today, if you're taking it all seriously, you must leave home and become a monk or nun. You must live exactly as the monks and nuns lived in India in the Buddha's time. And you mustn't change anything. The Mahayana doesn't impose any such conditions. It makes the Dharma available to people as they are and where they are, because it is concerned solely with essentials. It's concerned with getting the grain to the people, not with any particular manner in which this is to be done. The Theravada expects people to come to it, so to speak, but the Mahayana goes out to them.
This difference between the Theravada and the Mahayana goes back to the early days of Buddhist history. About a hundred years after the Buddha's death, his disciples disagreed about certain issues so strongly that the spiritual community was split in two. Indeed, they disagreed about the very nature of Buddhism itself. One group of disciples held that Buddhism was simply what the Buddha had said. The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Twelve Links or chain of conditioned co-production, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness -- this was Buddhism. But the other group responded that this was not enough. Yes, all of these teachings did form part of Buddhism, but the example of the Buddha's life could not be ignored. The Buddha's teaching revealed his wisdom, but his life revealed his compassion, and both together made up Buddhism."
PARABLE 090: DREAMS, ILLUSIONS, BUBBLES, SHADOWS
An elderly Zen Master, feeling that his time would soon come, hit upon an expedient to help his chief disciple achieve a Great Awakening. He decided to drive the younger monk out of his complacency through an elaborate plan to "frame" him as a thief in disguise.
In the middle of the night, the Zen master would hide one of his valuable Buddha images and then cry "Thief, thief." The younger monks would all rush in, but there was no thief to be seen. Finally, after the third time, as the chief disciple ran into his room, the old master grabbed him and threw him on the floor, "This is the thief. At last I have caught you red-handed!" The chief disciple was then denounced to one and all throughout the land.
The accused monk, once the teacher of a huge congregation, now completely disgraced and with nowhere to turn, his ego totally shattered, mulled over this flagrant injustice and at times even contemplated suicide. After several weeks of utter desperation, he suddenly experienced a Great Awakening: life is a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow. This is the very teaching he had been trying to impart to the novices for so many years! He then rushed to the Master, who upon seeing him, stood up, greeted him warmly and conferred the succession upon him.
PARABLE 091: MASTER PHYSICIAN
Lotus Sutra (ch. 16)
"The sons of a physician are suffering from grievous pain because they ingested poison. The father compounds an efficacious antidote for them. However, in their disturbed state of mind, the boys do not appreciate the worth of the remedy, and do not take it. Their very lives are therefore threatened. Determined to save his sons, the father leaves the city and arranges that a messenger shall inform the boys that he is dead. When the sons receive this report, they are shocked. So moved, they throw off their dementia, and at last take the medicine -- which the father, in his love and wisdom, prepared for them. Thereupon they recover from their sufferings."
"'Good sons! What is your opinion? Are there any who could say that this good physician had committed the sin of falsehood?' 'No, World-honored One!' The Buddha then said: 'I also am like the father. It has been infinite billions of kalpas since I became Buddha. But for the sake of all living beings, I say expediently, 'I must enter Nirvana.' There is none who can lawfully accuse me of falsehood."
World Scripture: 721
Note: "In this parable, the physician-father stands for the Buddha, the sons represent all suffering human beings, and the remedy is the path of the One Vehicle (Buddhahood)."
PARABLE 092: (EMPTY) METAPHYSICS
"It is as if a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and kinsmen were to get a surgeon to heal him, and he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know by what man I was wounded, whether he is of the warrior caste, or a brahmin, or of the agricultural, or the lowest caste.' Or if he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know of what name of family the man is -- or whether he is tall, or short or of middle height'... Before knowing all this, the man would die.
Similarly, it is not on the view that the world is eternal, that it is finite, that body and soul are distinct, or that the Buddha exists after death that a religious life depends. Whether these views or their opposites are held, there is still rebirth, there is old age, there is death, and grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow, and despair...I have not spoken to these views because they do not conduce to an absence of passion, to tranquility, and Nirvana. And what have I explained? Suffering have I explained, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering, and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering have I explained. For this is useful.'"
PARABLE 093: EVERYTHING IS MIND
"There was once in China an expert archer. One day he went to a very high mountain with his bow on his back. While strolling on the mountain, he became thirsty and wanted some water to drink. Fortunately, he found a small spring under a bush, and he immediately bent over the water to drink it out of his hands until his thirst was quenched. However, when he finished drinking, he thought he saw a snake crawling in the water. He immediately felt sick and wanted to vomit the water he had drunk, but the water did not come out. He became seriously nervous about the water in his stomach, feeling something wriggling in it. When he got back home he became seriously ill. Numerous doctors gave him medical treatment, but in vain; finally, he became nothing but skin and bones, resigning himself to die.
One day a traveler stopped at his home. Seeing the condition of the patient, he asked the reason. The patient told him that he saw a snake crawling in the water of the spring and that he had swallowed the snake. The traveler said that he could cure the illness if the patient would do as he told him to do, taking him to the same spring where he had drunk the water.
He told the patient, who was bearing the same bow on his back, to take the same pose as he had before. The patient reluctantly bent over the water and was just going to scoop it up in his hands when he screamed out, that a snake was crawling in the water again. The man told him to be quiet and to observe the snake more closely. The archer got control of himself and found that it was not a snake at all, but the shadow of the bow he was carrying on his back.
The archer realized that the snake he thought he had swallowed before was only the shadow of his bow. After this, he felt quite relieved, and soon he regained his health.
We must recognize that our mind is the creator of our 'fate.' In this case, the dust of fear accumulated on the archer's mind. When he wiped off this dust, he become healthy again."
H. Seki: 51ff
PARABLE 094: MIND (FALSE THOUGHTS)
"Once, in China, there was a monk seated in meditation. Because he was cold and hungry, the thought of food arose in his mind. He suddenly saw a woman presenting him with an offering of food. The woman knelt, put food in his bowl, and respectfully asked him to eat immediately, before the food grew cold and lost all taste. The monk, being hungry wanted to eat at once but remembering that it was not yet noon [the prescribed mealtime for monks and nuns], he patiently told her to put the bowl aside for the time being. The woman left, appearing angry and upset. Some time later, at noon, he uncovered the bowl to discover that it was full of worms, crawling all around. He then understood that his false thought of food had attracted the demonic apparitions. Thanks to his power of concentration, however limited, he avoided consuming the dirty food and violating the precept against killing." (Master Tam)
"Long ago, a Zen monk was practicing in a deserted mountain area. Lonely and isolated, he had a deluded thought, wishing to have some fellow-cultivators practicing along with him to make life more bearable.
Immediately, an old woman appeared from nowhere, leading two beautiful young girls by the hand, who, she said, lived in the village down in the valley. They had come, they claimed, to seek guidance in the Way. The monk, unsuspicious, immediately gave a Dharma talk to the group. One day, after many such visits over a period of time, the old woman respectfully requested that the two girls be allowed to become attendants to the monk and relieve him of his daily chores. The monk, hearing this, became suspicious. He reprimanded the old woman severely and refused the offer. The three women left, apparently angry and ashamed.
The monk, intrigued, followed them discreetly until they disappeared around a bend in the road. When he reached the spot, he found it was a dead end with no habitation or anything else around, except for three very old trees, one big tree and two smaller ones. He thought it over and realized that he had been 'tested.' A fleeting thought occurred to him, that he should cut down the trees, start a bonfire, and burn them to the ground. At that moment, the three women reappeared, repentant, begging him to forgive them and spare their lives.
Therefore, the cultivator should remember: when the mind is still, all realms are calm; when delusion arises, demons are born." (Master Tam)
PARABLE 095: MIND (THE WIND IS NOT MOVING)
"Once when the wind was whipping the banner of a temple, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen witnessed two monks debating about it. One said the banner was moving, one said the wind was moving. They argued back and forth without attaining the principle, so the Patriarch said, 'This is not the movement of the wind, nor the movement of the banner; it is the movement of your minds.'The two monks were both awestruck."
Cleary / No Barrier: 141
PARABLE 096: MIND (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST)
"Queen Mallika of King Prasenajit gave birth to a baby girl and named her Vajra. Princess Vajra was uglier than a yaksha-demon. Her skin was as rough as horse skin. Her hair, straight and coarse, was like the mane of a horse. When the King saw the baby girl's appearance -- not at all praiseworthy and unlike human -- he instructed the palace maids: 'Carefully keep her under watch. Don't let others see her, or else, the royal family will be disgraced.' This little Princess, however ugly, was nevertheless borne by the Queen, and no one dared to look down upon her. The Queen, kindhearted and sympathetic, was merciful to pitiful people. She harbored no thoughts of discrimination or despise as she ministered to their needs. Well aware of the Queen's virtues, King Prasenajit secretly sent a trusted aid to find a gentle and kind nursemaid to raise the Princess in the palace.
In time, Princess Vajra became a grown woman; she was waiting for a right man to marry. King Prasenajit was then faced with the difficult task of having to arrange for the marriage of his ugly daughter. He thought it over and over, but was unable to come up with a good plan. He then told a couple of cautious ministers: 'Please go on my behalf and search for a scion of a prestigious family, who, due to a fall in his family fortune, is unable to support himself or find a wife. If you find such a young man, bring him to me.'
Soon thereafter, an old minister brought along a poor young man. He led him to a quiet, remote place, and reported back to the King. Hearing of the news, the King was very pleased. Dressed in ordinary clothing, he approached this young man in an amiable manner, and without further ado, broached the subject of marriage. In a plainspoken tone he said: 'My only daughter is now a grown woman. Unfortunately, she is ugly, and it is difficult to find her a husband. I've heard that you are from a once prominent family which has suffered a loss of its fortune. As a result, you can't afford to get married and support a family of your own. Now I'm willing to betroth my daughter to you. I'll provide for all your daily needs and expenses. I hope you'll understand my well-meaning intentions and accept the Princess as your wife. Once you marry her, all blessings will naturally be bestowed on you.' The young man knelt before the King and replied: 'In deference to Your Majesty, I will obey your order. I'd be obliged for the honor even if Your Majesty were to give a stupid maid to me in marriage. I'm all the more grateful since Her Highness is Your Majesty's own flesh and blood.'
The King was delighted. He thus gave the ugly Princess Vajra to this young man in marriage, and built them a palace. Inside the palace, seven layers of doors were installed to lock the Princess up for a long, long time into the future. The Imperial Son- in-law carried the keys with him at all times so that neither the outsiders nor the insiders could get in or out. All the daily necessities and expenses were provided for by the King. He had a minister, who was in charge of the warehouses, deliver supplies to them as needed to avoid any shortage. Fearing that his Imperial Son-in-law might be despised by others, the King installed him as a high feudal lord. By that time, the King's worries were finally taken care of; and he felt that a great burden carried for many years had now been taken off his mind. One can only imagine how delighted he was.
According to the customs of that country, all the noble and prestigious families would take turns hosting a party once a month with the purpose of strengthening the social ties among themselves. The guests, both ladies and gentlemen, would dance and hobnob in the high spirits of revelry. They would arrive in pairs, each with his or her spouse, except the Imperial Son-in-law who always showed up by himself. People gossiped stealthily. They presumed that if the Princess was not a matchless beauty, she had to be the ugliest woman in the world. Why else would he hide her anyway? Several troublemakers went into a huddle, and decided: 'Since he wouldn't let the Princess reveal herself to us, we've got to find a way to see her. We'll stop at nothing until we have our way!' So they devised a ruse. After the banquet started, by ingratiating themselves with the Imperial Son-in-law, they coaxed him into a drinking contest. Once having succeeded in getting him dead drunk, they searched him for a string of keys. With the keys in hand, five elected representatives immediately dashed off to the palace.
Earlier that morning, after her husband had left for the party, Princess Vajra became very upset. She plaintively reproached herself 'I wonder what evil karma I created in my previous lives, for now I am imprisoned by my father and detested by my husband. He always locks me up in the innermost chamber. I can't even see the sun or the people outside.' Thereupon she transformed her thinking, and said to herself 'I am really blessed to be born at a time when the Buddha is in this world. I've heard that the Buddhadharma is limitless and benefits all living beings. Anyone who is suffering only needs to truly repent and humbly beseech the Buddha, and, by His grace, will surely be conferred blessings and liberation.'
The Princess thus gave rise to profound remorse in her mind. With utmost sincerity, she gazed up at the distant sky as if she could see the World Honored One's golden appearance there. She bowed down on the ground and prayed: 'I only wish that the World Honored One will bestow kindness on me, and appear before me to teach, advise, and enlighten me, thus eradicating my karmic obstacles and delivering me from these constraints.'
At that moment, the Princess was profoundly sincere and completely respectful. Knowing Princess Vajra's resolve, the Buddha miraculously appeared before her. The Buddha then revealed the mark of His purplish blue hair to her. When the Princess raised her head from bowing and saw the Tathagata's exquisite hair mark, she was awestruck. Due to her deepest respect and joy, the bad characteristics of her hair disappeared all at once. It became soft, fine, and purplish blue in color, resembling that of the Buddha's.
She next observed the Buddha's face, perfect like a full moon. She then observed a bright golden light issuing forth from His body, as well as His peerless thirty-two hallmarks. At that very moment, the feeling of despondence which had been plaguing her dissolved instantly. Whereupon she was imbued with the virtues of tranquility, graciousness, kindness, and wisdom...her ill-favored countenance and coarse complexion were altogether replaced by a wonderfully rare appearance, goddess-like, splendid and matchless. The Buddha then spoke the Dharma for her, reformed her mind, swept away her afflictions and confusion, and eradicated all her karmic obstacles. Her mind became as pure and clear as limpid water. Thereupon she certified to the first fruition of Arhatship." (Master Hsuan Hua)
Everything is Mind-created. Once the mind is reformed, evil karma disappears.
PARABLE 097: MIND-ONLY (KUMARAJIVA AND THE URN)
"When Kumarajiva was seven years old, his mother took him to a temple to worship the Buddha. Kumarajiva picked up a large bronze incense urn and effortlessly lifted it over his head. Then he thought, 'Hey, I'm just a child. How can I lift this heavy urn?' With this one thought, the urn crashed to the ground. From this he realized the meaning of the doctrine, 'Everything is made from the mind alone,' and he and his mother left the home-life [to join the Buddhist Order]."
Master Hsuan Hua: 46
PARABLE 098: MIND-POWER (BLACKSMITH'S DAUGHTER)
"Young and widowed, a French physician travelled to the countryside to allay his sorrow. One day, when he was staying at a blacksmith's house, he was touched by the beauty of his host's daughter. He told her about his widowhood and, seeking her hand in marriage, obtained the consent of her parents. However, before the wedding could take place, he began to co-habit with her. Shortly thereafter, he left for the city. Seeing his daughter pregnant and growing heavier and heavier by the day, with the culprit no more in sight than the wings of a redbird in flight, the blacksmith reflected on the fact that he was too poor and isolated to sue successfully. He therefore tried to relieve his anger and frustration by striking his hammer against its iron stand each evening, while shouting the name of the physician, wishing to blow his head apart. Unbeknownst to him, in the faraway city, each evening at five o'clock, the physician would grab his head and scream in pain. He tried every known remedy without success. Some time afterward, a friend of the doctor, on a visit to the countryside, happened to pass the blacksmith's shop one evening and overheard the striking hammer and the swearing. He went in to inquire and having understood the whole story, deduced the cause of his friend's predicament. Upon returning to the city, he urged the physician to make amends by marrying the blacksmith's daughter. As might be expected, after the wedding, the physician's strange symptoms disappeared.
Thus, we can see the unseen power of the mind. If we realize the significance of the above story and sincerely vow to recite Amitabha Buddha's name, why worry about failing to get a response?"
Master Tam: 107
PARABLE 099: "NEVER DESPISE" BODHISATTVA
The Lotus Sutra (ch. 20) relates the story of a Bodhisattva named Never Despise. Whenever he encountered a layman or cleric, he would approach him, bow down to him, and say aloud, "I dare not look down on you because you will become a Buddha in the future." This declaration angered some persons, who would insult and beat him. In response, Never Despise would simply run far away and repeat, "I dare not look down on you because you will become a Buddha."
Note: Why did the Bodhisattva Never Despise act that way? It was because he cultivated the practice of seeing everything with eyes of equality, of respecting all sentient beings equally, as they all have the Buddha Nature and are all future Buddhas. Never Despise was revealed to be a previous incarnation of Sakyamuni, thus confirming the correctness of the practice of equal respect. Another explanation could be that many cultivators cannot conceive of themselves as future Buddhas. The Bodhisattva Never Despise was raising their sights, urging them to strive for the full Enlightenment of Buddhahood.
PARABLE 0100: NOBLESSE OBLIGE
"In the Suvannamiga Jataka, a golden stag became trapped in a snare. Despite his strong efforts and the encouragement of his mate, he could not free himself. His devoted mate then confronted the hunter who had come to collect his catch. She offered her own life in place of her mate's. [Deeply moved], the hunter freed both of them. In thankfulness for the hunter's change of heart, the stag later presented the hunter with a 'jewel he had found in their feeding ground' and urged the hunter to abstain from all killing... Following the story, Buddha notes that he himself was the royal stag."
PARABLE 0101: PURE LAND (DEATH AND THE WOODCUTTER)
Once upon a time, an old wood-cutter was trudging to the market-place, his back bent over from carrying a heavy sack of fine wood. He had followed this winding road many times over the years but this time his ordeal seemed especially harsh. He suddenly realized that old age had caught up with him. Putting down his sack, he reflected on his declining health and loudly proclaimed his desire to end it all...It so happened that hour was particularly propitious, as the God of Death was hovering over the landscape. He immediately appeared in front of the old man and thundered "What do you want?, What do you want? Repeat it! Repeat it! I'll grant your wish immediately!"
The old woodcutter, put on the spot, muttered something and finally said softly, "Please, do help me lift the sack and put it back on my shoulders...I'm going to continue toward the market-place after all!"
The wood-cutter had expressed a desire to die. However, when the God of Death actually appeared, he immediately recanted. Instead, he asked that his burden be put back on his shoulders. It is the same with many devotees...When Amitabha Buddha appears they cannot cut-off attachments and let go. A vow for rebirth in the Pure Land has to be firm and unshakable. Such a vow necessarily includes the Bodhi Mind seeking deliverance from Birth and Death.
PARABLE 0102: OLD MAN AND THE HARE
"Fire was often the theme of the Buddha's sermons. In one sermon, he spoke of the world aflame, of all men on fire with passion, hatred, infatuation, birth, old age, sorrow, grief and despair. He explained that all are blinded by these flames and that when men [achieve] the holy way, the fire will be extinguished within them; that they will no longer be blinded by the attractions of the flame and will be free of the fires of passion and desire.
In a parable the Buddha told a story of...an old man and a hare. When the old man was starving, the hare [ignoring the fires of passion and attachment to self] threw himself into the flames that his body might supply food for his friend. Transformed, he became a vision of the Buddha; the old man then realized that within the small body of the hare lived the unselfish spirit of the Buddha."
PARABLE 0103: EMPTINESS / EXISTENCE
"A young monk versed in the Dharma was staying at a certain temple to lecture on the sutras. The abbot, who was advanced in age, was diligent in his daily recitation, but accustomed to traditional ways of worship. He took a dislike to the young monk and his free, progressive ways and said to him, 'You are teaching and urging people to follow the Way, yet you yourself have never been seen to recite a single sutra or the Buddha's name. Under these circumstances, how can you be a model of cultivation for the Four-Fold Assembly?'
The young monk replied, 'There are many ways to cultivate. It is not necessary to follow appearances, reciting the sutras and the Buddha's name day and night, as you do, Master, to qualify as a cultivator.
The Diamond Sutra states:
Who sees Me by form,/ Who sees Me in sound,/ Perverted are his footsteps upon the Way;/ For he cannot perceive the Tathagatha. br>
'Take the Sixth Patriarch, who recited neither the sutras nor the Buddha's name, yet attained Enlightenment and became a Patriarch.' The abbot at a loss for words, remained silent. In truth, the abbot was guilty of attachment to appearances and forms; the young monk, on the other hand, while citing abstruse principles, actually practiced neither meditation nor recitation. Therefore, he not only failed to enlighten the abbot, he irritated him unnecessarily."(Master Tam)
Note: "Of the two types of attachments, to Existence and to Emptiness, the latter is the more dangerous. Both the Lankavatara and the Esoteric Adornment Sutras warn:
'It is better to be attached to Existence, though the attachment may be as great as Mount Sumeru, than to be attached to Emptiness, though the attachment may be as small as a mustard seed.'
Attachment to Existence leads to mindfulness of cause and effect, wariness of transgressions and fear of breaking the precepts, as well as to such practices as Buddha and Sutra Recitation and performance of good deeds. Although these actions are bound to forms and not liberated and empty, they are all conducive to merit, virtue and good roots. On the other hand, if we are attached to Emptiness without having attained True Emptiness, but refuse to follow forms and cultivate merit and virtue, we will certainly sink deeper into the cycle of Birth and Death.'"
Master Tam: 93ff
PARABLE 0104: ONE VEHICLE, BUDDHA VEHICLE
Lotus Sutra (ch. 5):
"A cloud envelops the world and sends down life-giving rain equally upon all grasses, flowers, trees and medicinal herbs. Though the rain is the same, the plants, trees, herbs, etc., absorb the moisture differently and grow to varying heights according to their individual nature.
Similarly, the Buddha impartially expounds only the One Vehicle of Buddhahood for all people, but they understand and benefit from it differently, according to their respective capacities. The three kinds of medicinal herbs appearing in the parable are lesser medicinal herbs, intermediate medicinal herbs and superior medicinal herbs, and the two kinds of trees are small trees and great trees. On the basis of the description in the text, T'ien-t'ai interprets the lesser medicinal herbs as beings of the worlds of Humanity and Heaven, the intermediate medicinal herbs as persons of the Two Vehicles, and the superior medicinal herbs, small trees and great trees as Bodhisattvas." Sokk: 339-340
PARABLE 0105: OTHER-POWER (KING MILINDA SUTRA)
The Questions of King Milinda Sutra contains the following parable: "A minute grain of sand, dropped on the surface of the water, will sink immediately. On the other hand, a block of stone, however large and heavy, can easily be moved from place to place by boat.
The same is true of the Pure Land practitioner. However light his karma may be, if he does not rely on Amitabha Buddha's vows, he must revolve in the cycle of Birth and Death. With the help of Amitabha Buddha, his karma, however heavy, will not prevent his rebirth in the Pure Land."
Master Tam: 278
PARABLE 0106: BUDDHISM AND WOMEN
"On one occasion while the Buddha was conversing with King Kosala of India, a messenger came and informed the King that a daughter was born unto him. Hearing it, the King was displeased. But the Buddha comforted...him, saying: 'A woman child, O Lord of men, may prove even a better offspring than male.' To women who were placed under various disabilities before the appearance of the Buddha, the establishment of the order of Bhiksunis was certainly a blessing. In this order queens, princesses, daughters of noble families, widows, bereaved mothers, helpless women, courtesans -- all, despite their caste or rank -- met on a common footing, enjoyed perfect consolation and peace, and breathed that free atmosphere which was denied to those cloistered in cottages and palatial mansions. Many, who otherwise would have fallen into oblivion, distinguished themselves in various ways and gained their emancipation by seeking refuge in the order."
PARABLE 0107: PERSEVERANCE
Perseverance is an especially important quality in Buddhism. For example, if we were to rub two pieces of wood together but before fire is produced, we stop to do something else, only to resume later, we would never obtain fire. Likewise, a person who cultivates sporadically (e.g., on weekends or during retreats) but neglects daily practice, can seldom achieve lasting results.
PARABLE 0108: PHANTOM CITY
Lotus Sutra (ch. 7):
"A guide was leading a group of travelers to an island where a treasure lay buried. On the way the travelers wearied, and some spoke of turning back. The guide accordingly conjured up an apparent city and successfully urged his companions to rest and refresh themselves there. When they had done so, they went on and reached the island where the treasure was concealed. Then the guide told them that the city they had seen a while back had been an illusory city, and not a real one, which he had conjured up for the purpose of conquering their discouragement."
In this parable the guide is the Buddha and his companions are sentient beings. The treasure island is the other shore of Buddhahood while the phantom city represents the Three Vehicles (Sravaka, Pratyeka-Buddha and Bodhisattva).
PARABLE 0109: PRIDE AND CONCEIT
"A story is told of a Vietnamese monk who was of fairly high rank within the Buddhist hierarchy. He was honest by nature, liberal and broadminded, given to practicing charity. However he had a shortcoming--pride and conceit. Several local politicians, having noticed this, went to see him along with a fortune-teller feigning a courtesy visit. During the ensuing conversation, the fortune-teller took a glance at the Master and praised him for his 'marks of merit,' which would surely bring him many supporters, while his fame and renown would spread far and wide. He added that if the monk enjoyed political and social activities, he would surely become a great leader. For example, he would easily be elected Prime Minister, if he were a layman.
Hearing this, the monk replied with a few words of modesty; however, his face exhibited extreme delight. Seizing the occasion, the politicians lamented the current period, expressed compassion for the sufferings of the people and the declining state of the country. They then gradually persuaded him to join a political movement. The result was a great deal of pain and anguish for the monk over an extended period of time.
This story demonstrates that the easy-going and credulous are often duped. When they have not eliminated greed, it is easy for others to deceive them with money, sex and fame. It also applies to those who have a temper and too much pride. Easily aroused, they bring a great deal of trouble and anguish upon themselves."
Master Tam: 256
PARABLE 0110: PARAMITA OF CHARITY
"The Buddha was once a king who ruled over his people with wisdom and benevolence. However, the nation suffered twelve years of drought and many people were dying of starvation. The king then gathered all the grain to be found in the country and distributed it equally among the people. At that time a Pratyeka Buddha who had dedicated himself to Buddhist practice for forty kalpas appeared and begged for food. The king gave him his last bit of food as an offering. This good deed caused various grains to fall from the skies like rain for seven days. Thereafter, seven kinds of treasures as well as clothes, food and other necessities rained down every seventh day, putting an end to the people's poverty." (Sutra of the Golden-colored King)
PARABLE 0111: PRECEPT (NO INTOXICANTS)
"Once there was a layman who received the five precepts. At first they were very important to him and he strictly observed them. After a time, his old bad habits surfaced and he longed for a taste of wine. He thought, 'Among the five precepts, the one against drinking is really unnecessary. What's wrong with a little glass of wine?' He bought three pints of brandy and downed them. As he was drinking, the neighbor's little chicken ran into his house. 'They've sent me a snack.' he thought. 'I'll put this chicken on the menu to help send down my brandy.' He then grabbed the bird and killed it.
This is a distinctly Chinese story and not a Western story. Why? Chinese people like to eat hors d'oeuvres with their alcohol. Westerners don't need snacks to send off their wine... Anyway, because he drank the wine, he wanted the meat and thus broke the precept against killing. Since he took the chicken without the owner's permission, he also broke the precept against stealing. Then the neighbor lady walked in and said, 'Say, did you see my chicken?'
Drunk as he was, and full of chicken, he slurred, 'No...I didn't see no chicken. Your old pu...pu...pullet didn't run over here.' So saying, he broke the precept against lying. Then he took a look at the woman--she was quite pretty--and forthwith he broke the precept against sexual misconduct. A little drink of brandy led him to transgress all five of the precepts. Therefore, the precept against taking intoxicants is very important."
Master Hsuan Hua: 60-61
Note: Bodhisattva Precepts. Selling alcoholic beverages is considered a major offense while consuming alcoholic beverages is only a secondary one. This is because Bodhisattvas place compassion first and foremost and aim at benefitting others -- to sell liquor is to harm others, to consume liquor is to harm mainly oneself. Why should we not consume alcoholic beverages? Buddhism prohibits alcoholic beverages not to deny enjoyment of life, but because alcohol clouds the mind and prevents one's innate wisdom from emerging. Thus, to sell liquor goes against the Bodhisattva's compassionate goal -- to help sentient beings develop wisdom and achieve Buddhahood.
See also Parable: Brahma Net Sutra (no. 061)
PARABLE 0112: PRECEPTS ARE THE BASIS OF ALL GOOD
"As an acrobat clears the ground before he shows his tricks, so good conduct (keeping the precepts) is the basis of all good qualities" (Questions of King Milinda.)
Hastings: v. ix, p.631
PARABLE 0113: KEEPING THE PRECEPTS
"The Maha-Maya Sutra recounts the tale of Malika, the wife of King Prasenajit, who lies, seductively adorns her body, entertains, and serves wine to the king...
When the Buddha was in the world, King Prasenajit's Queen had received the eight precepts of a layperson. One time, King Prasenajit wanted to kill his cook. When his Queen heard about this she wanted to save the cook, so she bedecked herself in fine adornments, put on fragrant powders, placed flowers in her hair, and prepared delicious food and wine. Then she took along several ladies-in-waiting and went to see the King. King Prasenajit was extremely pleased with the wine and the food, and afterwards the Queen beseeched the King to forgo his idea of killing the cook. The King consented, and so in this way the cook was saved.
The next day, the Queen went to the Buddha's place and repented. She had already taken the eight lay precepts, and one of them is that one can't put fragrant oils or perfumes on one's body or flowers in one's hair. She had also drunk wine the previous day...But since the only reason she did all that was because she wanted to save the cook's life, the Buddha said, 'Not only have you not transgressed the precepts, you actually have gained merit and virtue'"
(Master Hsuan Hua).
"Because her motives were wholesome and pure, the Buddha praises her actions. Chan-jan notes: 'This story tells of breaking the precepts to save beings because of the Bodhisattva's basic desire to benefit others. As such, it is known as 'good in the midst of evil'...Anyone wishing to follow this example must assess his or her motives judiciously. If one is just indulging desire, it is not on the order of observance of the precepts.'"
PARABLE 0114: FOOTPRINTS OF THE SAGES
A story is told in the sutras of three deities who were trying to wash a Bhiksu's robe in the Ganges but could not soak it through. Yet, as soon as they took a single grain of rice donated to a temple and placed it on the robe, the robe sank to the bottom.
The story illustrates how important offerings of the believers are, particularly if they are made with a pure mind. If a monk or nun accepts such offerings, but does not cultivate the precepts, these offerings become great liabilities, leading the errant cleric down the path of perdition. Even deities and ghosts follow such a cleric and sweep away his very footprints to prevent anyone from following his example.
PARABLE 0115: (OBSERVING THE) PRECEPTS
Bhiksu bound by reeds.
In the time of the Buddha, there was a Bhiksu who observed the precepts to the letter. One day, he was accosted by brigands who stole his clothes and begging bowl and, fearing reprisal, were about to kill him. Fortunately, there was someone among them who knew about Buddhism. He said, "There is no need to kill him. Just tie his hands and feet and leave him among the living reeds. That will be enough." The Bhiksu thus bound did not move lest he uproot the fresh reeds and thus break the precept not to kill. When the brigands had left, a passer-by saw the monk and untied him. Henceforth, he became known as the Bhiksu bound by reeds.
PARABLE 0116: (THE PERFECTION OF) PRECEPTS / VIMALAKIRTI
"Once when the Buddha Shakyamuni was in the world, there were two Bhikshus cultivating in the mountains. One day, one of the Bhikshus went down the mountain to get food and left the other one sleeping. In India at that time, the Bhikshus simply wore their sashes wrapped around them; they did not wear clothing underneath. This Bhikshu had shed his robe and was sleeping nude...At that time a woman happened along, and seeing the Bhikshu, she was aroused and took advantage of him. Just as she was running away from the scene, the other Bhikshu returned from town and saw her in flight. Upon investigation he found out that the woman had taken advantage of the sleeping Bhikshu, and he decided to pursue her, catch her, and take her before the Buddha in protest. He took out after her, and the woman became so reckless that she slipped off the road and tumbled down the mountain to her death.
So one Bhikshu had violated the precept against sexual activity and the other had broken the precept against killing. Although the [second] Bhikshu hadn't actually pushed her down the mountain, she wouldn't have fallen if he hadn't been pursuing her.
'What a mess.' concluded the two Bhikshus. Messy as it was, they had to go before the Buddha and describe their offenses. The Buddha referred them to the Venerable Upali. But when Venerable Upali heard the details, his verdict was that, indeed, one had violated the precept against sexual activity and the other against killing, offenses which cannot be absolved. 'You're both going to have to endure the hells in the future,' he concluded. Hearing this, the two monks wept, and they went about everywhere trying to find someone who could help them.
Eventually, they found the Great Upasaka Vimalakirti, who asked why they were crying. When they had related their tale, he pronounced his judgment that they had not violated the precepts. 'If you can be repentant,' he said, 'then I can certify that you didn't break the precepts.'
'How can that be?' they asked.
'The nature of offenses is basically empty,' replied the Upasaka. 'You did not violate the precepts intentionally, and so it doesn't count. It is an exception.' Hearing this explanation by the Great Teacher Vimalakirti, the two Bhikshus were enlightened on the spot and were certified as attaining the fruition...
So there are many exceptions within the prohibitive precepts. But if people always look to the exceptions, they will simply not hold the precepts. They will beg the question. So the Buddha did not speak much about this aspect."
Master Hui Seng
PARABLE 0117: RAFT OF DHARMA
Parable of the Raft:
"0 monks, a man is on a journey. He comes to a vast stretch of water. On this side, the shore is dangerous, but on the other it is safe and without danger. No boat goes to the other shore which is safe and without danger, nor is there any bridge for crossing over. He says to himself, 'This sea of water is vast, and the shore on this side is full of danger; but on the other shore it is safe and without danger. It would be good therefore if I would gather wood, branches, and leaves to make a raft, and with the help of the raft cross over safely to the other side, exerting myself with my hands and feet.' Then that man gathers wood, branches and leaves and makes a raft, and with the help of that raft crosses over safely to the other side. Having crossed over and gotten to the other side, he thinks, 'This raft was of great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side. It would be good if I carry this raft on my head or on my back wherever I go. 'What do you think, 0 monks, if he acted in this way. Would that man be acting properly with regard to the raft?' 'No, sir.' 'In which way, then, would he be acting properly with regard to the raft? Having crossed and gone over to the other side, suppose that man should think, 'This raft was a great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side. It would be good if I beached this raft on the shore, or moored it and left it afloat, and then went on my way wherever it may be.' Acting in this way would that man act properly with regard to the raft.'
In the same manner, O monks, I have taught a doctrine similar to a raft -- it is for crossing over, and not for carrying. You who understand that the teaching is similar to a raft, should give up attachment to even the good Dharma; how much more then should you give up evil things."
Majjhima Nikaya: i.134-35
Note: "In the famous parable of the raft the Buddha makes the point that, after using the makeshift raft of Dharma to ferry himself across to the 'Other Shore' of Nirvana, the adept would certainly not put the raft on top of his head and carry it off; rather, since the raft had now served its purpose, it should be abandoned on the beach. And just as the raft of Dharma was to be used for crossing over, and was not to be retained, so should the adept eventually abandon even right mental objects (such as the desire for calm and insight), let alone wrong ones...Such warnings are especially characteristic of Zen, but Zen [admonitions] may be seen simply as particularly strong or blunt expressions of a belief held generally throughout Buddhism."
PARABLE 0118: HUMAN REASONING
To approach the sutras "making discriminations and nurturing attachments" is no different from the Zen allegory of a person attempting to lift a chair while seated on it. If he would only get off the chair, he could raise it easily. Similarly, the practitioner truly understands the Dharma only to the extent that he "suspends the operation of the discriminating intellect, the faculty of the internal dialogue through which people from moment to moment define and perpetuate their customary world of perception." Editor: na
PARABLE 0119: LAND OF THE BEES
"Once Sakyamuni Buddha and his disciple Maudgalyayana went with a large gathering of followers to another country to convert living beings. When the citizens saw the Buddha they shut their doors and ignored him. When they saw Maudgalyayana, however, they ran to greet him, and everyone, from the King and ministers to the citizens, all bowed and competed to make offerings to him. The Buddha's disciples thought this most unfair. 'World Honored One,' they said, 'your virtuous conduct is so lofty; why is it that they do not make offerings to you, but instead compete to make offerings to Maudgalyayana?' 'This is because of past affinities,' said the Buddha." I will tell you. Limitless aeons ago, Maudgalyayana and I were fellow-countrymen. He gathered firewood in the mountains and I lived in a hut below. A swarm of bees was bothering me and I decided to smoke them out. But Maudgalyayana refused to help even though they stung him until his hands were swollen and painful. Instead, he made a vow, "It must be miserable to be a bee," he thought. "I vow that when I attain the Way I will try to save these asura-like bees first thing!" Many lifetimes later the bees were reborn as the citizens of this country. The queen bee became the King, the drones became the ministers, and the workers became the citizens. Because I didn't like the bees, I now have no affinity with these people and therefore no one makes offerings to me. But because of his vow, all the citizens revere Maudgalyayana'".
Hsuan Hua: na
PARABLE 0120: THIS MIND IS THE BUDDHA
"Once a monk asked Big Plum what [the famous Zen Patriarch] Matsu taught him. Big Plum said, 'This mind is the Buddha.' The monk replied, 'Nowadays Matsu teaches That which isn't the mind isn't the Buddha.' To this Big Plum replied, 'Let him have That which isn't the mind isn't the Buddha. I'll stick with This mind is the Buddha.' When he heard this story, Matsu said, 'The plum is ripe.' (Transmission of the Lamp, chapter 7)."
Red Pine: 116
PARABLE 0121: REINCARNATION (DOG AND PILE OF GOLD)
"When the Buddha was in the world, he once went to a layman's house to accept offerings.
In the house there was a dog that stayed under the bed, day and night. He wouldn't allow anyone except members of the family to get near the bed. Anyone else who approached it got bitten. Even the Buddha was not allowed near the bed. The household experimented to see if the dog would bite the Buddha, and, sure enough, it snapped at him. They asked the Buddha why the dog was so protective of the bed. The Buddha said, 'Don't you know? In its last life the dog was your father. Your father spent his whole life earning about three hundred ounces of gold and loved it so much he buried it under the bed. Then suddenly he got sick and died before he could tell you what he had done with it. After his death he hurried right back as a dog to guard the pile of gold. If you don't believe me, start digging and you'll find the gold.'
They dragged the dog away and did, in fact, uncover exactly three hundred ounces of gold."
Master Hsuan Hua: 39
PARABLE 0122: REINCARNATION (SARIPUTRA AND THE DOG)
"There's ... an incident from the Buddha's time. There were Bhiksus in the assembly who had certified to Arhatship. Some of them were old and didn't have any teeth. When they recited the Sutras, they didn't sound very eloquent. This prompted a [novice] to say, 'When you recite the Sutras, you sound like a bunch of dogs barking.' Just because of this one sentence of slander, in his next life he fell into the destiny of a dog.One of the Bhikshus he slandered was an Arhat. If he had slandered an ordinary person, he would have had bad karma, but it would not have been so bad. But because he scolded a sage, in his next life he became a dog. Because he was a dog, he had the habits of a dog, and he liked to steal food to eat. He would grab tidbits from the kitchen of his master. Once, his master saw this and cut off the dog's four legs and threw him out onto the grass. The dog was yelping in pain. Shariputra happened to walk by at that point. He spoke Dharma to the dog, telling him, 'You know, the Four Elements are really suffering. Your body is false. Put it down; don't get angry.' After Shariputra spoke Dharma, the dog didn't yelp anymore, and he died in peace, passing away peacefully. Since at the moment of his death he didn't give rise to anger, he was reborn again as a person and left the home life at seven years of age under Shariputra. Shariputra spoke the Dharma to him, at which point he certified to Arhatship.
So you see, this person was once a novice, then he became a dog, and then he became a person again. When he was a dog, he still retained the good roots from his past lives, and that's why he could understand human speech. Since he died happily, in his next life he became a left-home person again. After that, he never took the full Bhikshu precepts; he wanted to stay a novice forever so he could serve his teacher Shariputra, to repay his kindness." (Master Hui Seng, Brahma Net Sutra).
PARABLE 0123: RETROGRESSION / NON-RETROGRESSION
In one of his previous incarnations, Sariputra, a senior disciple of the Buddha, was practicing the Perfection of Charity. "One day a demon appeared to him and, wishing to put him to the test and if possible contrive his downfall, asked him for his right hand. In reply, Shariputra cut it off and gave it to the demon. But the demon was angry and refused to accept it, complaining that Shariputra had impolitely offered it to him with his left! At this point, it is said that Shariputra lost hope of ever being able to satisfy the desires of beings, and turned from the Mahayana to pursue the path to Arhatship."
Note: "None of the sentient beings who are born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss ever fall back into a lower realm. Many among them have only one more lifetime to go before Buddhahood. Their number is incalculable: they can be spoken of as innumerable." (The Amitabha Sutra)
PARABLE 0124: ROTTEN APPLE
Consider the example, adapted from the sutras, of worms feeding on rotten apples. The worms are "running" hither and thither among the apples, each worm "elbowing" the others for a better spot, a larger piece of the rotten matter. They all feel their actions necessary and desirable. They all seem very busy and very happy. To us humans, however, theirs is indeed a pitiable lot.
The human condition is the same from the viewpoint of celestials, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas -- such a pitiful sight indeed, whether of beggars or presidential hopefuls!
PARABLE 0125: PURE LAND (SECRETS OF REBIRTH IN SUKHAVATI)
"A laywoman once approached a well-known Elder Master and asked: 'I have recited the Buddha's name for some time now, but have not seen any sign of progress. Can you explain to me why this is so?' The Master said, 'Reciting the Buddha's name is not difficult; the difficulty lies in (1) perseverance. Perhaps you have not recited regularly and in a persevering manner.' The laywoman replied, 'You are entirely right. I am usually interrupted in my recitation and have not been persevering, because of family obligations. From now on, I will put aside all distractions and vow to keep reciting exactly as taught.' Some time later, she returned and asked, 'Since receiving your instructions last time, I have put aside all external distractions and recited the Buddha's name regularly, every day. Why is it that I still do not see any results?' The abbot replied, 'Reciting the Buddha's name is not difficult; the difficulty lies in perseverance. Persevering is not difficult; the difficulty lies in (2) being singleminded. Although, on the surface, you may have put all distractions aside, in your mind you still worry about possessions and property and are still attached to children and family. You have neither discarded worry nor eliminated the root of love-attachment. How can you achieve one-pointedness of mind and see Amitabha Buddha?' Hearing this, the woman sighed aloud 'That is so true, Master! Although I have seemingly abandoned all distractions, my mind is still preoccupied with them. From now on, I vow to disregard everything and recite the Buddha's name singlemindedly.' Thereupon she went home and, from that time on, each time her children or anyone else sought her advice or confided in her, she would invariably reply, 'I want peace of mind, and do not wish to be bothered by anything.' For this reason, everyone referred to her as 'the woman who is above all worry and care.' A few years later, she went to bow to the abbot at his temple, saying, 'Thanks to your advice and teaching, I have now achieved one-pointedness of mind and have seen Amitabha Buddha. I have come to pay my respects and take leave of you, Abbot, because I will soon be reborn in the Pure Land.'
The laywoman in our story achieved liberation because she was enlightened to two principles: perseverance and singlemindedness. Thus, to be successful, the Pure Land practitioner should consider everything, from personal possessions and property to family and friends, to be illusory and phantom-like, coming together temporarily and then disintegrating. If we care about family and friends, we should ensure our own rebirth and liberation and then rescue them. This is true affection!
Therefore, to recite the Buddha's name effectively, we should not only ignore one hundred distractions, we should discard all distractions, be they one thousand or tens of thousands!"
Master Tam: 229-230
PARABLE 0126: PURE LAND (STORY OF REBIRTH IN SUKAVATI)
"The laywoman DH was the wife of a certain man in the city of Yangchow (China). As she could not bear children, her husband took a concubine, which made it difficult for her to remain in the conjugal home. Therefore, she went to live with her stepmother, another lay Buddhist, who loved her as her own daughter. They supported and relied on one another, and two years passed as though they were but one day.
DH was a vegetarian who earnestly practiced Buddha Recitation day and night. She and her stepmother realized that they had scant merits and few good conditions in this life, and no one else to rely on in case of need, as their relatives were dead or far away. They therefore wholeheartedly helped one another, as Dharma friends along the Way. From the point of view of faith and daily cultivation, DH far surpassed that of the average Buddhist. Unfortunately, however, because of heavy residual karma and unfavorable conditions, she always met with adverse circumstances and her mind was never at peace.
In 1938, sensing that a major upheaval was impending, mother and daughter immediately left Hong Kong, where they had been staying, to seek refuge back on the mainland. At that time, the cost of living was skyrocketing. Renting a place to live was dificult, while staying in hotels for any length of time was both costly and inconvenient. Fortunately, a local abbot took pity on the women and set aside a small area of his temple for them and three other refugees.
Around March of the following year, DH suddenly contracted typhoid fever. The illness lasted for over a month, with no signs of recovery. At that time, the temple was very busy and space was at a premium. If she were to die there, it would cause a great deal of inconvenience. Therefore, with great reluctance, her stepmother decided to bring her to the local hospital.
The hospital followed Western medical practice, making it difficult to engage in supportive recitation freely and in an appropriate manner. On the 18th of August, after two or three days in the hospital, with no one practicing supportive recitation at her bedside and in a confused state of mind, the laywoman DH died. She was fifty-one years of age at the time.
We can see that DH was truly a woman of faith, who had practiced in earnest. If, at the time of death, she had had the benefit of adequate supportive recitation, auspicious signs of rebirth in the Pure Land should have appeared. Such was not, unfortunately, the case. Because of adverse circumstances, she died in a coma, unattended by Dharma friends. She probably did not achieve rebirth in the Pure Land, but merely managed to sow the seeds of Enlightenment for future lives. What happened to her was regrettable, but demonstrates that supportive recitation at the time of death is truly of crucial importance."
Master Tam: xxx
PARABLE 0127: SELF-MORTIFICATION
"The practice of [self-mortification] harkens back to statements appearing in many Mahayana sutras, which demand that the Bodhisattva, in his ardor for the Dharma, not begrudge even his own body. The locus classicus for such mortification of the flesh is the Bodhisattva Sadhaprarudita in the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines* (Astasahasrika-prajnaparamita sutra). Sadhaprarudita had nothing of value with which to make offerings to Dharmodgata Bodhisattva and decided to sell his own body in the marketplace as a way of raising money. As a test, Sakra, king of the gods, conjured up a young man, who offered to buy his heart, blood, and marrow. Sadhaprarudita gladly accepted his offer and enthusiastically started cutting into himself, until Sakra stopped him and restored him to his former condition."
Buswell/Zen Monastic: 196
(* translated by E. Conze, p.283ff)
PARABLE 0128: VISIONS OF SUKHAVATI
"If we are not diligent and do not exert efforts along the path of cultivation, nothing usually happens; however, if we are diligent and exert a great deal of effort, we will definitely witness different realms. They either come from within the mind or are caused by outside sources...
Internal realms are also called 'realms of the Self-Mind' because they do not come from outside, but develop from the mind. Those who do not clearly understand the truth that 'the thousand dharmas are created by the mind,' think that all realms come from the outside. This is wrong...
There are realms which are not created by the mind, but come from the outside (external realms). For example, some practitioners might see Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appearing before them, preaching the Dharma, exhorting and praising them. Others, while reciting the Buddha's name, suddenly experience an Awakening and immediately see the Land of Ultimate Bliss... One story concerns a nun of the author's acquaintance who was cultivating in the vicinity of Dalat. After her Buddha Recitation session, as she was seated in meditation, she saw two men of noble countenance, dressed like deities or Immortals, respectfully inviting her to scale the mountains and visit their beautiful grounds. In her samadhi, she asked them, 'How can I go, when the mountains are so high and I am so weak?' One of the men said, 'Do not worry, I have a way.' He then touched her lightly with something similar to a willow branch and requested her to follow him. She suddenly saw her body glide effortlessly over the grass, and, in no time, she was scaling the mountains. There she witnessed ethereal scenes, with gigantic trees and a palace and tower in the distance. At that very moment, a companion in the back room dropped something with a bang. The nun suddenly awakened from meditation. All scenes had disappeared but her thighs were still aching from overexertion."
Master Tam: 192-199
Note: "Some might ask, 'To see Buddhas and lotus blossoms during Buddha Recitation practice -- is it not to see demonic apparitions?' Answer: If cause and effect coincide, these are not 'demonic realms.' This is because the Pure Land method belongs to the Dharma Door of Existence; when Pure Land practitioners first set out to cultivate, they enter the Way through forms and marks and seek to view the celestial scenes of the Western Pure Land. When they actually witness these auspicious scenes, it is only a matter of effects corresponding to causes. If cause and effect are in accord, how can these be 'demonic realms'? In the Zen School, on the other hand, the practitioner enters the Way through the Dharma Door of Emptiness. Right from the beginning of his cultivation he wipes out all marks -- even the marks of the Buddhas or the Dharma are destroyed. The Zen practitioner does not seek to view the Buddhas or the lotus blossoms, yet the marks of the Buddhas or the lotus blossoms appear to him. Therefore, cause and effect do not correspond. For something to appear without a corresponding cause is indeed the realm of the demons. Thus, the Zen practitioner always holds the sword of wisdom aloft. If the demons come, he kills the demons, if the Buddha comes, he kills the Buddha -- to enter the realm of True Emptiness is not to tolerate a single mark."
Master Tam: 200
PARABLE 0129: SINGLE-MINDEDNESS (ZEN MONK & TIGER)
There was once a Zen monk meditating on a deserted mountain far away from all human habitation. Because of the rigors of the climate and the isolation of the place, he found it difficult to concentrate. His mind constantly wandered toward life in the village down below. One evening, as he was seated lost in errant thought, he had the sensation that he was being watched. He slowly turned his head, and lo and behold, there was a tiger crouched in the bushes behind him! One false move and the tiger would pounce on him. He had no choice but to remain ramrod straight, in singleminded concentration. When dawn broke, the tiger, fearful of the light of day, gave up this cat-and-mouse game and disappeared.
The next two evenings, the monk, faithful to his vow, resumed his meditation at the appointed time and place. The tiger returned and the scene repeated itself each evening. When daylight came on the third day, the monk, after three nights of singleminded concentration, experienced a Great Awakening, collapsed and died. At his funeral, a tiger was seen watching and wailing in the distance. Editor: na
PARABLE 0130: SPIRITUAL POWERS
"Miracles are possible in Buddhism, even though the Buddha discouraged all display of miraculous or parapsychological powers as offering proof of spiritual attainment...A story that is told of his response to a noted ascetic whose path he crossed on one of his journeys nicely illustrates his down-to-earth reaction to any extremes of yogic behavior. Encountering an ascetic...at a river crossing, he entered into conversation as he often did when traveling, and was told that the ascetic had achieved such mastery over his physical body that he could now cross the river walking on the water. The Buddha's comment was to the effect that such a feat, though remarkable, seemed a rather useless expenditure of physical and psychological energy, since there was a good ferry crossing the river at regular intervals charging less than a penny for the ride."
PARABLE 0131: KARMA (STALE RICE / STALE FARE)
This is a reference to a well-known story about Buddha Sakyamuni's disciple Visakha, who once said: "When a certain Bhiksu was standing at the door for alms, my father-in-law was eating sweet milk rice-porridge, ignoring him. Thinking to myself that my father-in-law, without performing any good deed in this life, is only consuming the merits of past deeds, I told the Bhiksu: 'Pass on Venerable Sir, my father-in-law is eating stale fare.'" (Narada, The Buddha & His Teachings, p. 101.)
Note: Most people go through life consuming "stale fare," as they enjoy the results of their past merits without thought of creating new ones. For example, a wealthy person (i.e., one who practiced charity in past lives) spending time and money on himself alone, without thoughts of charity, is eating stale fare.
PARABLE 0132: (I HAVE) STOPPED
"It was in the 20th year [of his ministry] that the Buddha converted the notorious murderer Angulimala. Ahimsaka (Innocent) was his original name. His father was chaplain to the King of Kosala. He received his education at Taxila, a famous educational centre in the olden days, and became the most illustrious and favorite student of his renowned teacher.
Unfortunately his colleagues grew jealous of him, concocted a false story, and succeeded in poisoning the teacher's mind against him. The enraged teacher, without any investigation, contrived to put an end to [the student's] life by ordering him to fetch a thousand human right-hand fingers as the teacher's honorarium.
In obedience to the teacher, though with great reluctance, he repaired to the Jalin forest, in Kosala, and started killing people to collect fingers for the necessary offering. The fingers thus collected were hung on a tree, but as they were destroyed by crows and vultures he later wore a garland of those fingers to ascertain the exact number. Hence he was known by the name Angulimala (Finger-wreathed). When he had collected 999 fingers, so the story goes, the Buddha appeared on the scene. Overjoyed at the sight, because he thought that he could complete the required number by killing the great ascetic, he stalked the Buddha, drawing his sword.
The Buddha by his psychic powers created obstacles on the way so that Angulimala would not be able to get near him although he walked at his usual pace. Angulimala ran as fast as he could but he could not overtake the Buddha. Panting and sweating, he stopped and cried: 'Stop, ascetic.'
The Buddha calmly said: 'Though I walk, yet have I stopped. Do you, Angulimala, stop.' The bandit thought: 'These ascetics speak the truth, yet he says he has stopped, whereas it is I who have stopped. What does he mean?'
Standing, he questioned him:
'Thou who art walking, friar, dost say: 'Lo, I have stopped! / And me thou tellest, who have stopped, I have not stopped!'
The Buddha sweetly replied:
'Yes, I have stopped, Angulimala, evermore,/ Towards all living things renouncing violence;/ Thou holdest not thy hand against thy fellowmen,/ Therefore 'tis I have stopped, but thou still goest on.'
Angulimala's good karma rushed up to the surface. He thought that the great ascetic was none other but Sakyamuni Buddha who out of compassion had come to help him.
Straightway he threw away his armour and sword and became a convert. Later, he was admitted into the Buddhist Order by the Buddha with the mere utterance: 'Come, O Bhikkhu!'...
One day as he went on his round for alms he saw a woman in labor. Moved by compassion, he reported this pathetic woman's suffering to the Buddha who then advised him to pronounce the following words of truth, which later became known as the Angulimala Paritta (Mantra) ... 'Sister, since my birth in the Arya clan [i.e., since my ordination], I know not that I consciously destroyed the life of any living being. By this truth may you be whole and may your child be whole.' He went to the presence of the suffering sister and uttered these words. Instantly, she delivered the child with ease." (Narada Maha Thera, The Buddha and His Teaching, p.122ff)"
PARABLE 0133: MIND (SWEEP & BROOM)
"Shudapanthaka was one of the sixteen saints and direct disciples of Buddha Sakyamuni. Born into the brahmin caste, he was a man of very dull intellect. Although he had been taught the Vedas, he could not understand them. Later in his life, his brother Mahapanthaka (another of the sixteen saints), ordained him as a Buddhist monk and tried, to no avail, to teach him four verses of the doctrine. Finally, in despair, he [was sent home. On the way] Shudapanthaka met the Buddha, who instructed him to clean the monks' temple, and while doing so, to repeat the two words 'sweep' and 'broom.' Through the Buddha's miraculous powers, as he swept, the dirt immediately returned just as before. After some time had passed in unsuccessful efforts to clean the temple, Sudapanthaka suddenly understood the meaning of the words that the Buddha taught him. Holding the broom, he declared to his fellow monks that sweeping away dust meant cleaning not the dust of the earth, but the impurities caused by one's emotions --- desire, hatred, and ignorance. He came to understand the nature of things as they are, eliminated his defilements, and became a saint...Tradition has it that he dwells invisibly on Vulture Peak (Bihar, India) surrounded by sixteen hundred saints." Jamgon:355
Note: All sentient beings have the Buddha Nature and can awaken to it once greed, anger and delusion are overcome.
PARABLE 0134: EXPEDIENT MEANS (WEALTHY MAN & POOR SON)
Lotus Sutra (ch. 4):
"A father and son parted company while the son was still a very young man. In the course of time the father became very rich, while the son sank into the depths of poverty and beggary. One day, during the course of his wanderings, he happened to come to the palatial home of his father. The father, at once recognizing him, had him brought into his presence. This only frightened the poor man, and the father let him go. Then he sent two men to ask the beggar whether he wished to do menial labor on the rich man's estate. The beggar consented, and worked in this way for many years.
One day the rich man told the beggar that in view of his many years of honest and conscientious service he would reward him with the charge of all his possessions. After several more years had passed, the rich man gathered his entire household and clan and told them that the beggar was his son, from whom he had been parted many years before, and that he was now reclaiming him and declaring him heir to all his possessions. When the beggar heard this, he was amazed, thinking that he had received something quite unexpected [while in fact it was his all along]." Hurv: xi-xii
Note: In this parable, the beggar represents ordinary sentient beings, who cannot imagine their own capacity for Buddhahood. The father is the Buddha, who leads sentient beings expediently, one step at a time, through the stages of Sravaka, Pratyeka-Buddha and Bodhisattva before revealing the vehicle of Buddhahood.
PARABLE 0135: PURE LAND (WHITE PATH TO SUKHAVATI)
Parable by Shan-Tao, a famous Chinese Patriarch:
"A man on a long journey to the west suddenly finds, in the middle of a wasteland, that his only way forward is over a narrow white path between a river of fire to the south and a river of surging water to the north. Pursued by murderous bandits, he rushes toward the path, but draws back when he sees the surging water and roaring flames. Realizing that whichever way he turns he may die, he decides to try to cross. Just then, he hears a voice from behind (the east) and in front (the west) encouraging him and, despite the cries of the bandits that the way is too perilous, he walks on the path and reaches the other shore in safety.
Patriarch Shan-tao explains the parable as follows: 'The east bank is an analogy of this world...The west bank is a symbol of the Pure Land. The bandits... are an analogy of the six sense organs, the six consciousnesses, the six defilements, the five skandhas, and the four elements. The lonely wasteland is the following of bad companions and not meeting with those who are truly good and wise. The two rivers of fire and water are an analogy of attachment, which is like water, and aversion, which is like fire. The white path... is analogous to the aspiration for rebirth in the Pure Land which arises in the midst of the passions of attachment and aversion... The man proceeding on the path towards the west is comparable to one who directs all actions and practices towards the Western Pure Land. The hearing of voices from the east bank encouraging and exhorting him to pursue the path straight to the west, is like Sakyamuni Buddha, who has already disappeared from human sight but whose teaching may still be investigated and is therefore like voices...
Someone calling from the west bank is an analogy of the Vows of Amitabha.' 'And reaching the west bank, of course, is being reborn in Sukhavati [the Pure Land]'. This parable became popular in the Pure Land tradition, for its entire spirituality is neatly encapsulated in it." Yoshi/Corless: 262
PARABLE 0136: (RESCUING THE) WISDOM LIGHT
"Now, if you wish to save a certain being but it's beyond your capacity, then you should singlemindedly recite the Buddha's name. For example, you may see some pigs or sheep that are about to be slaughtered, and you can't liberate them because you aren't able to buy them all. At this time you should singlemindedly recite the Buddha's name so those creatures can hear it. You can speak Dharma also. You can say to them, 'All of you living beings should bring forth the Bodhi Mind.' This is creating causes and conditions for rescuing their wisdom-light. Although you are not saving their physical bodies, you are rescuing their wisdom-light." (Master Hui Seng)
PARABLE 0137: TRUTH (SUPARAGA AND THE POWER OF TRUTH)
"During one of his many lifetimes, the Buddha, as the sage Suparaga, was a very wise ship captain. Even when he had reached old age, he was known to be a lucky and fortunate being.
Once, a group of sea traders, anxious for safe passage, beseeched him to captain their ships. Suparaga replied to them: 'I am an old man, how much assistance do you think I can be? My mind wanders, my body is weak, and my eyesight is almost gone.' But the merchants persisted: 'We do not care about your physical condition, we do not want you for your strength; we want you for your presence alone.'
So, out of compassion, Suparaga, though old and ailing, boarded the vessel -- and they set off, with all the merchants rejoicing.
Soon the ship lost sight of shore and found itself in the realm of the Sea Serpents, that part of the great ocean haunted by strange fish -- a sea which churned with surging waves buffeted by the whims of the screaming and crying wind. Precious stones lay in the hidden depths where nagas lived.
For days, the wind and sea ran high, and the vessel moved with the current. No land came in sight and no favorable sign came from the sea. The signs they did see were strange to them, and the merchants grew increasingly distraught, bedeviled by fear and despair. But Suparaga, the Bodhisattva, comforted them saying: 'For those who would cross the great ocean, such portentous turmoil is the rule. Why wonder at it and fall prey to fear and emotionality?'
Before long, they found themselves approaching another sea, one shining with silver luster, bright with a mass of white froth. The merchants said to Suparaga: 'What great sea is this, its waters veiled in foam like fine white linen? It seems covered with liquid moonbeams; it seems to show a laughing face.'
Suparaga said: 'This is difficult. We are driven too far. This is the sea called Milk Ocean. We should go no further. Turn back if you can!' But the merchants replied: 'The ship goes too quickly; the winds are too strong. It is impossible even to slow down, much less change course. The current drives us too swiftly and the winds blow contrary.'
Then having crossed that sea, they came to another, its rolling waves tinted with a golden splendor the color of flames. Filled with amazement, the merchants said to Suparaga: 'Now the water appears like a huge, blazing fire! The waves are not blue, but seem tinged by the rising sun. What sea is this? Why is it this color?'
Suparaga did not think it advisable to reveal the reason for the ocean's hue, but said only: 'The sea of Fire Garlands is its name. It would be wise indeed for us to turn back now.'
But they were unable to turn the ship, no matter how hard they struggled. And soon they were crossing into another sea, as green as the most brilliant emerald. The merchants said to Suparaga: 'Now the sea has yet another appearance. Its waters are the color of emerald or aquamarine, and they shine like a beautiful meadow. What sea is this?'
Hearing this, Suparaga heaved a long and deep sigh, his heart aching with knowledge of the calamity that was imminent. In a low voice, he spoke: 'We have gone too far. From here it will be hard to return. This is the Sea of Reeds at the end of the world.'
When they heard these words, the poor merchants were plunged into despair. Minds lethargic, limbs without power, they sat in dull apathy and did nothing but sigh.
After crossing that sea, in the afternoon near twilight, when the sun seemed to be setting into the ocean, a fearsome and tremendous noise arose. The ear-splitting sound struck fear into their hearts. It sounded like the sea rising in anger, like bamboo groves crackling with fire, like thunderclaps.
Suparaga, alarmed, cried out: 'Alas! Alas! You have come to the dreadful place from which no one returns, the Mare's Mouth, the mouth of the Lord of Death!'
At this, the poor merchants were stunned by the fear of death. Realizing that all hope was lost, they wept, moaned and cried aloud to Suparaga: 'You, who have the ability to help all beings, who have so often relieved those in distress, now is the time to use your power for action. We take refuge in you, for we are sorely distressed and without any protection. The wrathful waters are about to swallow us like a morsel of food. The great Ocean will obey your command! Please put a stop to its terrible rage!'
Suparaga, his heart bursting with compassion, comforted the poor merchants, saying: 'I think I see a way to rescue us, but you must harness all your courage.'
Suparaga then threw his robe over one shoulder, knelt on the deck of the ship, and bowing down paid homage to the Tathagatas. Then he said: 'You, honorable sea traders, and you, sky and ocean-dwelling gods, listen and be my witness. Since my first conscious deed, I cannot recall even one instance of having injured any living being. By the power of this act of truth, by the strength of my store of virtuous actions, may this ship turn safely around without falling into the Mare's Mouth of death.'
And so great was the power of his truth, so great was the splendor of his merit, that the current and wind changed to the opposite direction, causing the vessel to return the way it came.
And the ship, filled with the sound of her merry, laughing crew, her lovely white sails spread like wings, flew over the sea, a white swan in a pure and cloudless sky."
(after The Marvelous Companion, by Aryasura, p. 129ff).
PARABLE 0138: WORLDLY AFFAIRS (IMPERMANENCE)
"Once I was staying at a hotel, waiting in a second-floor room to board the steamboat to go to Kyoto. In the next room was a merchant who was counting on the abacus and making notes. The maid called, 'The steamboat is going to leave.' As soon as he heard the boarding call, he put the abacus and notebook in his suitcase and went to the boat. I went too.
"It happened that we were passengers in the same cabin. When he entered it, he immediately withdrew his abacus and notebook from the suitcase and resumed his calculations and bookkeeping. I marveled at his planning, and I reflected: if when the maid called he had thought, 'I am busy now; I will board after completing my calculations,' he would have lost the opportunity of boarding altogether.
"At boarding time we should obey the call. Once in the boat, we should continue our work. Such is a wise method. Sometimes I advise my friends to hear the Buddha-Dharma, and they usually say that they are busy with worldly affairs or are too young and have no time to hear the Buddha-Dharma. They don't know about the wind of impermanence."
H. Seki: 51ff
PARABLE 0139: WORMS IN THE LION'S BODY
"The lion is the fiercest of animals, and when he roars all the other beasts flee. In the same way, people who have taken the precepts are likened to a lion; no other beings will bother them. However, just as worms that live in the lion's body dare to feed on the lion's flesh, so too, disciples within Buddhism can undermine the entire system. Buddhist disciples themselves are capable of destroying the Dharma, more so than the people outside Buddhism." Master Yen-p'ei
"If a Bodhisattva acts in this manner, he is no different from a worm in a lion's body, eating away at the lion's flesh" (Brahma net Sutra).
PARABLE 0140: YAJNADATTA, THE MAD MAN
"The Shurangama Sutra relates the story of Yajnadatta, the mad man of Shravasti, who one day looked in the mirror and noticed that the person reflected in it had a head. At that point, he lost his reason and said, 'How come that person has a head and I don't? Where has my head gone?' He then ran wildly through the streets asking everyone he met, 'Have you seen my head? Where has it gone?' He accosted everyone he met, yet no one knew what he was doing. 'He already has a head,' they said. 'What's he looking for another one for?'
There are a lot of people just like poor Yajnadatta."
Master Hsuan Hua/Root Farm: 47
Note: Most people do not realize that they already have the Buddha Nature, the Buddha Mind, which is inherent in all sentient beings. To become enlightened is to uncover that Buddha Nature by wiping away the dust of afflictions.
PARABLE 0141: REPENTANCE DISSOLVES ALL OFFENSES
"THE BUDDHA SAID: 'IF A PERSON HAS MANY OFFENSES AND DOES NOT REPENT OF THEM BUT MERELY STOPS THINKING ABOUT THEM, THE OFFENSES WILL ENGULF HIM, JUST AS WATER RETURNING TO THE SEA WILL GRADUALLY BECOME DEEPER AND BROADER.
IF A PERSON HAS OFFENSES AND REALIZING HE IS WRONG REFORMS THE OFFENSES AND PRACTICES GOOD, THE OFFENSES WILL DISSOLVE OF THEMSELVES, JUST AS A SICK PERSON WHO BEGINS TO PERSPIRE WILL GRADUALLY BE CURED.'"
(Sutra in 42 Sections, Master Hsuan Hua, tr.)
Note: "This section exhorts people to realize that if they have offenses they can change them. They can change their own minds. The offenses disappear. But if you have offenses and don't change them, then the offenses always remain."
Master Hsuan Hua
PARABLE 0142: WORLDLY FAME
"THE BUDDHA SAID: 'THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW EMOTION AND DESIRE AND SEEK FOR FAME. BUT BY THE TIME THEIR REPUTATION IS ESTABLISHED, THEY ARE ALREADY DEAD.
THOSE WHO ARE GREEDY FOR WORLDLY FAME AND DO NOT STUDY THE WAY WEAR THEMSELVES OUT IN WASTED EFFORT. IT IS JUST LIKE A STICK OF BURNING INCENSE WHICH, HOWEVER FRAGRANT ITS SCENT, CONSUMES ITSELF.'"
(Sutra in 42 Sections, Master Hsuan Hua, tr.)
PARABLE 0143: THE MIDDLE WAY
"ONE EVENING A NOVICE WAS RECITING THE SUTRA OF BEQUEATHING THE TEACHING BY KASHYAPA BUDDHA. HIS MIND WAS MOURNFUL AS HE REFLECTED REPENTANTLY ON HIS DESIRE TO RETREAT. THE BUDDHA ASKED HIM: 'WHEN YOU WERE A HOUSEHOLDER IN THE PAST, WHAT DID YOU DO?' HE REPLIED: 'I WAS FOND OF PLAYING THE LUTE.' THE BUDDHA SAID: 'WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE STRINGS WERE SLACK?' HE REPLIED: 'THEY DIDN'T SOUND.' 'WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE STRINGS WERE TAUT?' HE REPLIED: 'THE SOUNDS WERE BRIEF.' 'WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THEY WERE TUNED BETWEEN SLACK AND TAUT?' HE REPLIED: 'THE SOUNDS CARRIED.'THE BUDDHA SAID: 'IT IS THE SAME WITH A NOVICE WHO STUDIES THE WAY. IF HIS MIND IS HARMONIOUS, HE CAN OBTAIN THE WAY. IF HE IS IMPETUOUS ABOUT THE WAY, THIS IMPETUOUSNESS WILL TIRE OUT HIS BODY AND IF HIS BODY IS TIRED, HIS MIND WILL GIVE RISE TO AFFLICTIONS. IF HIS MIND PRODUCES AFFLICTIONS THEN HE WILL RETREAT FROM HIS PRACTICE. IF HE RETREATS FROM HIS PRACTICE IT WILL CERTAINLY INCREASE HIS OFFENSES. YOU NEED ONLY BE PURE, PEACEFUL, AND HAPPY, AND YOU WILL NOT LOSE THE WAY.'" (Sutra in 42 Sections)
PARABLE 0144: THE HUMAN LIFESPAN
"THE BUDDHA ASKED A NOVICE: 'HOW LONG IS THE HUMAN LIFESPAN?' THE REPLY WAS:' A FEW DAYS.' THE BUDDHA SAID: 'THE DISCIPLE HAS NOT YET UNDERSTOOD THE WAY.' HE ASKED ANOTHER NOVICE: 'HOW LONG IS THE HUMAN LIFESPAN?' THE REPLY WAS: 'THE SPACE OF A MEAL.' THE BUDDHA SAID: 'THE DISCIPLE HAS NOT YET UNDERSTOOD THE WAY.' HE ASKED ANOTHER NOVICE: 'HOW LONG IS THE HUMAN LIFESPAN?' THE REPLY WAS:' THE LENGTH OF A SINGLE BREATH.' THE BUDDHA SAID: 'EXCELLENT. THE DISCIPLE UNDERSTANDS THE WAY.'" (Sutra in 42 Sections, Master Hsuan Hua, tr.)
PARABLE 0145: SUPERNATURAL BEINGS
"In secular Western thought, awareness of psychological projection as a source of supernatural being has served to demythologize demons, goblins, angels and saints and rob them of their power. The Bardo Thodol [Tibetan Book of the Dead], however, speaks of the deities as 'projections' but never as 'mere projections.' The deities are present and must be dealt with religiously ... not just by intellectual insight." (D.G. Dawe in The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, p. 93.)
PARABLE 0146: UNDEVIATING PRACTICE
"THE BUDDHA SAID: 'ONE WHO PRACTICES THE WAY IS LIKE AN OX THAT CARRIES A HEAVY BURDEN THROUGH DEEP MUD. THE LABOR IS SO DIFFICULT THAT HE DARES NOT GLANCE TO THE LEFT OR RIGHT. ONLY WHEN HE GETS OUT OF THE MUD IS HE ABLE TO REST. LIKEWISE A MONK SHOULD LOOK UPON EMOTION AND DESIRE AS THE DEEP MUD AND WITH AN UNDEVIATING MIND HE SHOULD RECOLLECT THE WAY. THEN HE CAN AVOID SUFFERING.'" (Sutra in 42 Sections).
PARABLE 0147: CASTLES IN THE SAND
"Some children were playing beside a river. They made castles of sand, and each child defended his castle and said, 'This one is mine.' They kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose. When the castles were all finished, one child kicked over someone else's castle and completely destroyed it. The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child's hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, 'He has spoiled my castle! Come along all of you and help me to punish him as he deserves.' The others all came to his help. They beat the child ... Then they went on playing in their sand castles, each saying, 'This is mine; no one else may have it. Keep away! Don't touch my castle!'
"But evening came, it was getting dark and they all thought they ought to be going home. No one now cared what became of his castle. One child stamped on his, another pushed his over with both hands. Then they turned away and went back, each to his home." Yogacara Bhumi Sutra 4 (Quoted from World Scripture)
Note: In this parable, Enlightenment is likened to the overcoming of the passion for existence with the cool evening. In the Pali version, the sand castles are likened to the body, which had been the object of grasping; with Awakening it becomes a thing to be discarded and broken up. (after World Scripture)
PARABLE 0148: PEACE OF MIND
"Just as a deep lake is clear and still, even so, on hearing the teachings and realizing them, the wise become exceedingly peaceful." Dhammapada 82 (Quoted from World Scripture)
PARABLE 0149: PARENTS THROUGH THE EONS OF TIME
"The Bodhisattva should adopt the same attitude toward all beings, his mind should be even toward all beings, he should not handle others with an uneven mind, but with a mind which is friendly, well disposed, helpful, free from aversions, avoiding harm and hurt; he should handle others as if they were his mother, father, son, or daughter. As a savior of all beings should a Bodhisattva behave toward all beings. So should he train himself if he wants to know full Enlightenment." Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines: 321-22 (Quoted from World Scripture)
PARABLE 0150: A FLOWER, A ROCK WALL, A SHOUT
"When Sakyamuni Buddha was at Vulture Peak, he held out a flower to
his listeners. Everyone was silent. Only Kasyapa the Great broke into a
broad smile. The Buddha said, 'I have the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous
Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma Gate,
independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine. This I have entrusted
to Kasyapa the Great.'" Mumonkan 6 .
"This is how Zen began. And this is how it was transmitted: with a flower, with a rock wall, with a shout. This approach, once it was made known by Bodhidharma and his successors, revolutionized the understanding and practice of Buddhism in China." Red Pine: xvi
PARABLE 0151: THE GREAT FLOOD
"Death carries away the man who gathers flowers, whose mind is attached to sensuality, even as a great flood sweeps away a slumbering village." Dhammapada 47 (Quoted from World Scripture)
PARABLE 0152: MARA, THE DEMON KING
"Whoever lives contemplating pleasant things, with senses unrestrained, in food immoderate, indolent, inactive, him verily Mara overthrows, as the wind blows down a weak tree."
"Whoever lives contemplating the impurities of the body, with senses restrained, in food moderate, full of faith, full of sustained energy, him Mara overthrows not, as the wind cannot shake a rocky mountain." Dhammapada 7-8 (quoted in World Scripture)
PARABLE 0153: DRAGON KING'S SON
"There was an old man named Ch'u. He was well over sixty. He had done many good things throughout his life. In the old days, transportation was very difficult. He donated money to have roads made and bridges built so people could get around more easily. People in need could always count on him for a handout. His neighbors had many good things to say about him. One day he saw a fisherman on his way to the market to sell a carp he had caught. This beautiful fish had red markings as bright and warm as a fire in the winter. Its eyes were as shiny as stars in the sky. Old Ch'u thought it would be a shame to eat such a beautiful fish, so he bought the carp for a good price and put it in a pond. He felt very good about that. But Ch'u was an old man, and nobody lives forever. Not long after that, he felt weak, giddy, and despondent. He thought he might not live much longer.
As he was lying home sick, a little servant boy came in, and said, 'Mister Ch'u, my master has sent me to invite you to eat with him.' Old Ch'u didn't recognize whose servant boy it was, but he thought getting out of bed might do him good; a meal out would lift his spirits. He followed the boy. 'I must really be sick,'he thought as they made their way, 'Everything looks hazy, and glowing in a golden light.' Before long, he found himself standing in front of an ornate palace with carved pillars and painted beams. A sign over the front door read, The Crystal Palace. 'Strange! Isn't that the name of the dragon's palace?' wondered Old Ch'u. In a few moments, out came his host, a most impressive man with thick eyebrows, long eye, and five long strands of whiskers. He looked lively and powerful, yet virtuous. After they had chatted a bit, Old Ch'u found out that his host was none other than the Dragon King himself! Together they enjoyed a rich feast of all the delicacies of mountain and sea. The Dragon King told Old Ch'u, 'One of my sons was out playing around the other day, and was kidnapped by a bandit who was going to murder him! Fortunately, you were there to save him. For this we are most grateful. 'Actually, your time on this earth is just about up, but because you have rescued a dragon in the guise of a fish, you have earned the right to live longer. I have prepared this simple repast to express my gratitude, and explain this to you.' 'I hardly dare to accept your generosity,' Old Ch'u humbly replied. 'From now on, I will do even more good deeds to show my deep gratitude.'
After their feast, Old Ch'u woke up in bed with a full stomach. 'It must have been a dream,' he told himself. 'But why am I so full?' He did many more good deeds, and died peacefully many years later without any suffering at the age of one hundred twenty ..." (Quoted from The Love of Life)
PARABLE 0154: DEER AND TIGER
"The mountains were splendid. But Wu T'ang didn't care a whit for scenery. He and his son spent a lot of time hunting in these mountains. Wu T'ang was a dead shot with his bow and arrow. He never missed. He was such a good shot that he barely had to aim. He just picked a target, pulled his bow, and shot it down. No animal was quick enough or agile enough to escape his arrows. Look, over there, a little fawn! A little fawn must be one of the most adorable animals in nature, but Wu T'ang wasn't in the mountains to admire nature. As soon as he spotted it, he whipped an arrow out of his quiver and zoom! the fawn fell over dead. Then Wu noticed its mother a few feet away in the grass. He couldn't get a good shot at her from his angle, so he waited. She was terribly sad about her little baby! She let out a cry as she started licking her baby's wounds. Just as she was concentrating on that, Wu pulled off a quick shot and the mother deer died on the spot.
But that wasn't enough for Wu. He thought there might be more deer in the area, because he heard something rustling around in the grass. There was at least one more in there, maybe two. 'Three deer is better than two,', he thought, as he prepared. Then he located the source of the sound and shot at a shadow in the grass. He was proud to hear the sound of another dead body falling to the ground, but his pride turned to anguish when he heard a groan! Deer don't grown like that! That was a human voice! Wu rushed over and saw that his third shot had killed not a deer, but his own son, who had come out hunting with him!
Wu was stupefied. He seemed to hear a voice telling him, 'Wu T'ang! Now do you know what it is like to see your baby shot to death with an arrow? Animals love their young as much as you do. How much anguish have you caused animal parents?' Wu stood there, numb, too heartbroken to pay attention to a sound that came from the side. Then in a flash he realized that the other animal he had heard in the grass was not a deer, but a tiger! But he was too late ..." (Quoted from The Love of Life)
PARABLE 0155: WAY OF COMPASSION
"One day Siddhartha [the future Sakyamuni Buddha] left Rajagrha to go to the foot of the mountain where many hermits and sages dwelt. On the way, he saw dust falling down from the mountain amidst the pounding sound of animal hoofs. Going closer, he found a large flock of sheep and goats moving along like a bank of clouds. They were being helplessly driven toward the city. At the rear of the flock, a little lamb was straggling, limping along painfully, its leg wounded and bleeding. Siddhartha noticed the little lamb and its mother walking in front of it constantly looking back in deep concern for her offspring. His heart was filled with pity. So Siddhartha took the little lamb with the wounded leg up into his arms, gently caressing it while walking along behind the flock.
When he saw the shepherds, he asked: 'Where are you driving this herd to? They should normally be driven back in the evening! Why do you drive them back at noontime?' The shepherds replied: 'The King is holding a big sacrifice today, and we have been ordered to bring one hundred sheep and goats each to the city at noontime.' Siddhartha said: 'I'll go with you.' He carried the little lamb in his arms all the way to the city. Walking behind the flock of sheep, Siddhartha reached the city; then he went toward the palace, where the sacrifice was being held.
The King and a group of priests of the fire-worshipping cult were chanting hymns, while a big fire was burning on the altar. They were about to kill the flock of sheep as a sacrifice, but when the leader of the fire-worshippers raised his sword to sever the head of the first sheep, Siddhartha quickly moved up and stopped him...In a grave and solemn manner, Siddhartha...said to King Bimbisara: 'Your Majesty, Don't let these worshippers destroy the lives of these poor animals.' Then he spoke to people who were standing as witnesses to this event: 'All living creatures cling to life. Why should people exert brutal force upon these friendly animals? The suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death will naturally take away their beloved lives.' Siddhartha continued: 'If human beings expect mercy, they ought to show mercy, for, according to the law of Cause and Effect, those who kill will, in turn, be killed. If we expect happiness in the future, we must do no harm to any kind of creature whatsoever. For whoever sows the seeds of sorrow and agony will undoubtedly reap the same fruits.' The manner in which Siddhartha spoke was peaceful and dignified and full of compassion yet, at the same, forceful and determined. He completely changed the intention and belief of the King and the fire-worshippers.
So King Bimbisara asked Siddhartha to stay in his country to teach the people to be merciful...Siddhartha was deeply grateful, but since he had not yet attained his goal of Complete Enlightenment, he gracefully declined the invitation and departed." (Quoted from A Pictorial Biography of Sakyamuni Buddha)
PARABLE 0156: CLINGING TO WORDS
"Mahamati, the Tathagatas do not teach a doctrine that is dependent upon words. As to words, their being or non-being is not attainable; it is otherwise with thought that is never dependent upon words. Again, Mahamati, anyone who discourses on a truth that is dependent upon words is a mere prattler because truth is beyond words. For this reason, it is declared in the canonical text by myself and other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that not a word is uttered or answered by the Tathagatas. For what reason? Because truths are not dependent on words.... Therefore, Mahamati, let the son or daughter of a good family take heed not to get attached to words as being in perfect conformity with meaning, because truth is not of the word. Be not like the one who looks at the finger. When a man with his finger points out something to somebody, the finger may be taken wrongly for the thing pointed at. In like manner, simple and ignorant people are unable even unto their death to abandon the idea that in the finger of words there is the meaning itself, and will not grasp ultimate reality because of their deep clinging to words...Be not like one who, grasping his own finger, sees the meaning there. You should rather energetically discipline yourself to get at the meaning itself." Lankavatara Sutra 76 (Quoted from World Scripture)
PARABLE 0157: OUR DEBT TO ANATHAPINDIKA
The name Anathapindika has come to be synonymous with extreme generosity in connection with Buddhist activities. However, this is not his only claim to fame. An interesting story about Anathapindika goes like this: at the time of the Buddha, the role of lay people was merely to provide material support to monks and nuns. It was not the practice to teach them the higher truths, which were reserved for those who had joined the Order. At Anathapindika's deathbed however, the Elder Sariputra made an exception and conveyed to him the Buddha's teaching on Wisdom. Anathapindika was moved to tears and requested that henceforth, such teachings be shared with lay people also, as some of them could benefit from these ideas. It was as a result of this plea that lay people may now be exposed to the higher wisdom teachings of the Buddha. Editor: na
PARABLE 0158: A TURTLE'S GRATITUDE
"During the Chin dynasty of the fourth century, there was a middle aged man in Shanyin called K'ung Yu. He was an official for the government, but he had practically the lowest official position in the whole dynasty. His position was low, and so was his pay. Times were hard for him. Once he saw a turtle someone was getting ready to eat. He felt sorry for it, so he bought the turtle and took it to the river. There he let it go. The turtle seemed to understand that Yu had saved it from the soup. As it swam away, it kept looking back at him. Yu watched it until he couldn't see it any more. Years later, Yu had reached a better position. Leading troops, he quelled a rebellion. For his great deeds, the Emperor raised him to the rank of Lord, a high and powerful position. The official insignia for the rank of Lord is a metal seal. When K'ung Yu was promoted, the royal artisans cast a seal for him, but for some reason, it came out with a turtle on top, and the turtle was looking back over its shoulder. They thought that was strange, so they melted the seal down, made a new mold, and cast it again, but it still came out with a turtle looking back over its shoulder! The artisans tried over and over again. Every time they made the mold very carefully, and everybody inspected the mold. Every time, the mold was fine, but every time they cast the seal, it came out with a turtle on top of it, and every time, the turtle's head was looking back over its shoulder! The artisans thought this was uncanny. They decided to go to the new Lord and see what he thought about it. They knelt in front of him, and said, "My Lord, as directed by our Emperor, we have tried to make a seal for you as sign of your new rank, but every time we cast the mold, the seal comes out with a turtle on top, and the turtle is always looking back over its shoulder.' 'Carry on,' K'ung Yu directed. 'Do it over again.' The artisans followed his command, but once again, the seal appeared with a turtle on top, looking back over its shoulder. K'ung Yu was perplexed. The news of this strange occurrence spread, and eventually reached the royal ears of the Emperor. The Emperor called K'ung Yu in to explain why his seal always came with a turtle, but K'ung Yu was at a loss to explain. On his way home, K'ung Yu suddenly remembered something. The next day in court, he reported, 'Your Highness's loyal minister has considered the manner of the seal and the unexplainable turtles, and perhaps has found a reason. 'Many years ago, this minister happened to see a fisherman preparing to cook and eat a turtle he had caught. This minister felt sorry for the turtle, and so purchased said turtle from the fisherman and released it by the river. The turtle seemed to understand, for it swam along the surface of the water and looked back as if in gratitude. 'Your Highness has currently granted me the rank of Lord; the official seal has a turtle on it; this must be an auspicious sign... The Emperor told the court, 'Those who do good will reap good rewards. The Lord K'ung is an excellent example.'" (from The Love of Life)
PARABLE 0159: LET ANGER FLOW LIKE WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE
"The Buddha taught that there are three types of persons, depending on their karmic afflictions of anger and frustrations. First are those whose level of frustration is particularly high, making life miserable for themselves and others. Their minds can be compared to words etched on stone. The second mind-set, with a lower level of frustration, can be compared to words written on soil. The third type is like words written on water. Persons in this last group generally holds few grudges and do not look to settle accounts. Their anger and frustration are dissipated as rapidly as the river that flows under a bridge. Let us try to emulate this third group and let our resentment, frustration and anger flow away. The world would be a happier, safer place, with fewer personal confrontations, fewer ethnic conflicts, fewer wars."
PARABLE 0160: THE HUMAN CONDITION / STOP THE TRAIN
The story is told of a man who, being late for a trip, arrived at a railroad station and jumped onto the first available train. Extenuated, he dozed off for a while and then upon waking up, saw the train rumbling along at full speed toward an unknown destination. He began querying everyone, complaining aloud and finally crying and shouting. He demanded that the train stop to let him off. The more excited he became, the more the other passengers, eerily silent and downcast, seemed puzzled by his behavior. Finally a kind old man told him, "don't you know, this train has only one destination, the ocean depths from which no one ever returns." Once we are born, our final destination is death -- the deep ocean. Why fret and fuss? All we can do is to use our time on earth to develop the Bodhi-mind, seeking Enlightenment for ourselves and others. Editor: na
PARABLE 0161: PRACTICE AND MORE PRACTICE
One day, Po Chü-I (a famous poet and official of the T'ang Dynasty), passing along a road, saw a Zen monk seated on a tree branch preaching the Dharma. The dialogue below ensued:
Po Chü-I: "Old man, what are you doing in that tree, in such a precarious position? One misstep, and you will fall to your death!"
Monk: "I dare say, Your Lordship, that your own position is even more precarious. If I make a misstep, I alone may be killed; if you, as a high official, make a misstep, it can cost the lives of thousands."
Po Chü-I: "Not a bad reply. I'll tell you what. If you can explain the essence of Buddhism to me in one sentence, I'll become your disciple. Otherwise, we will go our separate ways, never to meet again."
Monk: "What an easy question! Listen! The essence of Buddhism is to do no evil, do what is good, and keep your Mind pure."
Po Chü-I: "Is that all there is to it? Even a child of three realizes that!"
Monk: "True, a child of three may realize it, but it is not sure that a man of eighty can practice it!"
Buddhism is Mind, Buddhism is practice -- it is praxis.
PARABLE 0162: GOOD KARMA (FIRST PRECEPT: NOT TO KILL)
"Vakkula was a strange child. He was not born crying like most children, but entered the world smiling, Not only was he smiling, he was sitting upright in full lotus. Seeing this, his mother exclaimed, 'He's a monster.' and threw him on the brazier to burn. After three or four hours, he hadn't burned; he just sat there in full lotus laughing. Fully convinced that he was a monster she then tried to boil him. When she took the cover off the pot several hours later, he just smiled back at her. 'Oh no.' she cried, and threw him into the ocean. He did not drown, however, because a big fish swam up and swallowed him whole. Then a man netted the fish and cut it open. Vakkula stepped out, unharmed by the knife.
So the fire didn't burn him, the water didn't boil him, the ocean didn't drown him, the fish didn't chomp him to death, and the fisherman's knife didn't cut him. Because he kept the precept against killing in every life, he obtained these 'five kinds of death-free retribution.'"
Master Hsuan Hua: 96
Note: The precept against killing any sentient being (not only humans) is the first major prohibition in all sets of Buddhist precepts, whether for monks or laypersons, sravakas or Bodhisattvas.
PARABLE 0163: GREAT COMPASSION
"I will be a good physician for the sick and suffering. I will lead those who have lost their way to the right road. I will be a bright light for those in the dark night, and cause the poor and destitute to uncover hidden treasures.
"The Bodhisattva impartially benefits all living beings in this manner.
"Why is this? If a Bodhisattva accords with living beings, then he accords with and makes offerings to all Buddhas. If he can honor and serve living beings, then he honors and serves the Buddhas. If he makes living beings happy, he is making all Buddhas happy. Why is this? It is because all Buddhas take the mind of Great Compassion as their substance. Because of living beings, they develop Great Compassion. From Great Compassion the Bodhi Mind is born; and because of the Bodhi Mind, they accomplish Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment (Buddhahood).
"It is like a great regal tree growing in the rocks and sand of barren wilderness. When the roots get water, the branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit will all flourish. The regal bodhi-tree growing in the wilderness of Birth and Death is the same. All living beings are its roots; all Bodhisattvas and Buddhas are its flowers and fruit. By benefitting all beings with the water of Great Compassion, one can realize the flowers and fruit of the Bodhisattvas' and Buddhas' wisdom. Why is this? It is because by benefitting living beings with the water of Great Compassion, the Bodhisattvas can attain Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment. Therefore, Bodhi belongs to living beings. Without living beings, no Bodhisattva could achieve Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment." (Avatamsaka Sutra, "Vows of Samantabhadra")
Note: "In the psycho-ethical social philosophy of Buddhism, the concept of compassion has two main aspects. First, as a desirable quality in human character, it is meant to regulate our attitude to other people. Secondly, it has its transcendental aspect known as Great or Grand Compassion (maha-karuna) found only in sages like Buddhas, [Bodhisattvas] and Arhats. It is the higher kind and is super-individual in scope and covers all beings in their entirety. It 'seeketh not its own' and hence is the result of coming into contact with spiritual reality. Cleansed of individualised exclusiveness, it becomes unlimited...If compassion is the desire to relieve the suffering of others, the best way to do so is to lead them to the freedom of Buddhahood and hence it is this kind of compassion that makes the concept truly meaningful." (Encyclopedia of Religions, v.4, p. 201)
Minh Thanh & P.D. Leigh, Editors
2 May '99; Updated Jan. 2000
(numbers refer to parables)
Afflictions003;014; 044; 087; 0109; 0133;0141; 0142;0143; 0147;0151; 0152;0159
see also Attachment; Sex
Ajatasatru 034; 049
Amitabha Buddha 003; 023; 038; 059; 0123
Anathapindika 074; 077; 0157
Anger 0109; 0159
Animal sacrifice 043
Apple (rotten) 0124
Arhat 013; 059; 089
Attachment 004; 005; 007; 008; 036; 085; 0103; 0121; 0147; 0156
Avalokitesvara 016; 050
Avatamsaka Sutra 073; 0163
Awakening 008; 009; 064; 0147
Bees 019; 0119
Bhiksu bound by reeds 0115
Bimbisara 034; 049
Birth & Death 011; 030; 037; 0101
Bodhi Mind 012; 013; 0136
see also Bodhisattva
Bodhidharma 018; 0150
Bodhisattva 012; 013; 016; 061; 088; 089; 099
Brahma Net Sutra 061; 0111
Breath 067; 0144
Broom (sweep & broom) 0133
Buddha Nature 055; 0102; 0134
Buddha Recitation 015; 065; 0125
Buddha Vehicle 017; 091; 0104
Buddhadharma see Dharma
-- as Supreme teachers 016
Cause & Effect 021; 049; 058; 083
Charity 022; 0110; 0123; 0131
Chiko Mandala 023
Compassion 001; 010; 024; 025; 043; 089; 0100; 0132; 0155
--Great Compassion 050; 052; 0163
Cultivation 027; 031; 045; 052; 0107; 0132; 0133; 0143; 0146; 0161 see also Practice
Death 080; 0151
Dedication of merit 052; 079
Delusion 033; 039; 040; 060; 087; 094; 0140; 0147
Deer 024; 0100; 0154
-- as projection of mind 0145
Demon 035; 036; 037; 094; 0128; 0145
see also Delusion
Devadatta 010; 034; 049
Dharma 014; 037; 072; 0117; 0133
Dharmakara 003; 059
Dog 0121; 0122
Emptiness 076; 0103
Enlightenment 009; 0107; 0149
Expedient Means see Skillful Means
False thoughts 094
Five Desires 003; 020; 051; 087
Forgiveness 016; 086; 0106; 0159
Four wives 054
Great Compassion 0163
Horizontal Path 062
Human Condition 032; 051; 054; 060; 066; 069; 071; 0124; 0144; 0160
Ignorance see Delusion
Immolation 0103; 0127
Impermanence 041; 067; 068; 069; 070; 0138; 0144
Intellect 059; 072; 0118; 0156
Jeta Grove 074
Jewel Not of Indra 073
Karma001; 048; 049; 050; 054; 058; 077; 078; 080; 081; 0119; 0122; 0131; 0162
Killing 016; 043; 0115; 0136; 0153; 0154; 0162
see also Vegetarianism
Lankavatara Sutra 018
Letting Go 086
Lion (Worms in Body --) 0139
Lotus Sutra 017; 055; 091; 099; 0104; 0134
Lust 020; 028; 087; 0142; 0151
Mahayana / Theravada 013; 089
Mantra 050; 052
Merit and virtue 018; 079
Metaphysics 027; 092
Middle Way 0143
Milinda (King --) 0105
Mind 014; 016; 028; 029; 035; 055; 081; 082; 093; 094; 095; 096; 097; 098; 0107; 0109; 0114; 0120; 0128; 0140; 0145; 0148; 0149
Mutual Identity 073
Never Despise Bodhisattva 099
Noblesse Oblige 0100
One-Vehicle 017; 091; 0104
Other-Shore 0117; 0157
Parinirvana Sutra 034; 037
Passions 003; 020; 051; 087
Po Chu-i 061
Power of truth 0137
Practice 002; 023; 028; 029; 030; 031; 056; 087; 0107; 0141; 0146; 0161
see also Cultivation
Praise & Criticism 044
Precepts 0111; 0112; 0113; 0114; 0115; 0116
Pride & Conceit 0109
Psychological projections 0145
Pure Land teaching 003; 015; 019; 023; 026; 031; 038; 045; 059; 062; 065; 070; 088; 0101; 0105; 0119; 0123; 0125; 0126; 0135; 0157
see also Sukhavati
Reasoning 059; 072; 0118; 0156
Rebirth stories 0125; 0126
Reincarnation 006; 009; 0121; 0122
Relics of Sakyamuni 084
Rotten apple 0124
Sakyamuni Buddha 084; 0106
Samadhi 019; 056
Self-mortification 0103; 0127
Sex 020; 028; 087; 0142; 0151
Singlemindedness 056; 0128; 0129
Skillful Means 017; 043; 052; 053; 064; 0134; 090; 091; 0108
Sore (with Human Face) 078
Speech (Wrong --) 046; 0122
Spiritual Power 0130
Stale rice 0131
Success in practice 002
Suffering 027; 032; 063; 071; 077
Sukhavati 003; 059; 062; 0125; 0126; 0135
Supportive recitation 0126
Surangama Sutra 088
Tiger 0129; 0154
Transfer of merit 052; 079
Truth 044; 057; 076; 0137
Turtle 066; 0158
Vegetarianism 0126; 0136; 0153; 0155; 0158
Vows 082; 0119
War 016; 0159
White path 0135
Wisdom 040; 089; 0136
Wisdom teaching 0157
Words (attachment) 0156
Worms (in Lion's Body) 0139
Wrong speech 046; 0122
Wu-ta (Master) 078
Zen 018; 095; 0150