Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Blind Men and the Elephant

A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?"

The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, 'Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, 'Here is an elephant,' and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.

"When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, 'Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?'

"Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.

"Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

"Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.

"Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus."

Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift,
O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim For preacher and monk the honored name! For, quarreling, each to his view they cling. Such folk see only one side of a thing.


There is a story about a princess who had a small eye problem that she felt was really bad. Being the king's daughter, she was rather spoiled and kept crying all the time. When the doctors wanted to apply medicine, she would invariably refuse any medical treatment and kept touching the sore spot on her eye. In this way it became worse and worse, until finally the king proclaimed a large reward for whoever could cure his daughter. After some time, a man arrived who claimed to be a famous physician, but actually was not even a doctor.

He declared that he could definitely cure the princess and was admitted to her chamber. After he had examined her, he exclaimed, "Oh, I'm so sorry!" "What is it?" the princess inquired. The doctor said, "There is nothing much wrong with your eye, but there is something else that is really serious." The princess was alarmed and asked, "What on earth is so serious?" He hesitated and said, "It is really bad. I shouldn't tell you about it." No matter how much she insisted, he refused to tell her, saying that he could not speak without the king's permission.

When the king arrived, the doctor was still reluctant to reveal his findings. Finally the king commanded, "Tell us what is wrong. Whatever it is, you have to tell us!" At last the doctor said, "Well, the eye will get better within a few days - that is no problem. The big problem is that the princess will grow a tail, which will become at least nine fathoms long. It may start growing very soon. If she can detect the first moment it appears, I might be able to prevent it from growing." At this news everyone was deeply concerned. And the princess, what did she do? She stayed in bed, day and night, directing all her attention to detecting when the tail might appear. Thus, after a few days, her eye got well.

This shows how we usually react. We focus on our little problem and it becomes the center around which everything else revolves. So far, we have done this repeatedly, life after life. We think, "My wishes, my interests, my likes and dislikes come first!" As long as we function on this basis, we will remain unchanged. Driven by impulses of desire and rejection, we will travel the roads of samsara without finding a way out. As long as attachment and aversion are our sources of living and drive us onward, we cannot rest.

From Daring Steps toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Buddhism, by Ringu Tulku Rinpoché

Monday, January 8, 2007

Krsa Gautami and the Mustard Seed

On day, when the rainy season had ended, Krsa Gautami, the wife of a rich man, was plunged deep into grief by the loss of her only son, a baby boy who had died just when he was old enough to run about.

In her grief Krsa carried the dead child to all her neighbors in Kapilavastu, asking them for medicine. Seeing her, the people shook their heads sadly out of pity.

"Poor woman! She has lost her senses from grief. The boy is beyond the help of medicine." Unable to accept the fact of her son's death, Krsa then wandered through the streets of the city beseeching for help everyone she met. "Please, sir," she said to a certain man, "give me medicine that will cure my boy!" The stranger looked at the child's eyes and saw that the boy was dead. "Alas, I have no medicine for your child," he said, "but I know of a physician who can give what you require. "Pray tell me, sir, where I can find this physician."

"Go, dear woman, to Sakyamuni, the Buddha, just now residing in Banyan Park." Krsa went in haste to the Nigrodharama; and she was brought by the monks to Buddha."Reverend Lord," she cried, "give me the medicine that will cure my boy!" Lord Buddha, Ocean of Infinite Compassion, looked upon the grief-stricken mother with pity."You have done well to come here for medicine, Krsa Gautami. Go into the city and get a handful of mustard seed." And then the Perfect One added: "The mustard seed must be taken from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent, or friend."

"Yes, Lord!" exclaimed Krsa, greatly cheered. "I shall procure the mustard seed at once! "Poor Krsa then went from house to house with her request; and the people pitied her, saying: "Here is the mustard seed: please take all you want of it.

"Then Krsa would ask: "Did a son or daughter, father or mother, die in your family?"Alas! The living are few, but the dead are many. Do not remind us of our deepest grief!"And there was no house but that some relative, some dear one, had died in it.

Weary and with hope gone, Krsa sat down by the wayside, sorrowfully watching the lights of the city as they flickered up and were extinguished again, And at last the deep shadows of night plunged the world into darkness. Considering the fate of human beings, that their lives flicker up and are extinguished again, the bereft mother suddenly realized that Buddha, in his compassion, had sent her forth to learn the truth.

"How selfish am I in my grief!" she thought. "Death is universal: yet even in this valley of death there is a Path that leads to Deathlessness [for] him who has surrendered all thought of self!" Putting away the selfishness of her affection for her child, Krsa Gautami went to the edge of a forest and tenderly laid the dead body in a drift of wildflowers.

"Little son," she said, taking the child by the hand, "I thought that death had happened to you alone; but it is not to you alone, it is common to all people."There she left him; and when dawn brightened the eastern sky, she returned to the Perfect One.

"Krsa Gautami," said the Tathagata, "did you get a handful of mustard seed from a house in which no one has ever lost kith or kin?"That, Lord, is now past and gone," she said. "Grant me support."

"Dear girl, the life of mortals in this world is troubled and brief and inseparable from suffering," declared Buddha, "for there is not any means, nor will there ever be, by which those that have been born can avoid dying. All living beings are of such a nature that they must die whether they reach old age or not. "As early-ripening fruits are in danger of falling, so mortals when born are always in danger of dying. Just as the earthen vessels made by the potter end in shards, so is the life of mortals. Both young and old, both those who are foolish and those who are wise - all fall into the power of death, all are subject to death.

Of those who depart from this life, overcome by death, a father cannot save his son, nor relatives their kinsfolk. While relatives are looking on and lamenting, one by one the mortals are carried off like oxen to the slaughter. People die, and their fate after death will be according to their deeds. Such are the terms of the world. "Not from weeping nor from grieving will anyone obtain peace of mind. On the contrary, his pain will be all the greater, and he will ruin his health. He will make himself sick and pale; but dead bodies cannot be restored by his lamentation.

"Now that you have heard the Tathagata, Krsa, reject grief, do not allow it to enter your mind. Seeing one dead, know for sure: 'I shall never see him again in this existence.' And just as the fire of a burning house is quenched, so does the contemplative wise person scatter grief's power, expertly, swiftly, even as the wind scatters cotton seed.

"He who seeks peace should pull out the arrow lamentations, useless longings, and the self-made pangs of grief. He who has removed this unwholesome arrow and has calmed himself will obtain peace of mind. Verily, he who has conquered grief will always be free from grief - sane and immune - confident, happy, and close to Nirvana, I say."

Then Krsa Gautami won the stage of Entering-the-Stream, and shortly afterwards she became an Arhat [found Nirvana for herself]. She was the first woman to have attained Nirvana under the dispensation of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Releasing the Cows - Told by Master Thich Nhat Hanh

One day the Buddha was sitting in the wood with thirty or forty monks. They had an excellent lunch and they were enjoying the company of each other. There was a farmer passing by and the farmer was very unhappy. He asked the Buddha and the monks whether they had seen his cows passing by. The Buddha said they had not seen any cows passing by.

The farmer said, "Monks, I'm so unhappy. I have twelve cows and I don't know why they all ran away. I have also a few acres of a sesame seed plantation and the insects have eaten up everything. I suffer so much I think I am going to kill myself.

The Buddha said, "My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might like to look for them in the other direction."

So the farmer thanked him and ran away, and the Buddha turned to his monks and said, "My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don't have any cows to lose. If you have too many cows to take care of, you will be very busy.

"That is why, in order to be happy, you have to learn the art of cow releasing (laughter). You release the cows one by one. In the beginning you thought that those cows were essential to your happiness, and you tried to get more and more cows. But now you realize that cows are not really conditions for your happiness; they constitute an obstacle for your happiness. That is why you are determined to release your cows."