The two bad bricks

When we moved to Sepentine to build the temple there we had no money so I had to learn to build. 

I had to learn how to lay bricks. It may look easy but it’s so hard to get everything level. But, as most people would be, I was a perfectionist. I had to make sure each brick was perfectly level before I went onto the next one. 

Sometimes a corner was high. You’d knock that corner down and another corner would go up. You’d knock that down and it would go out of line. You’d knock it back in line again, thinking it was finished, and then notice one of the corners was high again. You kept trying until you get it. 

When I finished that wall, like anybody else, I stood back to admire it. It was only then that I noticed that two bricks were crooked. All the other bricks were straight and two were crooked. 

I tried to scrape the mortar out to re-set the bricks but you couldn’t scrape it out. I asked if we could afford to knock it down because those two bad bricks ruined the whole thing. But we couldn’t; I was stuck with it. We were too poor to do anything with it. 

For three months, every time I went past that wall I saw my mistakes and I felt so sad. Every time there was a visitor I would volunteer to take them around so I could take them somewhere else so they didn’t see my mistakes. 

Then one day someone else was with me and they saw that wall and they said, “That’s a beautiful wall.”

I couldn’t believe what I heard because for three months I had been suffering so much over the wall and they said it was beautiful. 

My first reaction was to ask them, “Are you blind? Did you leave your glasses in the car? Can you not not see those two bad bricks?”

What they said next changed much of the way I look at life and stopped some inherent depression in myself. 

They said, “Yes I can see the two bad bricks, but I can see the 998 good bricks as well.”

– Ajahn Brahm, Theravada Tradition.

Author: Bite-Size Dhamma

I'm a Buddhist layperson, trying to live well and skilfully with compassion, generosity, and discernment. I work in the field of housing law and homelessness casework. I have a beautiful kind wife, a very cute dog, and two loveable but surly cats.

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