The straw worth more than gold

Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, a shifty ascetic with long, matted hair, lived near a certain little village. The landowner had built a modest hermitage in the forest for him, and daily provided him with excellent food in his own house.

The landowner had a great fear of robbers and decided that the safest course to protect his money was to hide it in an unlikely place. Believing the matted-haired ascetic to be a model of sainthood, he brought a hundred pieces of gold to the hermitage, buried them there, and asked the ascetic to keep watch over the treasure.

“There’s no need to say more, sir, to a man like me who has renounced the world. We hermits never covet what belongs to others.”

“That’s wonderful,” said the landowner, who went off with complete confidence in the hermit’s words. 

As soon as the landowner was out of sight, the ascetic chuckled to himself, “Why, there’s enough here to last a man his whole life!”

Allowing a few days to elapse, the hermit dug up the gold and reburied it conveniently by the road. The following morning, after a meal of rice and succulent curries at the landowner’s house, the ascetic said,

“My good sir, I’ve been staying here, supported by you, for a long time. Frankly, living so long in one place is like living in the world, which is forbidden to ascetics like me. I really cannot remain here any longer; the time has come for me to leave.”

The landowner urged him to stay, but nothing could overcome the hermit’s determination.

“Well, then,” said the landowner, “if you must go, good luck to you.” Reluctantly, he escorted the ascetic to the outskirts of the village and returned home.

After walking a short way by himself, the ascetic thought it would be a good thing to cajole the landowner. Sticking a straw in his matted hair, he hurried back to the village.

“What brings you back again?” asked the surprised landowner.
“I just noticed that a straw from your roof got stuck in my hair. We hermits must not take anything which has not been given to us, so I have brought it back to you.”
“Throw it down, sir, and go your way,” said the landowner. “Imagine!” he said to himself. 

“This ascetic is so honest he won’t even take a straw which does not belong to him. What a rare person!” Thus, greatly impressed by the ascetic’s honesty, the landowner bid him farewell again.
At that time a merchant was traveling to the border on business and happened to stop at that same little village, where he witnessed the ascetic’s return with the piece of straw. Suspicion grew in his mind that the hermit must have robbed the landowner of something. He asked the rich man whether he had deposited anything in the ascetic’s care.
“Yes,” the landowner answered rather hesitantly, “a hundred pieces of gold.”
“Well, why don’t you just go and see if it’s still safe?” the merchant suggested.
The landowner went to the deserted hermitage, dug where he had left his money, and found it gone. Rushing back to the merchant, he cried, “It’s not there!”
“The thief is certainly that long-haired rascal of an ascetic,” said the merchant. “Let’s catch him.”
The two men ran after the rogue and quickly caught him. They kicked him and beat him until he showed them where he had hidden the gold. After they had gotten back the money, the merchant looked at the coins and scornfully asked the ascetic, 

“Why didn’t this hundred pieces of gold trouble your conscience as much as that straw? Take care, you hypocrite, never to play such a trick again!”
When his life ended, the merchant (who is said to have been the Buddha-to-be in a previous birth) passed away to fare according to his deserts.
– A Jataka tale, retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki.

Moving village

There was a person coming to a new village, relocating, and he was wondering if he would like it there, so he went to the zen master and asked: 

“Do you think I will like it in this village? Are the people nice?”
The master asked back:

“How were the people on the town where you come from?”

“They were nasty and greedy, they were angry and lived for cheating and stealing,” said the newcomer.

“Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village”, said the master.

Another newcomer to the village visited the master and asked the same question, to which the master asked:

“How were the people in the town where you come from?”

“They were sweet and lived in harmony, they cared for one another and for the land, they respected each other and they were seekers of spirit,” he replied

“Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village”, said the master.

– Old story, Zen Tradition.

Wise man

Word spread across the countryside about the wise Holy Man who lived in a small house atop the mountain. A man from the village decided to make the long and difficult journey to visit him. When he arrived at the house, he saw an old servant inside who greeted him at the door.

“I would like to see the wise Holy Man,” he said to the servant. The servant smiled and led him inside. As they walked through the house, the man from the village looked eagerly around the house, anticipating his encounter with the Holy Man. Before he knew it, he had been led to the back door and escorted outside. 

He stopped and turned to the servant, “But I want to see the Holy Man!”

“You already have,” said the old man. “Everyone you may meet in life, even if they appear plain and insignificant… see each of them as a wise Holy Man. If you do this, then whatever problem you brought here today will be solved.”
– Zen Story, unknown origin. 

Fast Eater


The day after their marriage, a newlywed couple sat eating a meal together—and for no apparent reason, the husband was wolfing down his food like there was no tomorrow.

One day, his wife said to him, “My beloved husband, no one is going to steal your food. Why don’t you slow down and enjoy it?”

The husband snappily replied, “That’s my secret. I can’t tell you.”

Upon hearing this, the wife became even more curious about her husband’s bizarre eating habits, and asked once again in an affectionate tone.

Finally, the husband replied, “I eat like this because my family has eaten quickly for as long as we can trace back our history. I’m just following our custom.”

– Unknown origin.

Knowing

A young single father had a son that he loved more than anything in the world. One day while the father was away, some plunderers burned down most of his village and kidnapped the little boy.

When the father came back, he mistook one of the burnt corpses as his son. Completely devastated, he had the body cremated, and put the ashes in a bag that he always carried around.

Days later, his son escaped from the plunderers, ran back home, and knocked on the door of the house that his father rebuilt. His father asked who it was. When the boy answered, “It’s me, your son—please let me in,” the father, who was still holding the bag of ashes, assumed it was some other boy playing a cruel joke. “Go away,” he shouted back.

The boy continued to knock and plead to the father, but the father continued to tell him to leave. Finally, the boy left and never came back again.

Reformation


Ryokan devoted his life to the study of Zen. One day he heard that his nephew, despite the admonitions of relatives, was spending his money on a courtesan. Inasmuch as the nephew had taken Ryokan’s place in managing the family estate and the property was in danger of being dissipated, the relatives asked Ryokan to do something about it.

Ryokan had to travel a long way to visit his nephew, whom he had not seen for many years. The nephew seemed pleased to meet his uncle again and invited him to remain overnight.
All night Ryokan sat in meditation. As he was departing in the morning he said to the young man:

“I must be getting old, my hand shakes so. Will you help me tie the string of my straw sandal?”

The nephew helped him willingly.

“Thank you,” finished Ryokan, “you see, a man becomes older and feebler day by day. Take good care of yourself.”

Then Ryokan left, never mentioning a word about the courtesan or the complaints of the relatives. But, from that morning on, the dissipations of the nephew ended.

– Zen Tradition.

Buddha’s advice to his son – Part 3

This is the last of a three-part post about the lessons given to Rāhula, Buddha’s son. 

At this point Rāhula is now in his twenties. He has devoted his life to Buddhist training and was known to enjoy his practice very much. His father now saw that he was close to enlightenment and decides to give him a push in the right direction. 

Here is the story:

Buddha was staying near a place called Sāvatthī. Whilst meditating, the following thought arose in his mind:

“Mature are in Rāhula those qualities that bring deliverance to maturity. Should I not now give further guidance to Rāhula, for the extinction of the corruptions?”

Having robed himself in the forenoon, the Buddha took his bowl and robe, and entered Sāvatthī for alms. Having completed his alms round he returned and ate. After the meal he addressed the venerable Rāhula:

“Take your mat, Rāhula. We shall go to the Andha Grove, and spend the day there.”

“Yes, Lord,” replied Rāhula. He took his mat and followed close behind his father.

Having entered the Andha Grove they sat down at the foot of a certain tree.

The Buddha asked Rāhula: “What do you think, Rāhula; is the eye permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, Lord.”

“Is that which is impermanent, painful or pleasant”?

“It is painful Lord.”

“Is it justifiable, then, to think, of that which is impermanent, pain-laden and subject to change—’This is mine;” this I am; this is my self’ ?”

“Certainly not, Lord.”

“What do you think, Rāhula, are forms (visual objects) permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, Lord.”

“Is that which is impermanent, painful or pleasant?”

“It is painful, Lord.”

“Is it justifiable, then, to think, of that which is impermanent, pain-laden and subject to change—’This is mine; this I am; this is my self ‘?”

“Certainly not, Lord.”

The Buddha continued in this manner, asking about eye-consciousness (visual contact), smells, sounds, tastes, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

Rāhula answer each one in turn.

The Buddha then said: “The learned noble disciple, Rāhula, who sees thus, gets disenchanted by the eye, for forms, for visual consciousness, visual contact, and for that which arises conditioned by visual contact, namely all feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.”

“He gets disenchanted by the ear and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and tastes, body and tangibles, mind and ideas, gets disenchanted for the corresponding types of consciousness and contact, and for that which arises conditioned by that contact, namely all that belongs to feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.”

“In him who gets disenchanted, Rāhula, passion fades out.”

“With the fading out of passion he is liberated.”

“Thus liberated, the knowledge arises in him: ‘Liberated am I, birth is exhausted, fulfilled is the Holy Life, done what should be done, and nothing further remains after this’. Thus he knows.”

Glad at heart, the venerable Rāhula rejoiced in the words of the Blessed One.

During this lesson the mind of the venerable Rāhula was freed from the corruptions – clinging no more.

“Whatever is subject to origination is subject to cessation.”