Listen to the sound of water
In the clefts and in the gullies:
The tiny streams gurgle loudly
Mighty waters flow in silence.
– Verse from the Nalaka Sutta.
A collection of Buddhist stories, similes, and sayings for those times when you need a little food for thought!
A King, named Pasenadi Kosala, went to visit the Buddha. He bowed down to the Buddha and sat to one side, as was customary. Just then a number of wandering spiritual ascetics walked past. Seeing them, the King knelt and saluted them.
He sat back to one side of the Buddha and asked:
“Blessed One, would you say that those men are on the path to wisdom?”
The Buddha replied:
“Your Majesty, as a laymen enjoying sensual pleasures, living crowded with wives and children, using expensive fabrics and sandalwood, wearing garlands, scents, and creams, handling gold and silver: it is hard for you to know whether these are wise men or on the path to wisdom.
“It’s through living together that a person’s virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who isn’t discerning.
“It’s through trading with a person that his purity may be known..
“It’s through adversity that a person’s endurance may be known…
“It’s through discussion that a person’s discernment may be known.”
The King praised the Buddha’s response and then revealed:
“These men are my spies, my scouts, returning after going out through the countryside in disguise. They go out first, and then I go. Now, when they have scrubbed off the dirt and mud, are well-bathed and well-perfumed, have trimmed their hair and beards, and have put on white clothes, they will go back to their normal lives of money and sensuality. ”
The King had tested the Buddha, but the Buddha’s wisdom had prevented him from making quick judgements and being fooled.
“Not by appearance
is a man rightly known,
nor should trust be based
on a quick glance,
— for, disguised as well-restrained,
the unrestrained go through this world.
A counterfeit earring made of clay,
a bronze coin coated in gold:
They go about in this world
hidden all around:
– This is a story from the Pali Buddhist texts, specifically the Paṭisalla Sutta.
The Buddha saw how much misery came from foolish offences done only out of vanity and pride. The Buddha said:
“If a man foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from him, the more good shall go from me; the fragrance of goodness always comes to me, and the harmful air of evil goes to him.”
A foolish man learning that the Buddha observed the principle of great love which commends the return of good for evil, came and abused him. The Buddha was silent, pitying his folly. When the man had finished his abuse, the Buddha asked him, saying:
“If a man declined to accept a gift made to him, to whom would it belong?”
The man answered:
“In that case it would belong to the man who offered it.”
“Well,” said the Buddha, “you have railed at me, but I decline to accept your abuse, and request you to keep it yourself. Will it not be a source of misery to you? As the echo belongs to the sound, and the shadow to the substance, so misery will overtake the evil doer without fail.”
The abuser made no reply, and Buddha continued:
“A wicked man who reproaches a virtuous one is like one who looks up and spits at heaven; the spittle soils not the heaven, but comes back and lands on the person. The slanderer is like one who flings dust at another when the wind is contrary; the dust does but return on him who threw it. The virtuous man cannot be hurt and the misery that the other would inflict comes back on himself.”
The abuser went away ashamed, but he came again one day and took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
– A story from the Buddhist texts.
The way of which men come we cannot know;
Nor can we see the path by which they go.
Why mourn then for him who came to you,
Lamenting through the tears?…
Weep not, for such is the life of man.
Unasked he came and unbidden he went.
Ask yourself again whence came your child
To live on earth this little time?
By one way come and by another gone,
As human to die, and pass to other births — So hither and so hence — why should you weep?
– Poem attributed to Bhikkhuni Patacara, taken from a speech given by her to a group of women who were struggling with the loss of children.
Easily one of the saddest stories in the Buddhist texts, if not the saddest, the story of Patacara:
“Pregnant with her second child, Patacara was returning to her parents’ home, along with her husband and small firstborn child, to give birth.
Along the way, a great storm blew up, and she asked her husband to provide shelter for the family. As he was cutting grass and sticks to build a shelter, a snake bit him and he died of the poison. Unsheltered, and wondering at her husband’s long absence, Patacara gave birth and had to spend the night sheltering both her children against the rain and wind with nothing more than her body. The next morning, she found her husband dead.
Distraught, she decided to return to her parents’ home. However, a river — swollen from the rain of the previous night — ran across her way. Unable to carry both children across the river, she left her first-born on the near bank and waded through the raging current carrying her baby. Placing the baby on the far bank, she turned back to fetch her first-born. A hawk, seeing the baby, took it for a piece of flesh, and swooped down on it.
Seeing this, Patacara raised her hands and tried to chase it away, but to no avail: The hawk picked up the baby and carried it off. Meanwhile, her first-born — seeing his mother raising her hands — took it for a signal to cross the river. As he jumped into the raging current, he was carried off to his death.
Overwhelmed with grief, Patacara returned to her parents’ home, only to learn that it had burned down from a lightning strike in the previous night’s storm. Her parents and brother were at that moment being cremated on a single pyre. At this point, she went mad and began wandering around half-naked. Only on coming into the Buddha’s presence did she recover her senses. He taught her the Dhamma, and eventually she ordained and became an arahant.”
This heart wrenching story was very likely based on true events, but we’re given a happy ending of sorts. Patacara is alone, and mad, suffering intensely. She has lost everything. But then she gains everything – she becomes an arahant under Buddha’s guidance and finds the joy of enlightenment.
No village law is this, no city law,
No law for this clan, or for that alone;
For the whole world — and for the gods too –
This is the law: All is impermanent.
– Verse attributed to Bikkhuni Kisa Gosami.
This is a sad story from the Pali canon, which contains much wisdom about acceptance, and the universality of suffering:
“Kisa Gotami was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. She had only one child. When her son was old enough to start running about, he caught a disease and died. Kisa Gotami was greatly saddened. Unable to accept that her son was dead and could not be brought back to life again, she took him in her arms and went about asking for medicine to cure him. Everyone she encountered thought that she had lost her mind. Finally, an old man told her that if there was anyone who could help her, it would be the Buddha.
In her distress, Kisa Gotami brought the body of her son to the Buddha and asked him for a medicine that would bring back his life. The Buddha answered: “I shall cure him if you can bring me some white mustard seeds from a house where no one has died”.
Carrying her dead son, she went from door to door, asking at each house. At each house the reply was always that someone had died there. At last the truth struck her, “No house is free from death”. She laid the body of her child in the wood and returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and entered the first stage of Arhatship. Eventually, she became an Arhat.”
Now have I understood how ill does come,
Craving, the Cause, is dried up in me.
Have I not walked, have I not touched the End Of ill — the Ariyan, the Eightfold Noble Path.
– Verse attributed to Bhikkhuni Sangha.
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.
– from the Tittha Sutta.