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.


Imagine this scene: a layman sits in front of his house, eating a fish from the pond behind the house, holding his son in his lap. The dog is eating the fishbones and the man kicks the dog. Not an extraordinary scene one would think, but ven. Shariputra commented:

“He eats his father’s flesh and kicks his mother away,
The enemy he killed he dandles on his lap,
The wife is gnawing at her husband’s bones,
Samsara can be such a farce.”

What had happened? The man’s father died and was reborn as a fish in the pool, the layman caught his father, the fish, killed it, and was now eating it. The layman’s mother was very attached to the house so she was reborn as the man’s dog. The man’s enemy had been killed for raping the man’s wife; and because the enemy was so attached to her, he was reborn as her son. While he ate his father’s meat, the dog – his mother – ate the fish bones, and so was beaten by her son. His own little son, his enemy, was sitting on his knee.

– Unknown

Sutra and Tantra

Let’s say there is a person walking along carrying some stones. He sees a dog, and throws his stones at the dog. He also sees a lion and he throws his stones at the lion, too.

What does the dog do? At the sight of the stone, the dog immediately tries to bite or chase it. Then the person gets to throw another stone at the dog. The dog again tries to follow the new stone and bite it. Now this guy has got a big collection of stones, so they are not going to run out any time soon. The dog becomes very tired.

Now when the man throws a stone at the lion, the lion does not look at the stone. Rather, he thinks, “Where did that stone come from? Who threw that stone?” When he sees the person who threw it, he pounces on him. A person only gets to throw one stone at a lion.

– Unknown origin. Heard from Mingyur Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhism.

Autumn Leaf

One autumn day, I was in a park, absorbed in the contemplation of a very small but beautiful leaf, in the shape of a heart. Its color was almost red, and it was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. I spent a long time with it, and I asked the leaf a lot of questions.

I asked the leaf whether it was scared because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, β€œNo. During the whole spring and summer I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree. Please do not say that I am just this form, because the form of leaf is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. That’s why I do not worry. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, β€˜I will see you again very soon.’”

Suddenly I saw a kind of wisdom very much like the wisdom contained in the Heart Sutra. You have to see life. You should not say, life of the leaf, you should only speak of life in the leaf and life in the tree. My life is just Life, and you can see it in me and in the tree. That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, and I knew that we have a lot to learn from the leaf.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Tradition.


A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

– D. T. Suzuki, author, professor, and student of Kosen Roshi and Soyen Shaku, Rinzai school.

Heavy head

Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.

While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: “There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?”

One of the monks replied: “From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind.”

“Your head must feel very heavy,” observed Hogen, “if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind.”

– Unknown, Zen Tradition.