Bowl Of Oil

In India there was once a king who believed in a non-Buddhist religion which taught many kinds of bitter practices … some spread ashes on their bodies, and some slept on beds of nails. They cultivated all kinds of ascetic practices. Meanwhile, the Bhikshus who cultivated the Buddhadharma had it ‘easy,’ because they didn’t cultivate that way. Now, the king of that country said to the Buddha’s disciples, ‘It’s my belief that the ascetic practices which these non-Buddhists cultivate still don’t enable them to end their afflictions. How much the less must you Bhikshus, who are so casual, be able to sever the affliction of your thoughts of sexual desire.’

One of the Dharma Masters answered the king this way: ‘Suppose you take a man from jail who had been sentenced to execution, and you say to him ‘Take this bowl of oil and carry it in your two hands as you walk down the highway. If you don’t spill a single drop, I’ll release you when you return.’ Then, suppose you send some beautiful women musicians out on the highway to sing and play their instruments where the sentenced man is walking with his bowl of oil. If he should spill any oil, of course, you’ll execute him. But if he should come back without spilling a single drop, what do you suppose he will answer if you ask him what he’s seen on the road?”

The king of country did just that: he took a man destined to be executed and said to him, ‘Today you should be executed but I’m going to give you an opportunity to save your life. How? I’ll give you a bowl of oil to carry in your two hands as you take a walk on the highway. If you can do it without spilling a single drop, I’ll spare your life. Go try it.’ The sentenced man did as he was told. He went out on the highway, and when he returned he had not spilled one drop. Then the king asked him, ‘What did you see out on the highway?’ The sentenced man said, ‘I didn’t see a single thing. All I did was watch the oil to keep it from spilling. I didn’t see anything else or hear anything at all.’

So, the king asked the Dharma Master, ‘Well, what is the principle here?’ The Dharma Master answered, ‘The sentenced man was like the novice who has left the home life. Both see the question of Birth and Death as too important to waste time on thoughts of sexual desire.’

– Master Hsuan Hua, Huiyang Chan School.

Attachment

Once there was a devoted old woman who built a place of retreat for a monk, arranging that he would not lack for anything, so that he could concentrate upon his meditation and practice.

One day, after twenty years, she instructed her daughter: “Today, after serving the Master his meal, take advantage of the situation to embrace him tightly, asking him at the same time, ‘how does it feel to be hugged these days?’ Come back and let me know his answer as faithfully as you can.”

The daughter dutifully did as she was told, putting her arms around the Master and asking the question.

The Master replied, ‘I am not moved in the very least by sexual desire, no different from a dried up tree leaning against a cold mass of rocks in the middle of winter, when not even a drop of warmth can be found.’

The young girl repeated the answer to her mother, who said unhappily, ‘I have really wasted my time and effort during the last twenty years. Little did I know that I was only supporting a common mortal!’ Having said this, she went out, evicted the monk, lit a fire and burned the meditation hut to the ground.

– Unknown origin, told by Master Tam, Zen Tradition.