Stories from Buddhism: Letting Go of Illusive Sentimentality

Guo Zheng

PureInsight | July 9, 2006

[] The legend
says that, after Shakyamuni lectured on the Dharma in Balrampur, all
people in the city became noble, polite and wise.  They respected
and helped each other.  Balrampur was almost like paradise.

A non-Buddhist heard about this.  He traveled a long way to
Balrampur to visit Shakyamuni to ask for guidance.  However, on
his journey he came across something he couldn't understand.

Balrampur was in the tropical area.  There were many poisonous
snakes.   When he was outside of the city of Balrampur, he
saw a father and a son working in the field.  Suddenly a poisonous
snake came out from the grass and bit the son.  The son died
shortly afterwards.  The father was still working as usual. 
He didn't seem to be affected by the death of his son.

The non-Buddhist was surprised.  He asked the old man:  "Who is this young man?"

"My son."  

"Your son just died.  Why you are not sad at all?  You still work as normal.  Is he not your son by blood?"

"What for?  Death is an element in life.  The prosperity and
withering of things has its own clock.  Now that the person is
dead, if he is kind, there will be kind arrangements for him.  If
bad elements in his life have matured, he will experience retribution
right away.  What good can I do to the dead person if I
cry?"  The old man looked at the stunned non-Buddhist and asked
him:  "Are you going into the city?  Can I ask you a favor?"

The non-Buddhist said OK.  The old man continued:  "When you
pass by the second house on the right after you enter the city, please
tell my family that I only need one lunch and that my son is dead after
being bitten by a poisonous snake."

The non-Buddhist felt very surprised.  How come the old man is so
cruel?  His son died.  He wasn't sad at all.  Moreover,
he didn't forget his lunch.  How come a father can be so cold?

The non-Buddhist found the old man's house.  He told the old
woman: "Your son has been bitten to death by a snake.  The father
asked me to pass the message to you that he only needed one
lunch."  The old woman thanked the non-Buddhist but didn't show
any sorrow.  The non-Buddhist asked, "Aren't you sad about your
son's death?"

The old woman said, "This son came to my family out of his own
will.  I didn't ask him to come.  Now he is gone.  I
cannot keep him.  We are like travelers spending the night at the
same inn.  The next day, all of us leave for our own paths. 
No one can keep anyone else.  In fact, there's no need to keep any
one.  It is the same between my son and me.  I cannot direct
my son's coming and going.  It follows his karmic predestined
relationship."  The non-Buddhist heard this and thought that the
couple was truly cold-blooded.

At this moment, the sister came out from the house.  The
non-Buddhist asked her, "Your younger brother is dead.  Are you

"He's already dead.  Why should I be sad?  We are like logs
tied into a raft.  We are sailing together in the water. 
When a big storm comes, the raft falls apart.  Each log follows
its own way with the current.  The logs cannot be combined
together any more.  We have become sister and brother due to
random reasons and have come to the same family.  However, life is
different for everyone.  There isn't a set time for life and
death.  He has left before I do.  What can I do as a sister?"

When the sister has just finished talking, another woman in the house said, "Oh, my husband is dead."

The non-Buddhist was even confused.  He asked the woman: 
"your husband is dead.  How can you act like nothing has
happened?  Are you truly indifferent in your heart?"

The wife said calmly:  "Our marriage is like flying birds in the
sky.  They rest together at night.  They go out their own
ways to find food at the next dawn.  Every one has each one's
destiny.  It is his fortune that he doesn't have to come back once
he flies.  I cannot replace him.  I cannot bear his karma for
him.  We are like people who get to know each other on our
journey.  We have to go our own ways sooner or later."

Upon hearing this, the non-Buddhist was very angry.  He even
regretted that he had traveled a long way there.  He thought he
would be able to find the truth because he heard people in Balrampur
were most loyal to their family members.  He didn't anticipate
that they were so cold-blooded.

Even so, he wanted to meet with Shakyamuni.  After all, it would
be rather pitiful to go back without meeting the Buddha.  After he
met with Shakyamuni, he didn't ask any questions.  However,
Shakyamuni read his mind and asked, "What has made you so sad?"

The non-Buddhist said, "Because my hope didn't turn out to be
true.  Things I encountered are against my will.  Therefore
I'm sad."

"Sadness doesn't solve problems.  You can simply tell me what you
are sad about."  Shakyamuni said to him compassionately.

"I came from a faraway place because I learned that people in Balrampur
have heard your Dharma and are kind.  However, once I arrived, I
came across this ridiculous thing..."  The non-Buddhist told the
story of the farmer family to Shakyamuni.  He thought that the
farmer family didn't have any love not to mention compassion.  He
didn't think this kind of things should happen in a Buddhist country.

Shakyamuni smiled and said to him, "It's not necessarily so.  What
you wanted to hear and see was things within the principle of the human
world.  However, sometimes the Dharma doesn't have to follow the
human nature.  Cultivation is purifying the human nature and
corresponding to the truth.  The family you met wasn't wrong on
the principle.  They knew that they couldn't forever keep their
human flesh.  When a person dies, everyone cries loudly for
him.  What good does it do to the dead person?  Moreover,
life has birth and death.  Happiness at birth and sadness at death
are signs of the confusion that the secular world has towards life and
death.  The circle of life and death never stops."

After hearing the guidance from the Buddha, the non-Buddhist suddenly
understood.  From then on, he converted to Buddhism and became a
diligent monk.

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