Stories from Buddhism: Between Life and Death

Guo Zheng

PureInsight | July 16, 2006

[] Once upon a time in ancient India, a man decided to escape from the annoying mundane world and became a monk out of anger.


Although he was physically in the temple, his heart was attached to the
outside world. His soul was still fettered with desires. He often
massaged his body with fragrant oil and bathed in hot water to keep his
skin smooth and fragrant. He also chose what he ate, drank and slept on
very carefully. The lust for materials wound around his heart like
twining vines. Therefore, although the man had performed the ritual of
entering monkhood, he was still a layman in terms of his spiritual
realm and behavior. Of course it meant that he was far from the holy
way of Nirvana.

At that time, in the Kushinara Kingdom there lived a venerable Buddhist
saint called Upagupta who was very famous for his accomplishment in
Buddhism. Out of admiration, the young monk went to Kushinara to visit

Upagupta asked the young monk, "Why did you come a long way to see me?"

"I came here because I admire your reputation," said the monk. "I wish
your Honorableness would mercifully enlighten me with the essence of
Buddha's law."

The saint observed the young man's cultivation level and knew he was
still attached to desires. He asked the young monk, "Are you willing to
completely obey me and do everything I tell you to do?"

"Yes, I surely can. I'll do everything you tell me to do," was the monk's reply.

 "If you have that faith," the saint said, "I'll first teach you
how to obtain supernatural abilities, and then lecture you on Buddha's

"Supernatural abilities! That's great!"

The saint then took the young monk to the mountains and taught him to
meditate, and reminded him again to be completely obedient. The saint
then created a tall tree with his abilities, and told the monk to climb
up the tree, which the monk did. When the monk looked down from the top
of the tree, he saw a pit extremely deep and wide next to the tree. The
saint said, "Release your legs off the tree." The young monk obeyed.
The saint then ordered him to free one hand from the tree, which he
also did. When the saint told him to free the other hand, the young
monk became frightened and said, "If I let go, I'll fall in to the pit
and die."

The saint said, "You have promised to do whatever I tell you to do. How
can you regret now?" The monk felt desperate, but he decided to keep
his promise. He tried not to think of anything, and let loose his hand.
He quickly fell into the deep and dark pit. At that point, he was
almost scared to death, and burst into cold sweat. When he opened his
eyes again, he saw no trace of the tree or the pit. Now the saint
started to teach him, "Let me ask you this: when you let go and fell
down, did you feel that anything in the world was lovable?"

"Honorable One, when I thought I was dying, nothing seemed lovable to me."

"Right. Everything in this world is just an illusion. When one's
physical body dies, his desires also vanish. If you can see through the
fact that the physical body is just a part of the impermanence, you
will be disentangled from the fetters of desire. Desire is the source
of life, death and other worldly concerns. If you want to achieve the
righteous fruit, you must meticulously abstain from desire, be diligent
in your cultivation, and do not lose your true self."

The young monk was suddenly enlightened. From then on he carefully and
diligently cultivated himself and finally achieved the fruit of Arhat.

The world is complicated and deceitful only because our human eyes can
not see through the nature of things and distinguish true from false.
What we think is real may be just illusions. That's why man often falls
into the abyss of sin for transient pleasures.

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