Ancient Cultivation Stories: Letting Go of Illusive Sentimentality

According to legend, after Shakyamuni lectured on the Dharma in Balrampur, all people in the city became noble, polite and wise. They respected and helped each other. It was as though Balrampur was a paradise.

A non-Buddhist heard about this. He travelled 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 where 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 and 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 favour?"

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 had just died and yet he showed no signs of grievance. 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 died after being bitten 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 travellers 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 I. 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 sad?"

"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 can no longer be rejoined. 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 his sister?"

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

The non-Buddhist was even more confused. He asked the woman: "Your husband is dead so 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 travelled such a distance to hear such words. 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 learnt 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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