Buddhism has always been fond of parables and many of these were used by the Buddha himself. He taught by parables, 'for men of good understanding will readily enough catch the meaning of what is taught under the shape of a parable.' (www.sinc.sunysb.edu)
Image source: The Religion of the Samurai By Kaiten Nukariya page 87
A man once came to see the Buddha to get help with his problems. After the man had told the Buddha one of his problems and asked for help, the Buddha replied: "I cannot help you get rid of that problem."
The man was surprised that the Buddha could not help him in this regard, but he told the Buddha about another problem; he thought to himself that the Buddha should at least be able to help him with that problem. But the Buddha told him "I cannot help you with that problem either."
The man started to get impatient. He said: "How can it be that you are the perfectly Enlightened Buddha, when you can’t even help people get rid of their problems?" The Buddha answered: "You will always have 83 problems in your life. Sometimes a problem will go, but then another problem will come. I cannot help you with that."
The baffled man asked the Buddha: "But, what can you help me with, then?" The Buddha replied: "I can help you get rid of your 84th problem." The man asked: "But what is my 84th problem?" The Buddha replied: "That you want to get rid of your 83 problems."
Source: Progressive Buddhism
Image source: media.photobucket.com
Buddha likened his teachings to a raft for crossing a fast-flowing river.
The parable narrates how a man is trapped on one side of a river. On this side, there is great danger and uncertainty and on the far side of the river is safety. However there is no bridge spanning the river nor is there a ferry to cross over. What to do? The man gathers together logs, leaves, and creepers and by his wit fashions a raft from these materials. By lying on the raft and using his hands and feet as paddles he manages to cross the river from the dangerous side to the side of safety.
The Buddha then asks the listeners a question. What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river thought to himself – That raft has served me well I will carry it on my back over the land now? The monks replied that it would not be a very sensible idea to cling to the raft in such a way. The Buddha went on – What if he lay the raft down gratefully thinking that this raft has served him well but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore? The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude. The Buddha concluded by saying – So it is with my teachings which are like a raft and are for crossing over with not for seizing hold of.
This parable marks the attitude taken to the teachings given by the Buddha, firstly that their prime objective is to be of practical use and secondly to introduce the teaching of the Two Truths. The ultimate Truth or Reality cannot be described by words and concepts and must be seen for oneself. However the path that leads to that insight can be described and forms a map to show how to get there. This truth is relative because it only describes the way to this Truth it is not the Truth itself nor is it the path itself. The Buddhist practitioner must walk this path; it is not enough just to read about it or even to believe that it works!
Thus we must always bear in mind that the teachings, even the story of the Life of the Buddha are only descriptions, symbols pointing to something beyond the words and neither must they be taken as scientific fact or even historical truths.
This is why it is futile to become bogged down in ontological or epistemological arguments over these teachings. The value of them is realised when they are used in the way they were designed to be used as a practical tool leading toward insight into the human condition.
An old monk was sweeping the yard in a monastery under the scorching sun.
Another monk passed by and asked him, "How old are you?"
The old monk replied, "I'm seventy-seven."
"You are so old! Why are you still working so hard here?"
"Well, because I'm here."
"But why are you working under the scorching sun?"
"Because the sun is there."
[Act without worrying about the results, and strive for excellence without dwelling on it.
If we put all of our hearts into what we do without complaining, we can become one with the "Way."]
The Buddha was sitting in the park when his disciple Malunkyaputta approached him. Malunkyaputta had recently retired from the world and he was concerned that so many things remained unexplained by the Buddha. Was the world eternal or not eternal? Was the soul different from the body? Did the enlightened exist after death or not? He thought, 'If the Buddha does not explain these things to me, I will give up this training and return to worldly life'.
He put these questions to the Buddha who replied, "Now did I ever say to you that if you led a religious life you would understand these things? It is as if a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends, companions relatives were to get a surgeon to heal him, and he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know who wounded me, of what caste he is, what his name is, whether he is tall, short or of medium height, what colour his skin is, where he comes from, what kind of bow I was wounded with, what it was made of, whether the arrow was feathered with a vulture's wing or a heron's or a hawk's…..' Surely the man would die before he knew all this."
"Whether the view is held that the world is eternal or not, Malunkyaputta, there is still re-birth, old age, death, grief, suffering, sorrow and despair - and these can be destroyed in this life! I have not explained these other things because they are not useful, they are not conducive to tranquillity and Nirvana. What I have explained is suffering, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering. This is useful, leading to non-attachment, the absence of passion, perfect knowledge."
Thus spoke the Buddha, and with joy Malunkyaputta applauded his words.
"Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life's search for love and wisdom."--Rumi
A Zen master urged his students to practice diligently in order to transcend the world of birth and death.
A student asked him, "Sir, please tell us how to transcend the world of birth and death."
He said, "You have to look for the world of no birth and no death."
The student asked, "But where can we find the world of no birth and no death?"
"You look for it right in the world of birth and death."
"The Buddha Dharma is in the world,
Awakening is not apart from the world.
If you seek enlightenment apart from the world,
It is like seeking rabbit horns." ----- Hui Neng
In Buddhism, it is recognized that supernatural or miraculous power is possible and can be attained through training.
However, Buddha Sakyamuni discouraged all display of miraculous power as the proof of of spiritual attainment.
The following story illustrates the Buddha's attitude towards miraculous powers.
One day the Buddha was waiting by the river bank for a boat to ferry him across the river.
An ascetic passed by and proudly showed off his miraculous power, crossing the river back and forth by treading over the water.
The Buddha smiled and asked him, "How long did you train to attain such power?"
"It took me thirty years!", said the ascetic.
The Buddha replied, "Thirty years? Well, I can cross the river using the boat for only one penny!"
If a wicked man can become a pure religious man, this according to Buddhism, is a practical miracle.
(As told by Henri Nouwen, contributed by Fan Zhen Zhen)
One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water.
As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature.
As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him.
Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion.
This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.
At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted:
"Hey, stupid old man, what's wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don't you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?"
The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger's eyes he said calmly,
"My friend, just because it is the scorpion's nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save."
During the Buddha's time, there was a monk who strived to develop his mind such that he could enter the realms of the gods. With great effort, he succeeded in transporting himself to the first heaven, the Heaven of the Four Great Kings. The reason he wanted to see the gods was to ask them a really profound question, "Where does the four great elements cease without remainder?"
When he reached the Heaven of the Four Great Kings, he asked all the gods this question. None of them knew the answer. "Perhaps u can ask the Four Great Kings", they suggested. So the monk asked the Kings, but none of them knew the answer too. So they suggested, "Perhaps u can ask the 32 Gods in the higher heaven".
The monk went back to earth and he meditated once again. With great effort, he succeeded in transporting himself to the second heaven, the Heaven of the 32 Gods. There he asked the gods his profound question. None of them knew the answer. "Perhaps u can ask King Sakka, the King of the 32 Gods", they suggested. So the monk asked the King, but He didn't know the answer too. He suggested, "Perhaps you can ask the Yammas in the higher heaven".
The monk when back to earth again and meditated, till he was able to transport himself to the Heaven of the Yammas. Again, none of the gods there knew the answer. So he went to the higher heaven. This went on until the monk reached the highest of all Heavens, the Heavens of the Brahmas, the Supreme gods. There the monk asked the Brahmas, but none of them knew the answer. "Perhaps you can ask Great Brahma, the Creator, the Uncreated, the Knower of All, .....etc.....", the Brahmas suggested.
The moment Great Brahma's name was spoken, He appeared with all His glory. "I am the Great Brahma, the Creator, the Uncreated, the Knower of All, .....etc.....", Great Brhama spoke. Thrilled at the sight of Great Brahma, the monk asked his profound question, "Where does the four great elements cease without remainder?".
Great Brahma did not answer. Instead, he said, "I am the Great Brahma, the Creator, the Uncreated, the Knower of All, .....etc.....". The monk was a little frustrated, "Yes, Venerable One, I know you are the Great Brahma, but I came to ask you this quesn, Where does the four great elements cease without remainder?". Again, Great Brahma did not answer. Instead He said, "I am the Great Brahma, the Creator, the Uncreated, the Knower of All, .....etc....."
This time, the monk was very frustrated. He asked for the 3rd time, "Yes, I KNOW you are the Great Brahma, but I came to ask this quesn, Where does the four great elements cease without remainder?".
This time, Great Brahma did not say anything. He took the monk in the hand and, with all His glory, appeared in a far end of existance. Great Brahma then spoke, "Monk, you see all these gods there? They all think I know everything. Are you trying to embarrass me in front of all these gods?". The monk was taken aback, "But Venerable Sir, if you do not know the answer, who would?". "You fool!", the God shouted, "The Buddha is on earth. Why don't you ask him and stop bothering me?".
The monk then went back to earth and asked the Buddha. The Buddha laughed at his little adventure and told a joke about it. "Monk, in the old days, navigators depended on birds to know if land is nearby. They would release a bird. If the bird returned, it means that land is not near. You monk, you r just like that bird. Flying away from the ship, seeing no land, and then returning to me". The monk was so amused he too laughed. At this point, the Buddha gave the answer, "Nirvarna is when the four great elements cease without remainder". The monk understood. He rejoiced at the answer.
"There was once a Zen Master who practiced meditation with extreme diligence.
He usually slept in a sitting position rather than lying down, and hardly rested much at all. However, despite practicing meditation for many years, he still had not become enlightened to the Way.
One day, a novice of unknown provenance sought permission to join the Order. This novice was habitually lazy, to the point where he would often remain in bed even after the bell announcing the early prayer session had been rung.
Informed of this, the Master summoned him and scolded him in the following terms, 'How is it that you have joined the Order but are still so lazy as to be always lying down? Don't you remember what the rules of discipline say: 'Remaining in bed and failing to arise after hearing the bell will bring the future retribution of rebirth as a snake?'
The novice replied, 'You said, Master, that I often lie down and therefore will become a snake. How about you, who are attached to the sitting posture? You will be reborn a toad. What can you ever hope to awaken to?'
Immediately after this exchange, the novice disappeared. However, the Master had been awakened.
As the story goes, the novice was in fact a Bodhisattva, who had assumed the appearance of a novice in order to enlighten the Master..." (Master Tam)
Note: "The Master picked up a brick and began grinding it with a stone.
The student asked what he was doing, and the Master replied, 'I am trying to polish this brick into a mirror.'
'But no amount of polishing will ever make a mirror out of a brick.'
'and no amount of sitting cross-legged will ever make a Buddha out of you.'
" Zaehner: 333
Source: www.dharmaweb.org: Parable 008
"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, [the most dangerous affliction for ascetics].
Why can't people sever their afflictions? Because they don't understand Birth and Death. They don't realize how great the importance of this matter is [and therefore, are not single-minded in their determination to transcend it].'"
Master Hsuan Hua/77: 78-79
Source: www.dharmaweb.org: Parable 011