It is very common when we hear a story being told that we immediately wonder if it is really
true or not. Did it really happen? Is it historically accurate? If not then it is merely a fable or a legend. But this is a very modern approach. Surprisingly, ancient people asked a different sort of question. They wondered what the story was actually conveying. What was the meaning of the story?
Story telling is also a very important aspect of Buddhist teachings. Ryojin Soga, a famous
Shin scholar, suggests that we should read the sutras as if we were reading our own private spiritual diary. These stories should resonate so deeply that they become our stories.
I would like to tell such a story. There was a young boy who really wanted to learn about Buddhism. To do so, he decided to leave home in order to join a monastery high upon a mountain top. He shaved his head, put on the saffron robes and became a novice monk.
He quickly found that he had many chores to do, too many in fact. Very early, every morning he had to clean the altar even though it was already clean from the cleaning the day before. It seemed odd to him to dust items that were not really dusty at all. He didn’t know this yet but the more you put into preparing for a service the more you will get out of it.
He even had to offer the Buddha breakfast prior to his own breakfast. Morning service also occurred before his breakfast. He found it very difficult to chant on an empty stomach. You could even hear his stomach growling as he chanted. He really wanted to study Buddhism but there didn’t seem much time for that because it seemed that he was always cleaning, making offerings, chanting and bowing. He wanted to learn more about Buddhism but his teachers seemed to speak in riddles. He preferred being led from a premise to a conclusion but his teachers didn’t do that. Instead they seemed to talk around the subject.
After a year, he felt that he was on the verge of quitting and began to complain to the head
monk. He was hoping for a solution or a teaching but was instead given yet another task. It seemed more like a punishment. The head monk needed a written message taken across town to a senior monk at another temple nearby. The young boy took the note, tucked it into his robes and went out the temple gates.
He hadn’t realized how far he had to walk. After a mile he was only half way there. He was not happy about this and even less so once it began to rain. He finally made it to the temple soaking wet. He knocked on the large wooden doors and an older senior monk answered. He handed him the note, expecting a verbal response.
The monk opened and read the note but merely smiled and handed the young novice yet
another note. He felt like a carrier pigeon; no longer a novice monk. He returned to his monastery after another 2-mile walk, now in the pouring rain.
He made it back, looking and feeling like a wet dog. Waiting for him at the monastery doors
was his head monk. He was smiling just as had the senior monk. The boy handed him the new note and without even reading it, he placed into his robes still smiling.
Our young novice monk finally lost his temper. He was tired, cold and soaking wet. The head
monk started smiling again and began to laugh out loud. He looked at the poor boy and said, “Why are you upset? Don’t you know that when you go into the rain that you get wet?”
It was in that moment the young boy had his moment of insight. The Dharma had been raining down on him all along. He’d been immersed in Buddhism all along and was soaked to the bone by the teachings. The young boy now knew what the head monk had always known. It is a simple truth. If you walk in the rain, you get wet – and now the young boy could exhale and practice instead of trying to grasp doctrine – he moved from seeking intellectual meaning to spiritual meaning. He was experiencing Buddhism at the monastery all along rather than merely studying. The head monk could have told the young boy this early on but he never would have believed him. He instead had to be shown – he had to feel it rather than understand it. For me, this story is true.
Rev Jon Turner