I was travelling by an overnight bus and had difficulty falling asleep…for the obvious reasons. So, out came the headphones and the music followed. It also led me down memory lane. In the good old days, when sleep eluded me as a child, the solace was my grandmother’s stories. Every story eneded with a teaching or moral which she insisted that we express in our own words. The lessons have stuck on for a lifetime.
Different from fables and parables, teaching stories have meaning at many levels, and have been used as a tool for spiritual instruction in many wisdom traditions. Now they are also finding use in psychotherapy and education. I am sharing a few of them here…
A prince goes to a Zen master and tells him that he wants to be enlightened—and now! Instead of sending him away, the master says it could be arranged. After finding out from the prince that he plays chess very well, the master sets up a game between the visitor and one of his monks who has just a passing knowledge of chess. The condition is: whoever loses will be beheaded. Predictably, the prince starts dominating the game. Soon, however, his conscience starts to prick: “I had come to this monastery for a selfish purpose, but now I may become the cause of this poor monk’s death.” So, feeling compassionate, he deliberately starts playing badly. But playing well was second nature to him, playing badly needs his entire attention. Neither does he want to play too bad a game to make his real move obvious. His nerves stretched, soon he starts sweating profusely. After some time, the master stops the game. “The first lesson is over,” he tells the prince. “You learnt two things today: compassion and concentration. Now go and hug your chess opponent who made it possible.”
Two travelling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up on to his shoulders and carried her across the water to the other bank. She thanked him and departed. As the monks continued on their way, one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out: “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!” “Brother,” the second monk replied. “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.
Once, during the course of his travels, Guru Nanak arrived at a village where the people were a quarrelsome lot. He blessed them and asked them to prosper and live in that village forever. In the next village, where the people were peace-loving, Guru Nanak blessed them too but asked them to abandon the village and disperse. Mardana, his close disciple, puzzled by the guru’s strange blessings, asked him why he blessed the first village with prosperity though its people were unworthy |of it and asked the good people of the second village to disperse. Guru Nanak smiled and answered: “The quarrelsome will only spread unrest and friction wherever they go. So I asked them to remain where they were. But it is better for the peace-loving to disperse and take their good qualities with them so that all those who know them can learn the art of peaceful coexistence.”
An Indian Brahmin was interested in gaining supernatural powers. Learning that a monk in Tibet could grant him his wishes, he undertook an arduous journey through the Himalayas to meet him. The monk told the Brahmin: ‘‘The mantra to gain supernatural powers is simple. Just say Buddham Sharanam Gachchami, Dhammam Sharanam Gachchami, Sangham Sharanam Gachchami three times, but don’t think of monkeys.’’ Content, the Brahmin thought: ‘‘I am such a learned man. Why should I think of monkeys when I chant the mantra?’’ But when he sat down to chant the mantra, the first thought that came to his mind was that of monkeys. Later, all he could think of was monkeys. The monkeys roamed all over his consciousness until he lost his peace of mind. Seeing his condition, the monk smiled: ‘‘If you force your mind to travel in a certain direction, it will go the other way.’’
As the old man walked the beach at dawn, he noticed a youth ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the young boy, he asked him why he was doing this. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. “But the beach goes on for miles and there are thousands of starfish,” countered the old man. “How can your effort make any difference.” The young boy looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to the safety of the waves. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said.
I hope the stories above find some place and meaning in your day today…here’s wishing you a fruitful day 🙂 🙂 🙂