This week's morsel comes from The Stories of the Lotus Sutra by Gene Reeves. In this book, Reeves presents the most memorable and remarkable of the Lotus Sutra's many stories and parables, along with a reflection on them in an accessible, inspiring, and naturally illuminating way. In the selection below, he looks at a parable from Chapter 4 of the Sutra about a rich father and poor son.
When still a boy, a man ran away from home, only to live a life of desperate poverty, moving from place to place in search of menial work. Meanwhile his father, who had become extremely rich and powerful, searched everywhere for the lost son but could not find him.
One day the son accidentally came to the place where the father lived. He saw his father in the distance surrounded by servants and other signs of great wealth but he did not recognize him and began to flee in fear of such wealth and power. But the father, having secretly longed for his son for many decades and wanting the son to have his inheritance, recognized the man immediately and sent a servant after him. But when the servant caught up with him, the son, fearing that he would be forced to work or even be killed, pleaded that he had done nothing wrong and fell to the ground in a faint. Seeing this, the father told the servant to douse him with cold water to wake him up, tell him he could go wherever he liked, and then leave him alone.
The son went off to another village to look for food and clothing. Later, the father secretly sent two unimposing, poorly dressed servants to go to the son and offer to hire him to work with them at double pay shoveling animal dung. To this the son agreed, and he went to work at his father’s house. Later, seeing how poorly the son looked, the father disguised himself as a lowly worker, went to the son, praised his work, and promised him better wages and treatment if he would continue to work for him, explaining that as he was old he wanted to treat the man just like a son. The son was pleased, and continued to shovel dung for another twenty years, gradually becoming more confident and more trusted by the father. But still lacking self-confidence, he nonetheless continued to have a very low regard for himself and live in a hovel outside the gate.
Eventually the rich man became ill. Knowing he would die soon, he asked the son to take charge of his various properties and businesses. As the time of his death grew near, the father called together various officials and all of his relatives and friends and servants and revealed to them that the poor man was in fact his son and would inherit all of his wealth. With such enormous wealth coming to him quite unexpectedly, the son was very amazed.
Imbedded in this story are many of the lessons that are to be found throughout the Dharma Flower Sutra. Let’s look at some of them.
Faith in Yourself, Faith in the Dharma
At a meeting some time ago of the International Buddhist Congregation in Tokyo, a young woman described how, dissatisfied with the faith in which she had been raised, she had searched among Christian and Buddhist traditions for an appropriate faith for herself, finally discovering with some joy the importance of having faith in herself. We might think that faith in oneself is not enough. And indeed it isn’t. But it is an important beginning. The poor man in this story was not able to become a functioning contributor to his family and society until he gained some respect for and confidence in himself.
The Dharma Flower Sutra stresses that each of us is somebody important—important to himself or herself, important to others, and important to the Buddha. Each of us is a person of great potential. For this reason we are sought after by the Buddha. The Buddha’s wealth—supreme awakening or enlightenment—is not something you have to earn or purchase in any way; it already belongs to you; it was yours from before your birth; it is your rightful inheritance.
Self-respect and self-confidence are primarily attitudes, types of emotional and psychological states, but they also entail respecting what has been given to you, including your body. If we eat, or drink, or take drugs to excess, we show disrespect for ourselves and deprive the Buddha of what he is trying to achieve in our lives, through us. The Buddha needs us, needs everyone. The Buddha’s compassion is for all the living.
Accordingly, we should not be overly humble or servile—or allow others to be oppressed into such servility. Oppression is the worst kind of evil, because it denies the buddha-nature of all creatures. It is akin to an insult to the Buddha.
Though this story does not directly advocate social responsibility, it makes evident the need for those who seek to follow the Dharma Flower Sutra to be concerned about social as well as individual evil. War, class oppression, racism, and environmental pollution are affronts to the Buddha. They are affronts to the Buddha precisely because they assault and insult the buddha-nature in people and give rise to totally unnecessary suffering.
Apart from the Buddha and blind to the Buddha Dharma, we are like someone wandering around, destitute, impoverished, without purpose, miserable. In a sense, this is the destiny of those who do not, in some way, follow the Buddha Way. This does not mean, however, that one has to be a Buddhist in the ordinary sense. To follow the Buddha is to put one’s trust in and devote oneself to the happiness of others and the life of the whole. It is to share in a kind of common human faith that life is meaningful, a faith that finds expression in a variety of religious and other forms.
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How to cite this document:
© Rissho Kosei-kai, The Stories of the Lotus Sutra (Wisdom Publications, 2010)
The Stories of the Lotus Sutra by Gene Reeves is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/stories-lotus-sutra.
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