Same name, new flavor

So, I’ve been reading Teachings of the Buddha, which is a collection of Buddhist stories and teachings edited by Jack Kornfield, the director of the Spirit Rock Centre in Woodacre, California. I came across two teachings with titles that should sound very familiar to Christians, but with completely different (and interesting) messages.

Parable of the Mustard Seed

Gotami was her family name, but because she was tired easily, she was called Kisa Gotami, or Frail Gotami. She was reborn at Savatthi in a poverty-stricken house. When she grew up, she married, going to the house of her husband’s family to live. There, because she was the daughter of a poverty-stricken house, they treated her with contempt. After a time she gave birth to a son. Then they accorded her respect.

But when that boy of hers was old enough to play and run hither and about, he died. Sorrow sprang up within her. Thought she: Since the birth of my son, I, who was once denied honor and respect in this very house, have received respect. These folk may even seek to cast my son away. Taking her son on her hip, she went about from one house door to another, saying: “Give me medicine for my son!”

Whenever people encountered her, they said: “Where did you ever meet with medicine for the dead?” So saying, they clapped their hands and laughed in derision. She had not the slightest idea what they meant.

Now a certain wise man saw her and thought: This woman must have been driven out of her mind by sorrow for her son. But medicine for her, no one else is likely to know — the Sage of the Ten Forces alone is likely to know. Said he: “Woman, as for medicine for your son — there is no one else who knows — the Sage of the Ten Forces, the foremost individual in the world of men and the worlds of the gods, resides at a neighboring monastery. Go to him and ask.”

The man speaks the truth, thought she. Taking her son on her hip, she took her stand in the outer circle of the congregation around the seated Buddha and asked: “O Exalted One, give me medicine for my son!”

The Teacher, seeing that she was ripe for understanding, said: “You did well, Gotami, in coming hither for medicine. Go enter the city, make the rounds of the entire city, beginning at the beginning, and in whatever house no one has ever died, from that house fetch tiny grains of mustard seed.”

“Very well, reverend sir,” said she. Delighted in her heart, she entered within the city, and at the very first house said: “”The Sage of the Ten Forces bid me fetch tiny grains of mustard seed for medicine for my son. Give me tiny grains of mustard seed.”

“Alas! Gotami,” said they, and brought and gave to her.

“This particular seed I cannot take. In this house someone has died!”

“What say you, Gotami! Here it is impossible to count the dead!”

“Well then, enough! I’ll not take it. The Sage of the Ten Forces did not tell me to take mustard seed from a house where anyone has ever died.”

In this same way she went to the second house, and to the third and forth. Finally, she understood. In the entire city this must be the way! The Buddha, full of compassion for the welfare of mankind, must have seen! Overcome with emotion, she went outside of the city, carried her son to the burning-ground, and holding him in her arms, said: “Dear little son, I thought that you alone had been overtaken by this thing which men call death. But you are not the only one death has overtaken. This is a law common to all mankind.” So saying, she cast her son away in the burning-ground. Then she uttered the following stanza:

No village law, no law of market town,
No law of a single house is this —
Of all the world and all the world of gods
This only is the Law, that all things are impermanent.

This next one also has a very familiar-sounding title to Christians, and even has a familiar beginning premise; however, the moral is not so familar:

The Woman at the Well

Ananda, the attendant to the Buddha, having been sent by the Lord on a mission, passed by a well near a village, and seeing Pakati, a young outcast woman, asked her for water to drink.

Pakati said, “O monk, I am too humbly born to give you water to drink. Do not ask any service of me lest your holiness be contaminated, for I am of low caste.”

And Ananda replied, “I ask not for caste but for water,” and the woman’s heart leaped joyfully and she gave Ananda water to drink.

Ananda thanked her and went away; but she followed him at a distance.

Having heard that Ananda was a disciple of the Buddha, the woman went to the Blessed One and said, “O Lord, help me and let me live in the place where your disciple Ananda dwells, so that I may see him and minister unto him, for I love Ananda.”

And the Blessed one understood the emotions of her heart and he said, “Pakati, your heart is full of love, but you do not understand your own sentiments. It is not Ananda that you love, but his kindness. Accept, then, the kindness you have seen him practice toward you and practice it toward others.

“Pakati, though you are born low caste, you will be a model for noblemen and noblewomen. Swerve not from the path of justice and righteousness and you will outshine the royal glory of queens and kings.”

That last one is dense with multiple nuggets of wisdom embedded in it.

So, what do you guys think?


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