Tag Archives: folktale

Sometimes a Curse Is a Blessing

In Radiant Lights, Haunted Nights, a collection of Jewish folktales edited by Joachim Neugroschel, a folktale chronicled by Y.L. Kahan titled “Sometimes a Curse Is a Blessing” tickled my fancy. I hope you all enjoy it as well!

There was once a couple who lived in a village, and they had no children. One day a rabbi came and he wanted to spend the Sabbath there. The master of the house and the lady of the house showed him a great deal of respect, and they served him good food and drink. Then, on a Sunday morning, the host gave the rabbi a generous donation. The rabbi blessed them, wishing them disturbed nights and disturbed meals. And then he set out again.

When he was gone, the hostess dashed after him. “Rabbi, were you dissatisfied with the alms? Is that why you cursed us?”

The rabbi laughed: “I gave you a blessing so that God would give you children. In a house with children, there are disturbed nights and disturbed meals. Sometimes a child cries at night, and his parents are disturbed. And sometimes a child throws down a glass, and so a meal is disturbed. And these are purely blessings when you have children.”

I hope I can remember this sage advice when the baby arrives. And for you existing parents out there, count your blessings!

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A Luxurious Life

Continuing in yesterday’s vein, another Buddhist-Yiddish folktale by Tashrak in the collection “Five Stories about Buddha, the Indian Prophet.” This one is titled “A Luxurious Life.”

When Buddha went into the world, teaching people to be decent and just, he eventually reached a town where the citizens came out to welcome him and bow to him.

However, there wasa rich man who did not bow, and he said to the prophet: “The prophet must forgive me. I’m too fat and I can barely move on my feet.”

“Would you like to know why that is?” Buddha asked.

“Yes,” said the rich man. “And perhaps the prophet can teach me how to find a cure.”

“There are five things that lead to a condition like yours,” the prophet explained. “Too much food, too much sleep, too much pleasure-seeking, too little work, and too little thought. Control your appetite for food and everything else, and you’ll become a normal human being.”

A few years later, Buddha arrived in the same town, and the rich man came out to welcome him like everyone else, bowed like everyone else, and said:

“Great prophet! You healed my body. Now advise me how to heal my mind, so that I can think and grasp everything like all wise and learned men.”

And the prophet replied:

“So long as you keep your body healthy, your mind will also remain healthy. For a healthy mind can exist only in a body that is properly cared for and never flouts the laws of nature.”

So, what do you think? Sound advice, or just more evidence that fat people just can’t catch a break anywhere?

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The Burning Palace

Tashrak, a pseudonym for Yisroel-Yoysef Zevin (1872-1926), adapted Buddhist tales into a Yiddish tradition. In one of the collections, “Five Stories about Buddha, the Indian Prophet”, he tells a story called “The Burning Palace.”

A rich man lived in a palace. The palace was very large but also very old. The walls and the columns were rotted and the roof was very dry. One day, while sitting there, the rich man smelled smoke. He dashed outdoors and saw that the entire building was ablaze. The man then remembered that his children were playing inside the palace, and he shuddered.

The terrified father stood there, not knowing what to do. He heard the children running about indoors and jumping and shouting merrily and cheerfully. He knew that if he told them the palace was on fire, they wouldn’t believe him. They’d think he wanted them to play outdoors. And if he dashed into the building and grabbed just one child at a time, he’d be unable to save the others, who’d scoot away from him and be lost in the flames.

Suddenly the father had a wonderful idea. “My children love toys,” he mused. “If I promise them some beautiful playthings, they’ll obey me.”

He now yelled: “C’mon children! Look at the lovely presents your father has brought you! Why, you’ve never seen such wonderful toys in all your lives! Come out as fast as you can!

And lo and behold! Children came running from all parts of the burning palace. They were mesmerized by the word “toys,” and their good father had brought them some marvelous playthings. But the children then ignored their presents, they gaped at the fire and they realized what great danger they had been in. They thanked their intelligent and loving father, who had saved them from certain death.

The prophet is well acquainted with human children, and he tells them that if they are good, they will receive good things, and that is how he saves them from evil.

And there are times when the children see the great danger that the prophet has saved them from, and they praise his name.

I am not a parent yet, and so I wanted to ask parents out there — is this good advice at all? On the one hand, I can see how this form of — well, for lack of better word — bribery could help, but in the end, it could also backfire, right? What do you parents think out there?

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Buddhism and women

Again, excerpts from Teachings of the Buddha edited by Jack Kornfield, this time about women. I found these excerpts to be especially intriguing, and wonder how they match-up to our female and feminist readers, who I assume are of mostly Western cultural descent.

Soma and Mara

Once the nun Soma, having returned from her alms round and after her meal, entered the woods for a noonday rest. Plunging into the depths of the woods, she sat down under a tree.

Then the tempter Mara, desirous of arousing fear, wavering, and dread in Soma, and wishing to cause her to interrupt her concentrated meditation, went up to her and said, “The goal is hard to reach, hard even for sages; it cannot be won by a woman with whatever wisdom she may have.”

Then Soma thought, “Who is this, a human or a non-human, who is saying this? Surely it is the evil Mara who wants to interrupt my concentrated meditation.” Knowing that it was Mara, she said to him, “What does one’s gender matter to one whose mind is well-composed, in whom insight is functioning, and who comprehends the Dharma?”

Then the evil Mara thought, “The nun Soma knows me.” Being sad and sorrowful, he vanished there and then.

adapted from the Samyutta Nikaya, translated by C. A. F. Rhys-Davids

And this one, which is more esoteric, but just as interesting (and a beautiful poem):

Songs of the Nuns

Free woman,
be free
as the moon is freed
from the eclipse of the sun.

With a free mind,
in no debt,
enjoy what has been given to you.

Get rid of tendency
to judge yourself
above, below, or
equal to others.
A nun who has self-possession
and integrity
will find the peace that nourishes
and never causes surfeit.

Be filled with all good things
like the moon on the fifteenth day.
Completely, perfectly full
of wisdom
tear open
the massive dark.

I, a nun, trained and self-composed,
established mindfulness
and entered peace like an arrow.
The elements of body and mind grew still,
happiness came.

Everywhere clinging to pleasure is destroyed,
the great dark is torn apart,
and Death, you too are destroyed.

from the Therigatha, translated by Susan Murcott

Lastly, there is this story, which involves gender identity, but one that puzzles me as well (comments about this one would be much appreciated!):

Sariputra and the Goddess

Thereupon, a certain goddess who lived in that house, having heard this teaching of the Dharma of the great heroic bhodisattvas, and being delighted, pleased, and overjoyed, manifested herself in a material body and showered the great spiritual heroes, the bodhisattvas, and the great disciples with heavenly flowers. When the flowers fell on the bodies of the bodhisattvas, they fell off on the floor, but when they fell on the bodies of the great disciples, they stuck to them and did not fall. The great disciples shook the flowers and even tried to use their magical powers, but still the flowers would not shake off. Then the goddess said to the venerable Sariputra, “Reverend Sariputra, why do you shake these flowers?”

Sariputra replied, “Goddess, these flowers are not proper for religious persons and so we are trying to shake them off.”

The goddess said, “Do not say that, reverend Sariputra. Why? These flowers are proper indeed! Why? Such flowers have neither constructual thought nor discrimination. But the elder Sariputra has both constructual thought and discrimination.

“Reverend Sariputra, impropriety for one who has renounced the world for the discipline of the rightly taught Dharma consists of constructual thought and discrimination, yet the elders are full of such thoughts. One who is without such thoughts is always proper.

“Reverend Sariputra, see how these flowers do not stick to the bodies of these great spiritual heroes, the bodhisattvas! This is because they have eliminated constructual thoughts and discriminations.

“For example, evil spirits have power over fearful men but cannot disturb the fearless. Likewise, those intimidated by fear of the world are in the power of forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, which do not disturb those who are free from fear of the passions inherent in the constructive world. Thus, these flowers stick to the bodies of those who have not eliminated their instincts for the passions and do not stick to the bodies of those who have eliminated their instincts. Therefore, the flowers do not stick to the bodies of the bodhisattvas, who have abandoned all instincts.”

Sariputra asked: Goddess, what prevents you from transforming out of your female state?

The goddess replied: Although I have sought my “female state” for these twelve years, I have not found it. Reverend Sariputra, if a magician were to incarnate a woman by magic, would you ask her, “What prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?”

Sariputra: No! Such a woman would not really exist, so what would there be to transform?

Goddess: Just so, reverend Sariputra, all things do not really exist. Now, would you think, “What prevents one whose nature is that of a magical incarnation from transforming herself out of her female state?” Thereupon the goddess employed her magical power to cause the elder Sariputra to appear in her form and to cause herself to appear in his form. Then the goddess, transformed into Sariputra, said to Sariputra, transformed into a goddess, “Reverend Sariputra, what prevents you from transforming ourself out of your female state?”

And Sariputra, transformed into the goddess, replied, “I no longer appear in the form of a male! My body has changed into the body of a woman! I do not know what to transform!”

The goddess continued, “If the elder could again change out of the female state, then all women could also change out of their female states. All women appear in the form of women in just the same way as the elder appears in the form of a woman. While they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women. With this in mind, the Buddha said, ‘In all things, there is neither male of female.’ ”

Then, the goddess released her magical power and each returned to his ordinary form. She then asid to him, “Reverend Sariputra, what have you done with your female form?”

Sariputra: I neither made it nor did I change it.

Goddess: Just so, all things are neither made nor changed, and that they are not made and not changed, that is the teaching of the Buddha.

from The Vimalakirti Sutra, translated by Robert A. F. Thurman

To me, it appears the basic idea is that gender itself is a mental construct that is ultimately false. This will be problematic within a Mormon context, but does this ideal of extreme “gender colorblindness” have merit, or is it itself a dead-end road to travel?

Actually, the Buddha would chide me for framing the question in that way, but what can I do? I, myself, am a product of Western constructual thinking.

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The hand pointing at the moon is not the moon

In the tradition of Christ’s Socratic dialogue, I present to you a story while asking, “What think ye?” This gem of a story comes from Zen in 10 Simple Lessons by Anthony Man-Tu Lee and David Weiss:

Dan Xia taking shelter in a Buddhist temple on a cold evening found himself with little fuel for his meager fire and took down one of the Buddha images from the altar and added it to the embers. The temple custodian was appalled by his sacrilege and chastized Dan Xia for his irreverence. Dan Xia calmly took up a stick and began scratching about the embers, and replied: “I am looking for holy relics among the ashes.”

The puzzled and still furious custodian asked: “How can you get holy relics from a wooden Buddha?”

“If there are no relics to be found,” replied Dan Xia, “how can this be considered a Buddha, and if not a Buddha, how am I committing any sacrilegious act. Would you mind if I added the two remaining Buddhas to my fire?”

When I found this story I literally laughed out loud. When my wife heard me, she asked me what was so funny so I read this story to her and it upset her greatly. She took the side of the temple custodian, whereas I like way of Dan Xia’s thinking. So, my dear readers, what think ye?

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