To Walk on the Path…Prakash Tewari
An incident in the life of Goutama the Buddha: At the time, he was dwelling in a big meditation center in the city of Sāvatthī, the capital of the state of Kosala. Large numbers of monks and nuns would go there to learn Vipassana from him. Large numbers of men and women householders would go there to learn and benefit from this technique.
One man used to come for the evening discourses but he never practiced. One day he came a little earlier when the Buddha was alone. The man came, paid respects and said, “Sir, I have a question that keeps bothering me. I hesitate to ask it when there are so many people around you. Now that you are alone, permit me to ask the question.”
The Buddha replied, “Go ahead. There should not be any confusion in your mind about the Dhamma.”
The man said, “Sir, I have been coming here for a number of years. I understand what you teach and it is good. But I examine the people who come here to learn. I have noticed that some of them have become fully liberated, enlightened. From their behaviour, their lifestyle, their dealings with people and situations, it is clear that they are liberated. Others are not fully liberated but I notice that a big change for the better has come in their lives. But then, sir, there are people like me: there has been no change, we are as we were.
*My question is this, sir: You are so powerful and compassionate. If somebody comes to you and takes refuge in you, why don’t you use all your power and compassion to liberate that person? *
Why do some of the people who come to you remain unliberated or half-liberated?”
The Buddha smiled. This is what he kept on teaching but people did not want to understand. What could he do?
He explained by counter-questioning the man:
“Where are you from?”
“Sir, I’m from this city of Sāvatthī, the capital of Kosala.”
“But your facial features suggest that you are not originally from here—that you are from some other state and came and settled here.”
“Yes sir, you are quite correct. Actually I am from Rājagaha in the state of Magadha. I settled here a few years ago.”
“And have you severed all relations with your place of origin? Do you not go there any more?”
“I keep going there, sir. I have relatives and friends there, I have my business there. Every year I often go to Rājagaha and return.”
“Then you must know the path from here to Rājagaha very well since you have traveled that way so many times?”
“Yes, sir, I know the path very well.”
“Now tell me, after settling here you must have made many friends, and some of them must have become very close to you. Is that right?”
“Your close friends must certainly know that you moved here from Rājagaha, and that you visit there and return several times in a year?”
“Then these people know that you are very familiar with the path from here to Rājagaha?”
“Some of them must ask you about the path. Do you keep it a secret or do you explain it to them?”
“What secret, sir? I explain the path to them very clearly. You start from Sāvatthī and head east along this route until you reach Varanasi. From there you continue to Gaya and finally to Rājagaha. I explain it very clearly.”
“Very clearly? Then everyone to whom you have explained the path must have reached Rājagaha?”
“How is that possible sir? Unless they have taken the path, how will they reach Rājagaha?”
“Young man, this is what I keep saying every day. People come to me understanding very well that this is a person who is fully liberated, who has reached the final goal and knows the path leading to it. They come to me and ask, ‘What is the path?’ I do not keep it secret. I explain it to them very clearly: ‘Take this route to this waystation and then this one. Keep walking and you will reach the final goal.’
“Suppose someone listens and says sādhu, sādhu, sādhu, and bows down three times, but does not take a single step on the path. How will this person reach the goal? What can I do in that case? I have shown the path, my job is done. If somebody has taken just one step on the path, this person is one step nearer the goal. If someone has taken a hundred steps on the path, this person is a hundred steps nearer the goal. If someone has taken all the steps on the path, that person has reached the goal.”
Each individual has to take steps on the path. No one can do that for another person. If I am thirsty and someone else drinks water, my thirst will not be quenched. To quench my thirst, I must drink water. If I am sick and someone else takes medicine, my sickness will not be cured. I have to take the medicine myself.
It is so simple. And yet we don’t want to accept our part. We expect a supernatural power to kindly do something for us. This doesn’t work.
Each individual has to work out his or her own salvation. Each individual has to take every step on the path.
Feature Photo: Soumini Paul