Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A Few Buddhist Parables

These are a few old Buddhists parables handed down from generation to generation. Please excuse me if these are re-posts to you all. I think the essence of these stories perhaps captures a good feeling of what Buddhist teachings are pointing to.

Who knows whats good or bad?

The situation we always live in is like that of the wise Chinese farmer whose horse ran off. When his neighbor came to console him the farmer said “Who knows what’s good or bad?” When his horse returned the next day with a herd of horses following her, the foolish neighbor came to congratulate him on his good fortune. “Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the farmer. Then, when the farmer’s son broke his leg trying to ride one of the new horses, the foolish neighbor came to console him again. “Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the wise farmer. When the army passed through, conscripting men for war, they passed over the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. When the foolish man came to congratulate the farmer that his son would be spared, again the wise farmer said “Who knows what’s good or bad?”

The 84th Problem

A man once came to see the Buddha to get help with his problems. After the man had told the Buddha one of his problems and asked for help, the Buddha replied: "I cannot help you get rid of that problem."

The man was surprised that the Buddha could not help him in this regard, but he told the Buddha about another problem; he thought to himself that the Buddha should at least be able to help him with that problem. But the Buddha told him "I cannot help you with that problem either."

The man started to get impatient. He said: "How can it be that you are the perfectly Enlightened Buddha, when you can’t even help people get rid of their problems?" The Buddha answered: "You will always have 83 problems in your life. Sometimes a problem will go, but then another problem will come. I cannot help you with that."

The baffled man asked the Buddha: "But, what can you help me with, then?" The Buddha replied: "I can help you get rid of your 84th problem." The man asked: "But what is my 84th problem?" The Buddha replied: "That you want to get rid of your 83 problems."

The Search for Enlightenment

There once was a poor man who lead a donkey every day across the border from one kingdom to another. The border guards suspected that he was smuggling something, so each day as the man passed the border they carefully searched the man and the donkey’s saddlebags, but they never did find anything.

After a while the man starts to wear more expensive clothing and buys a large house. The border guards redouble their efforts to inspect the man and his donkey closely because they now are certain the man is smuggling something. But in their daily searches of the man and the saddlebags they never come up with anything but straw.

After 30 years of this daily routine, one of the border guards retires. One day when the retired border guard is walking across the street, he runs into the man and says "Listen, I am no longer a border guard and I can no longer hurt you. I promise I will never tell anyone, but just for my peace of mind, please tell me what you have been smuggling all those years." The man replies "Because I know that you can no longer arrest me, I will tell you. I was smuggling donkeys."


  1. The first parable you've listed is actually a famous TAOIST parable, known as the parable of the "Taoist Farmer/Lost Horse." It illustrates the Yin-Yang principle of "interpenetrating opposites." The fact that the parable has been adopted by Buddhism nicely shows that, at least in some ways, the Taoist Yin-Yang principle is one and the same as the Buddhist principle of "unity of all things." Interestingly, this is a central theme among those who like to mix metaphysics with quantum physics.

  2. i had actually heard the donkey story as a Mullah Nasruddin story (Sufi figure, a wise fool basically)

  3. I like the parable about the giant sea turtle that pokes its head out of the ocean once every thousand years (at any point or any time). The parable goes on to state that the probability of paddling a boat out and tossing a noose randomly into the sea and catching the giant sea turtle are the same odds that one has to be reincarnated as a human. That's how precious human life is