Friday, 23 October 2015

Ancient Wisdom

One day the Buddha was sitting in the wood with thirty or forty monks. They had an excellent lunch and they were enjoying the company of each other. There was a farmer passing by and the farmer seemed forlorn. He began to ask the Buddha and the monks a question, and had removed first his cloth hat which he now held tightly in both hands, twisting it hither and thither as though it were part of an invisible spinning wheel. He smiled a sort of half smile, then opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. For a moment he appeared unsteady on his feet, and he raised a finger to the air as though about to illustrate his still unspoken point. Then he began to laugh as though he were a woodpecker.

'For fuck's sake,' said the Buddha. 'What?'

The farmer swallowed visibly and appeared suddenly sober. When he spoke his voice went from upper to lower register as though he found the asking of the question uncomfortable. 'Have you seen my cows, mate? It's just that I've gone and lost them.'

'No,' said the Buddha, a little irritably. 'We have seen no cows passing by here.' Then he and his companions returned to their discourse, but before too long they were interrupted by a wailing sound. They looked and saw that the farmer had not left them. He stood apparently supporting himself upon the fence post, as though his legs had no substance. His mouth was open like that of a great frog, and from it came the terrible cry of despair.

The Buddha stood, and went back to the man. 'Come come - what is it now? Had you not better go and seek your cows?'

'It's just that,' - the farmer seemed to fall forward, but grasped the hem of the Buddha's robe to prevent himself falling into the mud. Then he began to climb, one hand over the other, raising himself up as he came face to face with the Buddha. Their noses were almost touching. 'It's just that...'

'Yes? It's just that what? Pull yourself together, man.'

Suddenly the farmer lurched forward amongst the group, arms spread as he at last found his voice. 'Monks, I'm so unhappy. I have twelve cows and I dunno why they all ran away. I have also a few acres of a sesame seed plantation and the insects have eaten the lot. I suffer so much I think I'm going to kill meself.'

The Buddha said, 'My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might like to look for them in the other direction. That would be my suggestion.'

The farmer came back around to the Buddha. He seemed unsteady upon his feet, doubled up. He was laughing. He pointed at the Buddha. 'You know,' - but he was laughing so much he could not speak. 'You know...'

The Buddha cast a sideways glance at a nearby water-clock and submitted a heavy sigh.

'You're right!,' the Farmer yelped, still laughing. 'That's exactly what I'll do! I'll go look for them right now!'

The group watched him stagger away in the other direction, still laughing, falling over twice, turning back once to give a wink and a happy thumbs up before gesturing to indicate that he was indeed now going to look for his cows.

'There. That wasn't so fucking difficult, now was it?'

'Lord?' One of the monks seemed confused as to just who the Buddha had addressed with this last terse observation.

The Buddha resumed his seat and spoke again to the group. 'My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don't have any cows to lose. If you have too many cows to take care of, you will be very busy. That is why, in order to be happy, you have to learn the art of cow releasing. You release the cows one by one. In the beginning you thought that those cows were essential to your happiness, and you tried to get more and more cows. But now you realise that cows are not really conditions for your happiness; they constitute an obstacle for your happiness. That is why you are determined to release your cows.'

'Huh?' offered one of the younger companions.

'Oh why do I bother?'

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