【Phenomenon is a reflection of our heart and mind】
March is considered “early spring,” but, lately, I have to admit feeling slightly affected by the impact of climate change. During mid-February in New York, we experienced the chill of －17℃(1.4°F). It was truly cold. Then two days later, the temperature rose to the warmth of 10℃(50°F)! That was quite astonishing! Everyone, how are you faring amid such extreme daily fluctuation of temperature?
This month, I would like to share a story about how Venerable Kātyāyana (Maha-Katyayana), one of the ten principal disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, liberated an elderly woman.
Venerable Kātyāyana, who was born in Avanti, the ancient kingdom in southern India, had accumulated so much practice that he was included as one of the ten principal disciples of Shakyamuni. He conducted dissemination in his home state and was continuously expounding the teachings.
One day, as Venerable Kātyāyana approached the banks of a certain river, he heard a woman crying out loud. When he looked intently between the trees, he saw an elderly woman squatting down by the water and sobbing. He went down to the waterfront and asked, “What is making you so sad that you are crying by the river?”
The elderly woman, looked up and stared at the Venerable Kātyāyana and eventually started to speak.She was a servant working for the town’s very wealthy man. Although her prosperous master had amassed treasures that practically filled the storehouse to its limits, he was a cruel and stingy person.
“For me, every single day is hell. Before the sun rises until middle of the night, I am whipped and forced to work hard like horses and cows. Even with food, I am never fed well. But I am without kin, so I have no choice but to work for this family. I have repeatedly thought it would be so much better to die, but I couldn’t even do that.”
The elderly woman said: she was ordered by the wealthy man to carry a heavy jug and came to this river to fetch water. When she saw her image on the water, she felt helpless, broke down and cried. Wistful feeling of “old age” must have spurred on her sorrow. Eventually, she would not be able to move her body as she wished and would not be able to avert facing the impending “death.” Overcome with tears, her shoulders shaking, she could not help but be crushed with despair of no longer having anyone she could rely on.
Venerable Kātyāyana, who had been closely watching over her, said something strange.
“Dear old lady, if you resent your poverty that much, why don’t sell off that poverty? You can sell off poverty if you’d like.” The elderly woman immediately said, “Is that true? I would gladly sell it off. How can I do that?”
“Do exactly as I say. First, wash and purify your body in the river flow. Then, next, you must do donation.” The elderly woman closed her eyes sadly and said, “That is impossible to do for someone like me who has no assets at all.” Venerable Kātyāyana said, “Draw a brimful of clean water from the river into this jug.”
When the elderly woman finished collecting the water, he slowly explained to her.
“It is the Buddha who will buy your poverty. Just as you had washed and purified your body with the clean water, wash and purify your heart and mind from today by vowing to never feel hatred toward the wealthy man any more. And it is also important to become determined to work as hard as you possibly can to serve the wealthy man.” The elderly woman said “Yes,” and nodded deeply.
Venerable Kātyāyana said, “From tonight, after everyone is sound asleep, pray to the Buddha wholeheartedly, let go of evil thoughts and sleep peacefully. The Buddha is always protecting you.” He then went away, leaving her with those concluding words.
The elderly woman prostrated and put her palms together toward his retreating figure. She vowed in her heart, “From now on, no matter how difficult it may be, no matter what may happen, I will no longer hate and begrudge the wealthy man. I will give my best effort to work as hard as I can to carry out my duties.”
And then, behold. An indescribable feeling of abundance started to spread within her heart.
Thereafter, in a corner of the master’shouse, the elderly woman fell asleep with a peaceful smile on her face and breathed her last. Such peaceful natural death as the elderly woman’s is noted in the sutra as being “reborn in the Trāyastriṃśa heaven (Tohriten).”
Venerable Kātyāyana was praised as “foremost in explaining the Dharma” among the disciples of Shakyamuni and thus there are many stories that depict how well he understands Shakyamuni’s teachings. He was able to guide the elderly woman from despair to the path of liberation with just, “You can sell off your poverty.” This must be his compassion・wisdom that arose from his feeling of unity with the elderly woman who shares the same life of the Buddha with him. He thus considered her distress as his own suffering.
If “we can sell off our poverty” then we can also say that “we are buying our poverty.” We all, without exception, do not like being poor・to suffer, of course. But with our immediate greed and anger, as well as our complaints when things do not go as we wish, do we not find ourselves unconsciously “buying” a mountain full of poverty and feeling trapped? The one and only path that allows us to find our way out is to yearn for the Budddha’s teachings, and when we do that, we will instantly be liberated from our suffering.
This is what Venerable Kātyāyana had taught.
Furthermore, there is one more point that needs to be emphasized. We are told that instantly after the elderly woman, who had been encouraged by VenerableKātyāyana to purify her heart and mind, vowed to put it into practice in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha, she felt an indescribable feeling of abundance start to spread and fill her heart and mind. Yet, not a thing had changed in the world of phenomena. Thus, it is just by changing how we see and think, we can personally feel true liberation within us.
New York Center Minister