Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Two Brothers

Once upon a time, in a mountainous village in Yangon, there lived two brothers.  They were almost similar in age, and similar in temperament.

Both lost their tempers easily, were direct in speaking about what pleased and displeased them, and did not keep any feeling unexpressed.  They considered patience and tolerance to be a form of dishonesty.  "Better get it out" was their motto in life.

They were both members of the village council, and had married the twin daughters of a rich landlord of the neighboring village.

It so happened one day that a monk was passing through that village on his way to the town of Hiegu.  The monk stopped at the door of the house where the two brothers lived and asked for some water.

Only one brother was home, and as he offered water to the monk (it being a custom to never let a monk go hungry or thirsty), the monk lay down on the door step for some rest.  The monk seemed a little tired from his long journey.  Having nothing else to do that day, the brother sat down with him to keep him company.

The monk did not say much, but towards the end of his rest, he put his hand on the head of the brother who had brought him water, and quoted a verse from the Dhammapada:

"By effort and heedfulness,
discipline and self-mastery,
let the wise one make for himself
an island which no flood can overwhelm."

The brother, as the story goes, was thunderstruck by this utterance.  A few days after the monk had left, he became a student at the local monastery.  He became a diligent meditator and re-oriented his entire outlook so that no external event, no "flood", affected his poise and state of happiness.  His happiness was to be be found within and external joys and sorrows were to mean nothing to him.

The other brother continued to be the way he was.

After many, some say twenty, years, the monk was again passing through that village.  The meditative brother recognized the monk instantly, and after greeting him, sat down with him.  After washing the monk's tired feet and offering him food and water, he asked for permission to ask a question.

The monk nodded, and asked him to say what was on his mind.

The meditative brother almost erupted:

"O master, you had passed on to me a great wisdom.  But it has brought me nothing but harm.  I am happy in every circumstance, so nobody cares for my happiness.  I am not pained by ridicule, therefore rowdy children think nothing of ridiculing me and throwing rocks at me.  I am not after material pleasures, so my family at my home gives me nothing good to eat.  Everybody eats a proper meal but I eat the leftovers.  I do not go after women, so I have had no affairs, whereas my brother has tasted the affections of many a dissolute woman.  I am patient, so I am the last to be attended to at any event."

The monk removed his head scarf and looked at the brother's moving lips.

"It seems that the impatient, the short-tempered, the unhappy, the lustful, the easily-offended, are treated better in this world than men like me, who always patiently smile and do not let anything affect their poise.  Even with infants, the mother feeds him first who cries the loudest.  The unhappy seem to be profiting in this world, and happiness seems to be a disadvantage."

The monk sat still and looked into the brother's eyes.

"My brother has a wife who takes care of him despite his philandering, but my wife nags me no end.  My brother commands more respect and riches, whereas I live from one day to the other.  My brother is praised and showered with gifts, whereas people think of me as of no consequence.  My brother wins every argument from me because he loses his temper and because I want to keep the peace in the house."

"O master, what kind of a world is this where to be happy and wise is thereby to be ignored and uncared for?"

The monk dropped his gaze to the ground and continued to sit still.  He hadn't said a word till now.

After a rather long time, he looked up and said:

"Of course it is true that the body part which is hurt and in pain gets the attention, whereas one is not even mindful of the healthy part.  To be of this world, you have to be unhappy.  Some of Buddha's students advocated "showing" unhappiness while being happy inside, but Buddha disagreed with this. He considered it dishonest manipulation, as well as an ineffectual one.  People can see if you are really angry or just showing it.  To be self-sufficiently happy in this world is a recipe for failure.  Why would anyone do a favor for you if you are already happy?  This world cares about feelings of pain and pleasure.  This world regards someone who doesn't care about pain and pleasure as someone who needs no care.  If you have no needs, then nobody will meet those needs."

As the monk was getting up to leave, an extra robe fell from his knapsack.  The brother threw away his own clothes, wore the ochre robe and said, "Thank you, master."  They both, now monks, left the village, never to return.

The worldly brother inherited the meditative brother's property, made his wife his concubine and maid, and otherwise lived in prosperity till the end of his days.

The meditative brother, it is said, died in the Khayan monsatery, many years later, of a cold-related ailment.

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