Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Buddhist Story: The Worm

This and other stories can be found at A View on Buddhism's Buddhist Stories page.

Ajahn Brahmavamso

There is a wonderful little story about two monks who lived together in a monastery for many years; they were great friends. Then they died within a few months of one another. One of them got reborn in the heaven realms, the other monk got reborn as a worm in a dung pile. The one up in the heaven realms was having a wonderful time, enjoying all the heavenly pleasures. But he started thinking about his friend, "I wonder where my old mate has gone?" So he scanned all of the heaven realms, but could not find a trace of his friend. Then he scanned the realm of human beings, but he could not see any trace of his friend there, so he looked in the realm of animals and then of insects. Finally he found him, reborn as a worm in a dung pile... Wow! He thought: "I am going to help my friend. I am going to go down there to that dung pile and take him up to the heavenly realm so he too can enjoy the heavenly pleasures and bliss of living in these wonderful realms."

So he went down to the dung pile and called his mate. And the little worm wriggled out and said: "Who are you?", "I am your friend. We used to be monks together in a past life, and I have come up to take you to the heaven realms where life is wonderful and blissful." But the worm said: "Go away, get lost!" "But I am your friend, and I live in the heaven realms," and he described the heaven realms to him. But the worm said: "No thank you, I am quite happy here in my dung pile. Please go away." Then the heavenly being thought: "Well if I could only just grab hold of him and take him up to the heaven realms, he could see for himself." So he grabbed hold of the worm and started tugging at him; and the harder he tugged, the harder that worm clung to his pile of dung.
I deleted the final line from this story at the original site, in which the lesson is spelled out. As I was reading this, I saw some space for ambiguity in how the story is interpreted. Certainly, there is the "correct" Buddhist reading. But I also suspect there is another way to read this, perhaps a more relativistic way of seeing the story.

This makes me wonder: The best teaching stories have some ambiguity built into them (think of the Brothers Grimm stories). So does the lesson we take from the story depend on our developmental level? Is it like the the state-stage thing where we interpret states of consciousness based on what stage of development we happen to dwell in?

Maybe I just need more coffee.

[image source]

No comments: