A Parable by Ed Williamson
On the outskirts of a village, a statue of the Buddha was perched atop a rock in a clearing near the woods. A gift to the village, the statue was placed there over three hundred years ago by a visitor. He had told the villagers that the statue of the Buddha was a symbol of liberation, a reminder to all to become free of suffering. As the years passed by, the story of the Buddha statue and its meaning was passed down to younger generations, but with the passage of time the telling of the story began to change. The original meaning and purpose of the statue had become distorted. What started as a symbolic gesture to remind the villagers to be free of worry and suffering, had now become the opposite. No longer a symbol, the statue was now the receiver of all the villagers’ worries and suffering.
It happened that a traveler came to the village. Upon meeting the villagers who came to greet the traveler, he noticed right away that everyone was happy and joyful. He himself seemed downtrodden and depressed. He was dressed shabbily, wearing an old, torn shirt and pants. When the villagers saw the traveler looking disheveled and unhappy, they told him of the Buddha statue. They told him that a visit to the statue would make him joyful.
“How is this possible?” the traveler inquired.
“It is simple,” they told him. “You sit at the Buddha’s feet and offer him all your worries and suffering. When you do this, the statue will take them all from you and you will be happy.”
The villagers led him to the statue, where they let him be to become free of his worries and suffering. They waited an hour, but the traveler did not return. More hours passed, and still no sign of the traveler.
He must have a lot of suffering to offer the statue, they thought.
The next morning, the villagers decided to check on the traveler. When they arrived at the place where the statue was, the traveler had gone. So had the statue.
The villagers panicked. What were they to do? How could they live in happiness and joy when the statue that took all their suffering away was gone?
The news of the missing statue spread quickly amongst the villagers and their joy soon turned to despair. A village that was once so full of joy became a place of gloom.
Many months had passed when another traveler came to the village. Upon entering the village, no one there came to greet him. They didn’t even look his way. Even so, he walked through the village with a smile on his face and bounce in his step. He was elegantly adorned in a broad-rimmed hat and silk robes. One villager noticed how happy this traveler seemed and stopped him.
“Why are you so happy?” he asked.
“Why should I not be?” he replied.
“Do you have a Buddha statue?” the villager asked.
“A statue? No, I have no statue. I am happy because I choose to be,” he replied.
The villager was confused at this answer. “I don’t understand,” he said. “What do you do with all your worries and suffering if you don’t have a statue to give them to? Where do they go?”
“Why do you keep talking about a statue?” the traveler asked.
The villager told him the story of the missing statue, how it came to be stolen from them, and the consequences it had for the village. On hearing this, the traveler laughed aloud. Other villagers heard his laughter and they stopped what they were doing to see what was going on. As the traveler kept laughing, more villagers came around him. It had been a long time since they had heard laughter.
“What is all this?” the other villagers questioned.
“This traveler is happy and joyful but has no statue to give his worries and suffering to,” the first villager said.
“How is this possible?” others asked. More villagers gathered and soon a large crowd had formed around the traveler.
“We must bring him to where our statue used to be,” one villager said. They led the traveler to the rock upon which the Buddha statue had sat. The traveler then sat upon the rock, facing the villagers. They were puzzled by his action.
The traveler began to speak. “Why do you believe the statue took your suffering away?” he asked.
“Because when we told the statue of our worries, they left us,” one villager said.
“So,” the traveler announced. “You believed so much that this statue would take your worries away, it worked for you?”
“Yes,” the villager replied.
“I see,” said the traveler. “But now the statue is missing, so there’s no place to put your worries and suffering, right?”
“Yes,” they replied.
“What if the statue had been of a goat—would you have believed it would take your worries and suffering away?”
The villagers looked at each other, confused. “Why would a statue of a goat take our worries away?” someone asked.
“Why would any statue take your worries away?” the traveler replied.
Again, the villagers looked at each other, confused.
“It was a statue of the Buddha, that is why,” a villager declared.
“Yes, indeed—but still a statue, yes?”
There was more confusion amongst the villagers. Before another villager could speak, the traveler asked, “Where is the Buddha?”
“We don’t know,” a villager responded. “He was stolen.”
The traveler laughed aloud. “Was the Buddha stolen, or a statue stolen?” he asked.
“A statue!” came a reply.
“Indeed.” The traveler went on, “A statue was stolen, but not the Buddha. Where is the real Buddha?”
No one had an answer. Then a young girl came forward through the villagers and approached the traveler.
“The real Buddha is within,” she said quietly.
“Indeed.” the traveler replied. “And what statue is needed if the real Buddha is within?”
“No statue,” the child replied.
“And so, what should we do with our worries and suffering?” he asked the child.
“There are no worries and suffering in the real Buddha, so there is none in me.”
The villagers looked on, astounded at the child’s wisdom. How could we have become so lost that we believed a statue could take our suffering away? they thought.
The traveler spoke: “It is easy to become lost in suffering, and even easier to think we can give it up to something outside of us—after all, who wants worry and suffering?”
As the traveler got up to leave, a villager called out to him. “Who are you?”
The traveler stopped and turned towards the villagers. They stood in silent anticipation. The traveler laughed.
“Do you not recognize me?” he asked.
Again, the young girl came forward. “You are the thief,” she said.
With this, the villagers gasped.
“Indeed,” the traveler responded, removing his hat and robes. “I am the thief.”
“Why would you take our statue?” the villagers asked.
“Do you want it back?” he asked.
“No!” the child announced. “The only Buddha missing here was the one we missed within.” With that, the traveler smiled, turned from the villagers, and wandered into the woods…