Waiting For Buddha
In 29 A.D. Srong-Tsan-Gampo of Yarlung dynasty ascended the throne at Lhasa and the behest of his two queens (one from Nepal and other from China) introduced Buddhism in Tibet. However, it was under his great grandson Khrisong Detson that Tibet became Buddhist. Padma Sambhava, a Tantric Buddhist living in Udayna in North West India, was invited to Tibet in 747 A.D. and it was his association with King Detson that led to the spread of Buddhism in his land. He is today a revered as a saint in Tibetan community and known as Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Gem. This is the story of how it happened.
In Lhasa in 751 A.D. there lived a cobbler, Tongstan by name. He had a tiny room in a basement, the one window of which looked out on to the street. Through it one could only see the feet of those who passed by, but Tongstan recognized the people by their boots. He had lived long in the place and had many acquaintances. There was hardly a pair of boots in the neighbourhood that had not been once or twice through his hands, so he often saw his own hand work through the window.
Tongstan had always been a good man, but in his old age he began to think more about his soul and God. While he still worked for a master, his wife had died, leaving him with a three-year-old son. None of his elder children had lived; they had all died in infancy. At first Tongstan thought of sending his little son to his sister in the country, but then he felt sorry to part with the boy, thinking: ‘It would be hard for my little boy to have to grow up in a strange family. I will keep him with me.’
In order to earn more money, Tongstan left his master and began to work on his own. But he had no luck with his child. No sooner had the boy reached an age when he could help his father and be a support, he then he fell ill, and after being laid up for a week with a burning fever, died. Tongstan could no longer hold his remorse and gave way to despair so great an overwhelming that he murmured against God. In his grief he prayed again and again that he too may die, reproaching God for having taken the only son, whom he loved so much, his only son, while he, old as he was, remained alive.
One day, Gyatsho Tshering, an old man from Tongstan’s native village who had become a monk, called in on his way from the Samye monastery. Tongstan opened his heart to him and told him of his sorrow.
‘I no longer even wish to live, holy man,’ he said. ‘All I ask of God is that I may soon die. I am now without any hope in the world.’
The old monk replied: ‘You have no right to say such things, my friends. Birth and death is part of life. So is suffering. You problem is that you wish to live for your own happiness.’
‘What else should one live for?’ asked Tongstan.
‘For Nirvana,’ said the monk. ‘Sorrow, suffering, dissatisfaction, and all other forms of unpleasantness are inherent in life. By giving up our craving for desire, personal gratification and self living, we can attain Nirvana.’
Tongstan was silent awhile, and then asked: ‘But how can one attain Nirvana?’
Gyatsho Tshering replied; “How one may attain Nirvana has been shown to us by Buddha. He preached his message of compassion and through happiness many centuries back. Follow his teachings and you shall be more content.’
The boot maker bowed humbly and asked from where he could obtain the teachings of Buddha.
“The teachings of Buddha are contained in the scriptures. If you want I will come to you for the next few days and teach you on the message of Buddha.”
“That will be most kind of you Holy Gyatsho Tshering,” said Tongstan.
And so began the education of Tongstan. At first they met only on holidays, but having once started Tongstan found his heart so light that he wanted his friend to come everyday. Sometimes he got so absorbed in the discussions that the oil in his lamp would go off out before he could think of bidding his friend goodbye. Before, when he went to bed he used to lie with a heavy heart moaning as he thought of his son; but now he only found peace and contentment.
From that time Tongstan’s whole life changed. He became peaceful and calm. The more he discussed the teachings of Buddha, the better he understood life and the clearer and happier he felt in his mind.
Now Tongstan was also the boot maker of the king of Tibet, Khrisong Detson, who lived in his majestic Khriste Marpo (the Red Palace). Tongstan frequently went to the king to make or mend his shoes. This had brought him quiet close to the king and he frequently shared his grief and sorrow with him.
One day the king asked him: ‘Tongstan, you lost your only son sometimes back and had lost all desire to live. Now I notice your sorrow seems to have lessened and you are at peace with yourself. What has brought about this miracle?’
‘My Lord,’ replied the shoemaker, ‘It is the teachings of the Buddha. He has taught me the meaning of life.’
‘You know Tongstan, I too have heard of the many wonders of the Buddha. But I have never understood the full meaning of his teachings. I still get confused between our earlier beliefs when we followed the Shamanistic religion and worshipped our local Gods and these teachings of Buddha. Very recently a man from Udayana in north-west Aryadesh has come to my court. His name is Padma Sambhava. He too speaks of the many wonders of Buddha… Why don’t you bring your monk friend to me so that we may all learn something more?’
‘Of course, You’re Majesty. I shall do as you bid.’
And so Gyatsho Tshering was brought to the king and there again began a long series of discussions between this Tibetan monk, Padma Sambhava, the king and the shoemaker. As king Khrisong Detson knew how to read, he also began studying the Buddhist scriptures. Meanwhile, Gyatsho Tshering, the old Tibetan monk, Fell sick and died.
His death had a profound effect on the king. He relapsed into sorrow and began wondering about the meaning of life. Not able to contain himself any longer, he one day asked Padma Sambhava what is happiness and how it could be obtained.
‘There is no absolute happiness Your Load,’ replied Padma Sambhava. ‘Indeed, Dukh or suffering is inherent in our lives. It is due to our craving for individual satisfaction; it can be stopped by stopping this craving; and this can only be done by taking a middle path as propounded by Buddha.’
‘And what is this middle path?’ asked the king.
‘This, My Lord,’ replied Padma Sambhava ‘Is following a course between self – indulgence and extreme asceticism; and leading a moral and well ordered life.’
Khrisong Detson thought about this for some time. After a long silence he asked: ‘How can one follow this middle path?’
‘My Lord, it is right views, right resolve, right Speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right recollection and right meditation.’
The King remained quiet for a long time. The more he thought about this path, the more he liked the idea.
‘Did Buddha preach this?’ he asked.
‘Yes, My Lord,’ replied Padma Sambhava. ‘That is why we call him Tathagata. It means he who has attained enlightenment.’
‘He certainly was a great man, Padma Sambhava,’ said the king. ‘Did he say anything about suffering?’
‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ replied the man from Aryadesh.
‘That birth is suffering, aging is suffering, disease is suffering, death is suffering, every wish unfulfilled is suffering-in short all the five components of individuality is suffering.’
The more Detson contemplated on these answers, the more merit he began seeing in the teachings of Buddha. He brooded about these answers for many days. Then one day he asked Padma Sambhava as to what is the best way to avoid these sufferings.
‘This is called the Noble Truth of Stopping of Suffering, My Lord,’ he replied. ‘It is the completing of that thirst, so that no passion remains. It means completely leaving this thirst, being free from it, giving no place to it.’
However, despite these long talks with Padma Sambhava, Khrisong Detson was still not completely convinced of the merits of Buddha’s teachings compared to his own beliefs of local Gods. So one day he asked his Indian friends: ‘Holy man, you also know something of occult sciences. Why can’t you ask your Buddha to come and speak to me the truth about life?’
Padma Sambhava contemplated the king’s question for a long time. ‘Very well, Your Highness. I will today do something. I am sure Buddha will grant your wish and come to you in person.’
That night as Detson was gloomily contemplating about life, he laid his head upon both his arms and, before he was aware of it, he fell asleep.
‘King Detson!’ he suddenly heard a voice, as if someone had breathed the words above his ear.
He started from his sleep. ‘Who’s there?’ he asked.
He turned around and looked at the door; no one was there. He called again. Then he heard quite distinctly: ‘King Detson, king Detson! Go to your friend, the shoemaker’s room tomorrow. Ask him to leave you alone for a day and look out for me, for I shall come. But be sure to be alone.’
So the next morning Detson rose well before daylight and after eating some food quietly went to the room of his friend, Tongstan. There he told Tongstan that he wishes to spend the whole day alone in his room for contemplation. Much shocked and confused, Tongstan left the king alone. He himself went to spend the day in the monastery of Samye.
So Detson sat by the window, looking out into the street, and whenever any one passed the window, he would crane his neck to see who was passing by. A porter passed in torn clothes; then a water carrier. Some children playfully ran past the window. Presently an old army soldier came near the window, spade in hand. Detson knew him by name was Tsering Wangyal and the he began clearing the snow in front of the window.
‘I must be growing crazy,’ said Khrishong Detson, laughing at his fancy. ‘Tsering Wangyal comes to clear away the snow, and I am imagining it is Buddha coming to visit me. I am a fool.’
Yet after he had waited for sometime he felt drawn to look out of the window again. He saw that Tsering Wangyal had leaned his spade against the wall and was either resting he or trying to get warm. The man was old and broken down, and had evidently not enough strength even to clear away the snow.
‘What if I called him in and gave him some tea?’ thought Detson.
He slowly rose and putting the samovar on the table, made tea. Then he tapped the window with his fingers. Tsering Wangyal turned and came to the window. Detson beckoned to him to come in went himself to open the door.
‘Come in,’ he said, ‘and warm yourself a bit. I’m sure you must be cold.’
Seeing the king, Wangyal was shocked. ‘My king,’ he said. ‘What brings you to this humble abode?’
‘Hush,’ whispered the king. ‘I am here to meet someone. But let that not disturb you. Come, my friend, first have some tea with me.’
‘You are a very kind man,’ Wangyal answered. ‘My bones do ache to be sure but then I am an old man.’ He started shaking off the snow, and lest he should leave marks on the floor, began wiping the sole of his shoes. But as he did so he tottered and fell.
Detson rushed to lift him and gently put him in a chair. Filling two tumblers, he passed one to his visitor, and pouring his own into the saucer, began to blow on it.
But while Wangyal drank his tea, Detson kept looking into the street.
‘Who are you expecting, My Lord?’ asked the visitor after some time. ‘If I am an intrusion I may be permitted to leave.’
‘Pray do not be cruel,’ said Detson. ‘It is true I am expecting someone. But that does not mean you should leave.’ And so saying Detson poured more tea into the visitor’s tumbler.
They sat in the silence for a long time. Then Wangyal Tsering got up and said: ‘Thank you, Your Majesty. You have given me food and comfort both for soul and body. You are much more than a king. You are a noble man.’
Slowly Tsering walked to the door and while out blessed his host. Detson again began looking out of the window, waiting for Buddha and thinking about him and his doings. His head was full of his preaching.
Two town- people went by; then a baker carrying a basket. Then a woman came up in peasant made shoes. She passed the window, but stopped by the wall. Detson glanced up at her through the window and saw that she was poorly dressed and had a baby in her arms. Detson heard the baby crying and the woman to soothe it. He rose, and going out of the door, called her.
‘Why do you stand out there with the baby in the cold? Come inside. You can wrap him up better in a warm place. Come this way.’
The woman was surprised bit she followed him inside the room. He took her near the stove and said: ‘Sit down, my dear and warm yourself. Also please feed the baby.’
‘Haven’t any milk. I have eaten nothing myself since early morning,’ said the woman, but still she took the baby to her breast.
Detson shook his head. He brought out a tumbler and some bread. Into it he poured some cabbage soup and said: ‘Eat my dear and I’ll mind the baby.’
The woman began eating while Detson put the baby on the bed and sat down beside it. He chucked and chucked, and soon the baby was laughing. He drove his finger straight at the baby’s mouth and then quickly drew it back, and he did this again and again. This made the baby laugh all the more and Detson felt quite pleased.
The woman sat eating and talking, and told him who she was, and where she had been.
When she had finished eating she got up to go. Detson sighed.
‘Haven’t you any warmer clothing?’ he asked.
‘No,’ she replied. ‘I cannot afford anything better.’ Then the woman came to the bed and took the child. Detson picked up his long cloak which he had earlier hung on a nail on the wall and gave it to her.
‘Here,’ he said. ‘It will do to wrap him up.’
The woman looked at the cloak, then at her host, and taking it, burst into tears. While leaving she thanked and blessed him.
After the woman left, Detson ate some cabbage soup, and again began waiting. Presently he saw an old woman, who vended apples, just in the front of his window. She had a large basket, but there did not seem to be many apples in it; she had evidently sold most of the stock. She placed the basket on the ground in order to rest and while she was looking further towards the street, a boy in a tattered cap ran up, snatched an apple out of the basket and tried to slip away. But the old woman noticed it and caught the boy by the sleeve. The boy screamed and the old woman began scolding and beating him. Detson rushed out and heard the boy saying, ‘I did not take it. What are you beating me for? Let me go.’
Detson separated them. He took the boy by the hand and said, ‘Let him go, mother. Forgive him. He is just a child.’
‘I’ll teach him a lesson so that he won’t forget far a year! He is a rascal!’
‘Let him go, mother. He won’t do it again. Please let him go.’
The old Woman let him go but Detson stopped him before he could go much farther.
‘Ask for the lady’s forgiveness,’ he said. ‘And don’t do it another time. I saw you stealing the apple.’
The Boy began to cry and to beg pardon.
‘That’s right. And now here’s an apple for you,’ and Detson took an apple from the basket and gave it to the boy, saying, ‘I will pay you, mother.’
‘You will spoil them that way, the young rascal,’ said the old woman. ‘He ought to be beaten so that he would remember it for a week.’
‘Oh, mother,’ said Detson, ‘that’s the simple way-but it’s not the correct way. If he should be beaten for stealing an apple, what should be done to us for our sins?’
The old woman was silent.
‘We should forgive,” dear mother,” said Detson, “or else we shall not be forgiven. And we should forgiven a thoughtless youngster most of all.’
‘It’s true enough.’ she said. ‘But they are getting terribly spoilt.’
‘Then we must show them better ways,’ Detson replied.
Soon enough the old woman was about to move and as she picked her basket, the boy sprang forward to her, saying. ‘Let me carry it for you, mother. I’m going that way.’
The old woman nodded her head, and as they moved away, she blessed Detson but quite forgot to ask him to pay for the apple.
When they were out of sight, Detson returned to his room to a gain await the arrival of Buddha. But no one came and presently it was evening. Feeling tired, he lay down to rest. As he was about to go to sleep he seemed to hear footsteps, as though someone was moving behind him. Detson turned around, and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner, but he could not make out. And a voice whispered in his ear: ‘King Detson, king Detson! Don’t you know me?’
‘Who is it?’ muttered Detson.
‘It is I,’ said the voice. And out of the dark stepped Tsering Wangyal, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.
‘It is I,’ said another voice after a few moments. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms, and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.
‘It is I,’ said a third voice and this time Detson saw the old apple woman and the boy stepping out of the darkness and smiling. They too vanished quickly like the others.
And Detson felt good. He understood that Buddha had visited him through these people and had shown him the right way to live. He understood that only by following his message can he and his people attain enlightenment. He understood that by the Buddha visiting him he was blessed and that it was now his duty to spread his message throughout his kingdom.
King Detson called Padma Sambhava the next morning and after narrating him his experiences of the previous day said: ‘My friend, you are truly a remarkable man. I waited for the Buddha and he came. He told me the meaning of life. I am blessed. From now onwards I will call you Guru Padma Sambhava. As for me, I will devote the remainder of my life in spreading the message of Buddha.’