Once upon a time, Buddha was walking along the riverside with nine of his monk disciples. In his quiet and graceful manner, the sage was talking to Ananda about mindfulness when suddenly almost all the monks stopped and looked the other way, across the river, in great awe. There it was, a yogi crossing the river from the other side and coming towards theirs. Ordinarily, this would not have been a distracting sight. Especially, considering that Buddha was delivering a sermon on mindfulness. This yogi, however, was not crossing the river in a boat, he wasn’t even swimming across, he was simply walking on the water.
The monks couldn’t contain their surprise, and interrupting Buddha, they said, “Do you see that, Lord? This is a miracle of miracles. That yogi must be a siddha too.”
Buddha remained unimpressed and choosing not to answer their question, he kept walking. All but Ananda stayed behind.
As soon as the yogi reached this side of the river, the monks fell at his feet to seek his blessings.
“Tell us, O Perfected One,” they spoke, “how did you attain the supernatural power of walking on the water?”
The yogi beamed in pride while they continued, “Can we also walk on water like you?”
“Yes, you can,” he said. “If you walk my path with discipline for 20 years, you too can walk on water like me.”
“20 years!” They exclaimed in unison.
Their enthusiasm died right away. Who on earth would have the tenacity to lead an austere life for 20 years? they thought. No doubt, it was attractive but the price was too big to pay — two decades of discipline. Two of them joined him nevertheless while the rest offered their obeisances quickly and ran towards Buddha who was now quiet and gently walking towards a boatman.
“O Sage!” they said, “That great yogi said we can walk on water by practicing austerities for 20 years. It was very impressive indeed. But, we thought you must know of an easier method.”
Buddha paused for a moment, looked at their excited faces with his perfected gaze, and resumed walking.
“Will you take us across the river, O noble man,” he said to the boatman.
“Yes, sir,” he said, “but, it’ll cost you a fistful of rice.”
They agreed and boarded the boat. The boatman was quietly rowing, when in the middle of the river, Buddha broke the silence.
“That’s all it is worth, my spiritual sons,” he said. “That great yogi’s 20 years of austerities are worth a fistful of rice.”
The monks dropped their heads in shame. No, not because they got impressed with the yogi, that was natural. But because, one simple distraction and they had so easily forgone their own master.
“You have to choose,” spoke Buddha, “you have to make choices in life, monks. Everything depends on your choices and subsequent actions. You can hanker after some powers to impress a few or you can lead a life of meaning and help everyone in the creation. It’s entirely up to you.”
“Forgive us, Tathagata, for our mistake. We don’t even deserve to be your disciples because we saw just one siddhi and called that yogi a perfected one too.”
Buddha maintained his silence, they got off the boat and Ananda handed the boatman his dues — a fistful of rice.
There are many disciples among us. We see one quality in someone and we forget all about the one who’s stood by us. We are eager to give the new person the same status because their one thing appealed to us. In doing so, we forget years of care, bond, memories with our loved ones. We forego the wise, selfless Buddha for a mere display of some power by someone we just met. A man or a woman talks to you nicely, gives you attention, for a few minutes and you go home and tell your partner how nice this person was and how your wife or husband should also aim to be like them. By doing so, we reduce their years of effort to a mere handful of rice. Be like her, dress like her, eat like him, earn like him, behave like so-and-so, and so on. Most of us, like the disciples, are eternally getting impressed with the siddhis of other yogis and asking Buddha to behave like them.
Not just disciples, there are many yogis among us too. In fact, in this day and age, we have more yogis than we ever did in the history of our race. But, today we have a different kind of them. Many of us, like the yogi, spend our entire life working on stuff worth no more than a fistful of rice. Ignoring the sermon of love, disregarding our personal happiness, trampling over our emotional needs, at the cost of our health, we are working hard to gain, to attain, to be. Most of which, I may add, we do to impress those who don’t matter to us, those who care the least about us, to gain the attention of those for whom it’ll never be enough. And worst of all, we do it at the expense of those who actually do matter to us.
We work hard so we can be happy and so we may share that happiness with our loved ones. But, in working hard, in winning the race, we often lose sight of why we are doing it. Two people come together with the intention of loving each other, with the hope of leading a life of happiness and sharing, but soon reality and practicalities give way to resistance, differences, disharmony, and love disappears like dew upon morning sun.
Why is love such an elusive emotion? Why do people grow out of their relationships when once they thought they wouldn’t be able to live without the other person? In this book, based on a collection of my writings over the last few years, I address this and more.
Often we work towards big goals in life but love is not made up of big things. Like everything on our planet, no matter a Himalayan mountain or a small ant, everything is made up of tiny elements, cells. Love too is shown in small gestures of affection, care, attention, belonging, appreciation and mutual respect. Walk with me to understand love as I see it, let’s separate the chaff from the actual seeds with the knowledge that the seeds for sowing are different from the seeds for consumption.
It may be a good moment to pause, to take a breather, to stop and take a good look at your life. Hopefully, whatever it is that you are working towards, however grand it may be, is worth more than a handful of rice. Or, may it be that you don’t need to lead an austere life, a life of stress and distress, of rush and rat race, because you can already attain the same outcome by parting with a fistful of rice?
Krishna too had granted the comforts of the world to Sudama for a small amount of rice. It wasn’t just a handful of rice that compelled him though, it was but a fistful of love. Sudama’s small offering of pure love. And, that’s all it takes, a fistful of love to cultivate your field of relationships. Those seeds of love will one day be harvested and sowed back to grow into more and more and more and then some. It all starts with a meager sprinkle.
For some, a handful of rice is their life’s worth, it’s their whole world. And for some others, the whole world is worth no more than a handful of rice. It’s a matter of understanding, a question of priorities, of perspective.