The Buddha That Nobody Wants
Once my wife and I were attending a meditation program in a remote area of Colorado. The teacher leading the program was also soliciting funds to build a retreat center nearby. Thus, the local organization offered for sale 36 very nicely done statues of The Buddha, each about 8 inches high and filled with relics. These statues were all made from the same mold, so their bodies were identical, but the facial details were hand-painted, and the painting was a little different on each.
Since each statue was slightly different, anyone wishing to purchase a statue would choose the one he or she wanted and tag it with their name to mark it as “sold” and reserved for that person. My wife and I hesitated, but finally decided to choose and buy a Buddha.
By the time we had decided to buy one only six were left unreserved. While these six all seemed fine, if you got into the details, it became difficult to decide which was best. We looked them over and finally decided on one, put a tag on it and breathed a sigh of relief at having resolved that issue. But the relief was temporary.
The next day another participant came to me upset saying that I was attempting to kidnap her Buddha. She said she had reserved that particular Buddha the very first day and she found our tag on it and wanted to make it clear that Buddha was hers. I thought about it for a moment. There was no tag on it when we saw it. We wanted this one, but it was not to be. So, I said, “Welcome to your Buddha. I hope you enjoy it.” And that was it.
My wife and I went back to the exhibit and by now there were only three left. We decided on one, tagged it with our name, and left feeling we had managed to get through one more difficult situation. However, again, the relief was temporary.
The next day, yet another person came to me—this time in tears—telling me that I had put our name on her Buddha and she wanted her Buddha back. All I could do was say, “That was yours? Really! Sorry and I hope you enjoy him.”
So, my wife and I went back a third time to the exhibit, and at that point there was only one Buddha left. We were happy times two: first because there still was a Buddha, and second we didn’t have to choose. We said, “OK, Buddha, you are ours!” No one else wanted this Buddha. He was the Buddha that nobody wanted, and he was ours. Or maybe we were his.
When we got him home, we realized he is fantastic! Absolutely fine! In fact, all thirty-six were fine. But we needed to get to this Buddha in order to wake up to that fact. So while he was the Buddha nobody wanted, he was also the Buddha we needed in order to wake up.
The moral of this story is that while problems can be unpleasant, they can be like this Buddha, an aspect of life that can wake us up. It is great to be happy and healthy, but life is not always like that. We might blame ourselves for our problems just as I could have said we got the least desirable Buddha because we took so long to make up our mind. But when we got home I realized that I got the right Buddha for us because he showed us that all of them were great. Likewise, we all have problems at times, and while we do need to work with our problems, it can help to realize that ultimately there is no blame, and the best thing is to see them as a useful part of every life.
Illness also teaches us about change. If we don’t have some reminder that good times cannot last, we might become lazy and ignore just how precious and fleeting a good human life is. We cannot stay well forever and we might be grateful to whatever reminds us to not only enjoy what we have but also to use every chance we have to work with our mind to wake up.
Just as physical wounds can show us the insides of our body—parts of us like our blood and bones, parts that we seldom see but always depend on—our illnesses and problems can show us the magnificent forces and energies inside our core being, and they can teach us how to live well no matter what we have. Illness and problems can also help us recognize how others suffer at times, and can help motivate us to be more compassionate towards those who suffer as much or more than we do.
So there are many ways that illnesses and problems can help us. They can be the Buddhas that nobody wants but that we all need at times. The beauty of Menla is that this practice takes us beyond philosophy and gives us the tools to use problems to fuel our path to waking up. When we practice Menla we become Menla. We are the doctor, and the world becomes our medicine. When we have Menla confidence we put all problems in our begging bowl and use them as food. And the worse the problem, the brighter we shine and the better we can help our world.
Life changes from us as us asking, “Is this situation right for me?” to us, as Menla, smiling fiercely and saying, “No fear. I will help.”