Two Earthen Pots
There is an incident in the life of Buddha.
One day a young man came to him, very upset.
‘What happened?’ asked the Buddha
The young man said:
‘Sir, yesterday my father died. I have come to you with a special request. Please do something for my dead father. When ordinary priests perform some rites or rituals, he gains access to heaven. Sir, if a great man like you performs any rites or rituals for my father, he will gain not only entry but a permanent residence in heaven. Please sir, do something for my father!’
He was so unbalanced, so emotional. The Buddha knew that any kind of rational argument would have no effect at this stage but he had his own way of explaining things. He asked the young man to go to the market and buy two earthen pots.
The young man happily went and bought them, thinking that this was to prepare for some ritual. The Buddha asked him to fill one with butter and the other with stones and pebbles. He did all this. The Buddha told him to close and seal them properly, and put them both in a nearby pond. He did so and both the pots sank to the bottom. The Buddha now told him to bring a stout stick, strike at them, and break them open. He did so, thinking that now the Buddha would perform a wonderful ritual for his father.
India is a vast and ancient land, full of diversities and extremes. There are people who have attained full enlightenment like the Buddha, and on the other hand, there are people in deep ignorance, immersed in blind faiths, beliefs, and dogmas. One belief is that when a parent dies, the son must take the corpse, put it on the funeral pyre and burn it; when it is half burned, he must take a strong stick, and break open the skull. The belief is that, as the skull is broken on earth, so the gateway of heaven is broken above, and the parent enters heaven.
The young man thought that, as his father was already dead and cremated yesterday, the Buddha was asking him to break open these earthen pots as a substitute. As he did so, the butter escaped from the first and floated to the surface; the pebbles escaped from the second pot and settled at the bottom.
‘Now,’ said the Buddha, ‘this much I have done. Now call all your priests. Let them come here and pray: ‘Oh pebbles, rise to the surface! Oh butter, sink to the bottom!’’
‘Are you joking, sir? How is this possible? It is against the law of nature, sir. The pebbles are heavier than water; they are bound to stay down, they can’t float. Butter is lighter than water, it is bound to float; it cannot go down.’
‘Young man, you know so much about the law of nature, and yet you do not want to understand the law that is applicable to one and all. If your father kept performing actions like pebbles and stones, he was bound to go down. Who can pull him up? If he kept performing actions which are light like butter, he is bound to go up. Who can push him down?’
Our difficulty is that we think that some invisible power will somehow favor us, even though we do nothing to change our own behavior pattern, our own actions. When we understand this eternal law of nature—that the fruits depend on our actions—we will be careful about our actions.
This discourse was given by the Buddha to Mahānāma the Sakyan.
(Pathama Māhānāma sutta)