An excerpt from Shin teacher Kentetsu Takamori’s new book Something You Forgot… Along the Way: Stories of Wisdom and Learning.
Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, also known as Shin, is the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan but there are not many Westerners who have delved deeply into the tradition. It’s a heart-based Buddhism, geared toward laypeople, and it uses stories and anecdotes to teach. The point isn’t separating the myths from the facts; it’s learning from the stories how to live in accord with the dharma.
Shin teacher Kentetsu Takamori is the author of several bestselling titles in Japanese and the chair of the Buddhist organization Jodo Shin Shinrankai. His book Something You Forgot… Along the Way: Stories of Wisdom and Learning has been translated into English and will be published by Ichimannendo Publishing in September. Here is one of the stories included in the book:
Perseverance Is Greater than Proficiency: Suddhipanthaka’s Long Years of Cleaning
Suddhipanthaka, one of Sakyamuni’s most famous disciples, was dull by birth, unable to remember even his own name. One day Sakyamuni found him crying and asked him kindly,
“Why are you so sad?”
Weeping bitterly, Suddhipanthaka lamented, “Why was I born stupid?”
“Cheer up,” said Sakyamuni. “You are aware of your foolishness, but there are many fools who think themselves wise. Being aware of one’s stupidity is next to enlightenment.” He handed Suddhipanthaka a broom and instructed him to say while he worked, “I sweep the dust away. I wash the dirt away.”
Suddhipanthaka tried desperately to remember those sacred phrases from the Buddha, but whenever he remembered one, he forgot the other. Even so, he kept at his chore for twenty years.
Once during those twenty years, Sakyamuni complimented Suddhipanthaka on his determination. “No matter how many years you keep sweeping, you grow no better at it, and yet that does not cause you to give up. As important as making progress is, persevering in the same endeavor is even more important. It is an admirable trait—one that I do not see in my other disciples.”
In time Suddhipanthaka realized that dust and dirt accumulated not only where he thought they would, but in places he least expected. He thought, “I knew I was stupid, but there’s no knowing how much more of my stupidity exists in places I don’t even notice.”
In the end Suddhipanthaka attained the enlightenment of an arhat, a very high stage. Besides encountering a great teacher and true teachings, it was his long years of effort and perseverance that crowned him with success.