In walking the Bodhisattva Path, we are to help all living beings. To do that, we must have compassion, which is to emulate the Buddha’s heart. If we want to nurture our heart to be like the Buddha’s, we must always harbor good thoughts. By taking care of our heart, we’ll always harbor good thoughts and prevent the five spiritual toxins of greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt from poisoning our heart. Therefore, taking good care of our heart is an essential element of walking the Bodhisattva Path. There is a sutra story that illustrates this.
Once, the Buddha was out to spread his teachings accompanied by two of his disciples, Ananda and Mahakasyapa. It was almost noon and, seeing a tree, the Buddha said to his disciples, “Let’s rest under this tree for a while. It’s almost midday. I believe we’re all getting hungry and feeling quite thirsty as well.”
The Buddha noticed a melon garden not far away. He told Ananda to ask for a melon so they could have something to eat and quench their thirst. Ananda headed for the melon garden immediately. There was a woman who was watching over the melon garden. When she saw Ananda coming, her facial expression started to change. Even before Ananda spoke, she glared at him angrily.
Despite this, Ananda still approached her; with closed palms, he sincerely began to request, "The Buddha is sitting under that tree and he is thirsty. Could I ask ….”
Before Ananda could finish speaking, the woman lashed out at him. “Get out of my garden! I don’t want to see your face!”
Seeing that she was not willing to give and insisted on him leaving, Ananda had no choice but to comply. He returned to the Buddha and told him what had happened.
The Buddha then smilingly told Mahakasyapa, “Mahakasyapa, why don’t you go?”
Mahakasyapa was hesitant. “Ananda is young, pleasant looking, and well-liked by many.” He thought to himself, “If Ananda’s request was rejected, and that woman even chased him away, how could an old man like me get a melon? But, since the Buddha asked me, there must be a reason for it.” He thought about all this as he walked towards the melon garden.
At the melon garden, the woman noticed Mahakasyapa coming near, and she walked up to meet him. Standing in front of the melon garden, she greeted him courteously with closed palms and said, “Venerable, what can I do for you?”
Mahakasyapa replied, “I wonder if you could give me a melon, for the Buddha is hungry and thirsty.”
The woman was very happy and picked a huge melon for Mahakasyapa. She offered the melon with both of her hands and respectfully thanked him. Mahakasyapa was also grateful. He thanked her and left. On his way back to the Buddha, Mahakasyapa felt very puzzled, “Why was that woman so happy when she saw me? She even gave me a large and beautiful melon.”
When he returned to the Buddha, he asked, “Buddha, why did that lady give the melon to me but not to Ananda? There must be a karmic cause behind this.”
The Buddha then began telling a story. Eons ago, there were two monks walking on the side of the road. The younger monk, who was walking ahead, smelled a foul odor. He looked around and saw a dead cat. It had already started to decompose under the hot sun. The monk covered his nose with his hand while muttering, “That dead cat really stinks” as he passed.
Walking behind him, the other monk also saw the dead cat, and smelled the foul odor, but felt bad for the cat. So, he performed the three refuges ceremony for the cat and said, “Now that you have left the animal realm, return to this world as a human and be a good person.” Then, he buried the cat.
The Buddha paused and asked, “Ananda, do you know who the monk walking ahead was?”
Feeling ashamed, Ananda lowered his head and answered, “Yes, it was me.”
The Buddha then looked at Mahakasyapa and said, “You are the kindhearted monk who buried the cat, which was reborn as the woman at the melon garden. You even performed the Three Refuges ceremony for it and gave it a blessing to be reborn into the Human Realm. That’s why when she saw you, she was filled with joy and offered you a melon.”
From the story, we see that in one of his past lives, Ananda didn’t take good care of his heart, so a thought of aversion rose in him. Mahakasyapa, on the other hand, had compassion, so he blessed and buried the cat. When we take good care of our heart, whatever situation we encounter, we will always act with kindness and help others. This is the spirit of walking the Bodhisattva Path.
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen's Talks
Compiled into English by the Jing Si Abode English Editorial Team, with the help of Tzu Chi volunteers