The Endless Love Of Parents
by Esther Thien
Once, there was a childless couple. After many years of prayer, they finally conceived a son. They raised him with great love and devotion, but the child grew up to be selfish and greedy. When the son got married, he secretly sold off his parents’ farmland and cattle, and absconded with the money with his wife. The elderly couple was left with nothing but their small house.
Although angry, betrayed and hurt, the couple still loved their son very much, and expected him to return soon. When there was no sign of their beloved son and his wife after a long time, the couple prayed for the youngsters’ well-being: “May their lives be free of hardship, hunger, disasters and illnesses.”
When their savings were used up, the elderly couple had no choice but to sell their house. Eventually, even that sum of money was depleted. Fortunately, a nearby temple took them in, so the elderly couple did not have to roam the streets homeless. The mother worked in the kitchen while the father collected firewood and did other chores. A few years later, the couple passed away one after the other. They were reborn in a nearby village as neighbours, and both ended up becoming monks at that very temple.
One day, the younger of the two monks chanced upon a very poor, elderly couple in a dilapidated hut huddling together. They looked so sick and impoverished that you could see their bones visibly. The wife wore an old rice sack with holes cut out for her head and arms, while the husband wore rags that looked like they were strung together. The couple took turns to wear the rags, and the one wearing it would beg for food.
The younger monk told the older one about the elderly couple upon his return to the temple, and said that they would probably die if nothing was done to help them. Just then, their Master entered the room. After hearing what the young monk recounted, he sighed and said, “There’s no escaping from karma. In your past life, you two were a married couple, and the elderly couple were your son and daughter-in-law.”
The young monks were shocked and heartbroken when they heard the full story from their teacher. “Why did they still suffer such an ill fate with all our prayers for them?” asked the older of the two monks.
“People receive things in proportion to their deeds. You two have received the fruits of what you did, and they’re receiving the fruits of what they did. Although you wanted them to lead a better life, their hearts were so full of greed, anger and foolishness that they were unable to receive your prayers and compassion,” answered their Master sadly.
“How can we help them?” cried the two monks.
“They need to do something for others. All their lives they’ve thought of only themselves. Without the virtue that comes from generosity, it’ll be hard to lead them forward. Do they have anything?” said their teacher.
“No,” answered the younger monk, “just the rags they wore and a rice sack for a blanket.”
“That will do. Go back and have them donate their rags. It’s everything they own, so that’s a huge donation from them. With your help, they may break through the damage created by their greed and desire,” sighed their teacher, tears welling up in his eyes.
Holding back his tears, the younger monk went to the old couple and told them to donate their only set of filthy, threadbare clothes. Complaining bitterly, the old man took off his rags and threw the stinky clothes at the monk’s feet. Then, the old couple cut the rice sack equally and used it to cover their private parts.
The younger monk took the rags back to the temple. Together with the older monk, they washed and boiled the rags, then used them to clean the Dharma hall and the monk’s quarters. They did this morning and night until the rags were useless even for cleaning. Then, the monks burned it and drank the ashes mixed with water.
In the past as parents and in this life as monks, their love was that deep and unconditional. Some days passed, and the villagers went to check on the old beggars when they didn’t see them around. They found the old couple burning with fever and decided to take turns feeding and looking after them.
Receiving so much kindness, the old couple thought of how they had treated their own parents. They visited the temple and asked for the young monk who came by months before.
“We have done terrible things, and we experience immense suffering as a result. But then you came and everything changed. Although we only donated our rags, the merit of that alone has caused us to live comfortably these past few months. We did a horrible thing to our parents, and left them with nothing. I wondered what happened to them?” sobbed the old couple.
“Your parents are right in front of you! They are these two monks. Although their appearance has changed, their love and prayers for you are complete and unconditional,” said the Master.
The old couple couldn’t believe their ears. They fainted, and sobbed when revived. In that instant, they saw all the suffering they had caused their parents, as well as the blessings they had thrown away and wished to follow a wiser path. They then died in the arms of the monks who had been their parents, bathed in their love and compassion.