There was once a stupid old man called Suri Handoku among the disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni, knowing he was sincere by nature even tough he had little intelligence, ordered five hundred arhats to educate him every day in the hopes that he would become a respect worthy monk. In three years, however, Suri Handoku could not learn by heart even a single phrase of a sutra.
The people throughout the country scorned Suri Handoku for his stupidity, but Shakyamuni, out of pity for him, taught him a verse himself: “Those who exercise control of their words, thoughts and actions will never fail to attain enlightenment.”
Shakyamuni taught him this single verse over and over again. Moved by the Buddha’s compassion, Suri Handoku desperately tried to commit it to memory and managed to learn it by heart. Then Shakyamuni Buddha said to him:
As old as you are, you were barely able to learn this one verse by heart. I will tell you the meaning of this rather ordinary verse: Man has three evil acts of the body: killing, stealing and lewd conduct. He has four evil acts of the mouth: lying, being two-faced, name-calling and prententiousness. Man also has three evil acts of the mind: greed, anger and stupidity. Altogether these vices are called ten karmas ( evil deeds). When one is swayed by any of them, one is plunged into the deluded world where human beings only alternate between the sufferings of life and death. When you overcome them, you can extricate yourself from all kinds of desires and attain enlightenment. That is why you will never fail to attain enlightenment if you continue to exercise self control verbally, mentally and in your actions.
Thus, as feeble and old Suri Handoku was, he continued his practice, strictly following Shakyamuni’s compassionate teaching and finally attaining enlightenment. Shakyamuni, greatly pleased with the old man’s achievment, praised Suri Handoku sincere practice, saying, “Learning does not necessarily require quantity; being able to put it into practice deserves the highest praise.”
This story is related in the Hokku Hiyu Sutra.
Drawing by abbysoekarno, 2011.