The Woman Who Couldn’t See the Buddha
Stories from the Buddhist Tradition
A story about someone who is unable to see what’s right in front of their face.
It was late morning and the Lord Buddha and his faithful assistant Ananda were on their daily alms around.
They had set out shortly after daybreak as they had to travel to a distant village. Ananda looked up wearily at the sun. They have been walking through the village for some time but no one seemed to be about. They had stood at one or two places, but the rule of the monks, the Vinaya, forbade them to ask anyone directly. The giving of alms had to be entirely voluntary.
It was close to midday and Ananda began to feel some anxiety as another rule of the monks was that they could not eat after midday.
Then Ananda spied an old woman sweeping the path outside her home. Seizing this last chance, he turned to the Buddha and said "oh Lord, let us go to the house of that old woman. She may give us something."
The Buddha replied without even looking up: "No, Ananda, she will not give us anything."
Ananda was surprised at this answer. "But my Lord, how can you know unless we try?"
"Because I can see her past karma, and I know from this that in this incarnation she is incapable of seeing a Buddha."
Amanda was amazed at this response and queried with the Buddha how that could be possible, given that there he was standing in flesh and blood for all to see? But the Buddha was adamant that she could not see the Buddha in this life. Ananda still could not fully accept this response and so the Buddha said to him "Alright I will prove this to you."
The Buddha turned and began to walk towards the woman who was, by this time, bent over sweeping in front of her doorway. He walked right up to her and just as his feet were about to enter her line of view, she turned to one side and began to sweep another side of the path. The Buddha walked round to the same side so that she would have to see him but, again, just as he was about to enter her line of view, she turned 180° and began sweeping in the other direction.
So, using his supernormal powers, the Buddha flew up into the air and making a wide arc swooped down so as to enter her line of view by flying between her eyes and the ground at which she was at that moment looking. Just as he was about to enter her line of view, she stopped for a rest and looked up into the sky. Therefore, the Buddha carried on making his arc, flew up and came almost in front of her line of view as she looked upwards. Just before he could do so, she finished her rest pause, looked down and began sweeping the path in front of her once again. The Buddha made a few more futile passes and then flew back to Ananda landing gracefully by his side.
Ananda was agog at this display!
"So, you see Ananda, no matter what I do she cannot see me in this life. It is a great pity because I can do nothing for her.”
Ananda finally realised the truth and said with some sadness in his voice "it makes me realise how fortunate I am, my Lord, that in this life I can not only see and hear you but have this great opportunity to learn from you." And although his stomach was still rumbling a bit, Ananda felt a deep sense of satisfaction.
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