A farmer plowed the land with a hoe day after day, year after year. The work was hard, but the harvest was plentiful. And yet, one day he couldn’t help but ask himself, “Why am I working so hard? Life is meaningless and boring! Where is my life heading?”
Shortly afterwards, a monk came to his house to ask for alms. The monk looked free and happy, which deeply impressed the farmer. Being a monk and living an unencumbered life seemed admirable. Yes, what a good idea! The farmer cheerfully made up his mind to give up everything and become a monk.
As soon as he left his house, he suddenly felt how empty his hands were. He was so used to holding a hoe in his hands to work that without the hoe he now felt a little lost. Therefore, he went back to his house, picked up his hoe, and tried hard to think of what he could do with it. It was a fine hoe. The shaft was smooth and shiny from daily use. It would be heartbreaking to throw it away.
“OK, then,” he thought, “I’ll wrap it up and put it away.” He found a secure place in the house to hide it. Now everything was settled. With his mind at ease, the farmer left his house at last.
The farmer did all he could to fulfill the requirements to be a true monk. However, he could hardly resist thinking of his hoe whenever he came across green paddies. Every now and then, he would rush back home just to feel the hoe and then return to the temple.
Time passed by quickly. After seven or eight years, he felt that something was missing. “Why haven’t I fulfilled my dream of becoming a free, happy monk after having tried very hard to cultivate my morality? There is something I haven’t let go of. Now it’s time to get rid of my burden!” He rushed back home, picked up the hoe and threw it into a lake. Splash, there it went! “I won! I succeeded!” he couldn’t resist crying out loud.
Just at that moment, a king, leading his victorious army, happened to pass by. He overheard the cry and went to ask the monk, “What did you win? Why are you so cheerful?” “I have conquered the devils in my heart. I have let all my burdens go.”
The king saw that the monk was really happy and free from earthly burdens and delusions. The king thought to himself, “Now I’ve won the war. Victory is mine. But am I really happy? I took lands that didn’t belong to me. It is not real victory.” Then and there, the king realized that although he had won the war, he was not a real winner, but a common person burdened with life’s vexations. He realized that in order to become a real winner and a saint, you have to conquer the devils in your heart.
~ Told by Master Cheng Yen. Translated by C.Y. Tien