The Parable of the Impoverished Son

Once a boy ran away from home and wandered for many years becoming more and more poor and confused.
The boy’s father loved his son very much, but had no idea where to find him. As time went on, the father became very rich.

Fifty years passed. One day, the son showed up at his father’s estate. He did not know whose grand home this was, but wondered if he could find a job there. The father recognized his son, and set messengers to greet him. The father was overjoyed that his son had returned.

But the son misunderstood. He thought the messengers were trying to arrest him for doing something wrong.
The father saw his son’s fear and confusion. He realized his son was not ready to accept the truth, so he told the messengers to leave his son alone.

Later the father had some of his servants dress in rags. He had these servants go to his son and offer him a job shoveling excrement. The son had been living so poorly for so long, he saw this job as a wonderful opportunity.

Over the years, the father showed an interest in his son. He praised him, increasing his pay, and gave him better jobs. But he never told him his true identity.

After twenty years, the father was old and near death. By then the son was in charge of all of the wealthy man’s business. The son had become a responsible but humble man.

Finally, just before his death, the father gathered all of his friends and all the powerful people of the city to his bedside. He revealed then the true identity of his son. The son inherited all of the fortune.

~ From the Lotus Sutra Chapter 4, Belief and Understanding



Why didn’t the father tell the son right away?
Was not telling him the truth the same as lying to him?
How does this story apply today?

The Three Carts and the Burning House

One day, a fire brokes out in the house of a wealthy man who had many children. The wealthy man shouts at his children inside the burning house to flee. But, the children are absorbed in their games and cannot understand his warning, though the house is being consumed by flames.

Then, the wealthy man devises a practical way to lure the children from the burning house. Knowing that the children are fond of interesting playthings, he calls out to them, “Listen! Outside the gate are the carts that you have always wanted: carts pulled by goats, carts pulled by deer, and carts pulled by oxen. Why don’t you come out and play with them?”

The wealthy man knows that these things will be irresistible to his children.

The children immediately race out to get into the carts. In this way, the wealthy man is able to get his children safely away from the burning house.

Once outside, the children demand the carts they have been promised. Instead, the wealthy man gives them a much finer and larger cart — one that runs as swiftly as the wind — adorned with many jewels and drawn by a great white ox. This cart is called the Great White Ox Cart.



The wealthy man can be compared to the Buddha, and the children to the people. The burning house indicates the real world where sufferings abound. The goat, deer, and ox carts represent the early teachings of Buddhism. In those previous teachings the goal was to attain the levels of Learning, Realization, or Bodhisattva.

Once those levels were reached, the Buddha’s followers were then ready to hear about the highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. The Great White Ox Cart is compared to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, which opens the direct way to Buddhahood.

~ From the Hiyu chapter (Chapter 3) of the Lotus Sutra

We Are Not The Same

Nobody has developed benevolence and compassion like Buddha did in his time. Among his cousins, there was the evil Devadatta, who was always jealous and determined to make him look bad. He was even willing to kill him.

One day as Buddha was calmly strolling along, his cousin Devadatta threw a heavy rock at him from atop a hill. The rock fell beside Buddha and Devadatta failed to end his life. Buddha, even after realizing what had happened, remained impassive, never letting the smile slip from his face.

Days later, Buddha ran into his cousin and greeted him warmly. Very surprised, Devadatta asked him: “Are you not angry?” “No, of course not”, assured Buddha.

Still shocked, Devadatta asked him: “Why not?” And Buddha affirmed: “Because you’re no longer the one who threw the rock, and I’m no longer the same one who was there when the rock was thrown.”


“To he who knows how to see, everything is transitory; to he who knows how to love, everything is forgivable.”
– Krishnamurti –


One afternoon, some people saw an old woman looking for something outside of her hut. “What’s going on? What are you looking for?” the people would ask her. “I lost a needle,” she said. All of the people present started to look for the needle with the old woman.

After some time, someone commented: “The street is very long and a needle is very small, why don’t you tell us exactly where you dropped it?” “Inside of my house,” said the old woman.

“Have you gone mad? If you dropped the needle inside of your house, why are you looking for it out here?” the people asked her. “Because there’s sunlight out here, but there’s none inside my house,” she said matter of factly.

The fourth Buddhist tale reminds us that many times, out of convenience, we seek for things on the outside that are actually found on the inside. Why do we seek happiness outside of ourselves? Did we lose it there?

Two Buddhist Monks and a Beautiful Woman

Two Buddhist monks, one old and one young, were strolling outside of the monastery, near a river that had flooded its surroundings. A beautiful woman came up to the monks and asked them for help crossing the river.

The young monk was horrified at the idea of taking her into his arms, but the old monk picked her up very naturally and carried her across. Then, the two monks continued on their stroll.

The young man couldn’t stop thinking about the incident and finally exclaimed: “Master! You know that we have taken a vow of abstinence. We aren’t allowed to touch a woman like that. How could you take the beautiful woman into your arms, let her put her arms around your neck, her breasts against your chest, and carry her across the river like that?” The old man answered: “Child of mine, you’re still carrying her!”

The third of these Buddhist tales helps us understand that sometimes we carry the past, with emotions of guilt or resentment, and we make it even more heavy than it really was. By accepting that the incident doesn’t form a part of our present, we can take a great deal of emotional weight off of ourselves.

The gift

Buddha was transmitting his teachings to a group of disciples when a man came up and insulted him, with the intent of attacking him. Under the gaze of everyone present, Buddha reacted with utmost tranquility, remaining totally still and silent.

When the man left, one of his disciples, enraged by such behavior, asked Buddha why he had let that stranger abuse him in such a way.

Buddha answered serenely: “If I give you a horse as a gift, but you don’t accept it, whose horse is it?” The student, after a moment’s hesitation, answered: “If I don’t accept it, it would continue being yours.”

Buddha nodded and explained that, although some people may decide to waste their time giving us insults, we can choose whether we want to accept them or not, just as we would with any other gift. “If you take it, you’re accepting it. And if not, he who insults you is simply left with an insult in their hands.”


We can’t blame the person that hurts us, because it is our decision to accept their words instead of leaving them on the very lips they came out of.

She Gave Me Direction

As I left a party, I got on the wrong freeway and was immediately lost. I pulled over to the shoulder and called my roadside-assistance provider. She tried to connect me to the California Highway Patrol, but that call never went through. Hearing the panic in my voice, she came up with a plan B: “You’re near this office,” she said. “I’m about to go off shift. Stay put, and I’ll find you.”

Ten minutes later, she rolled up. She guided me not only to the right freeway but all the way to the correct freeway exit. And then, with a wave goodbye, she drove back into the night.

~ Michelle Arnold, Santee, California

A Christmas Story

In January 2006, a fire destroyed a family’s home. In that fire were all the belongings of a six-year-old boy, including his Christmas presents.

A classmate from his school who had a birthday around then asked her parents if she could give all her gifts to the boy. That act of kindness will forever warm my heart because the boy is my grandson.

~ Donna Kachnowski, Lebanon, Connecticut

Designated Driver

I’d pulled over onto the side of a New Mexico road and was suffering a panic attack when a minivan full of kids pulled over. A woman got out and asked if I was OK. “No,” I said. Then I laid out what had happened: I was delivering books for a publishing company. My next stop was way, way up this long and winding and, to me, very treacherous road. I couldn’t do it.

“I’ll deliver the books for you,” she said. She was a local, and the roads were nothing for her. I took her up on the offer and never forgot the simple kindness of a stranger.

~ Doreen Frick, Ord, Nebraska

Twice as Nice

Two firefighters were waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant when the siren sounded on their fire truck parked outside. As they turned to leave, a couple who had just received their order handed their food to the firefighters. The couple then got back in line to reorder. Doubling down on their selfless act, the manager refused to take their money.

~ JoAnn Sanderson, Brandon, Florida

Butterflies of Support

I was four months pregnant with our first child when our baby’s heart stopped beating. I was devastated. As the days went on, I was nervous about returning to work. I’m a middle school teacher and didn’t know how I could face kids.

This past May, after four weeks of recovering, I walked into my empty classroom and turned on the lights. Glued to the wall were a hundred colored paper butterflies, each with a handwritten message on it from current and past students. All of them had encouraging messages: “Keep moving forward,” “Don’t give up on God,” and “Know that we love you.” It was exactly what I needed.

~ Jennifer Garcia-Esquivel, San Benito, Texas

Blanket Statement

When I was seven, my family drove to the Grand Canyon. At one point, my favorite blanket flew out the window and was gone. I was devastated. Soon after, we stopped at a service station. Moping, I found a bench and was about to eat my sandwich when a biker gang pulled into the station.

“Is that your blue Ford?” a huge, frightening man with a gray-and-black beard asked. Mom nodded reticently. The man pulled my blanket from his jacket pocket and handed it to her. He then returned to his motorcycle. I repaid him the only way I knew how: I ran up to him and gave him my sandwich.

~ Zena Hamilton, United Kingdom

Raised Right

Children were playing at the recreation area of an IKEA store when my five-year-old granddaughter motioned for a small boy to stop. She knelt down before him and retied his flopping shoelaces—she had only just learned to tie her own.

No words were spoken, but after she finished, both smiled shyly, then turned to race off in different directions.

~ Sheela Mayes, Olla, Louisiana

How Did She Know?

I was driving cross-country to start a new job. What began as a fun adventure turned into a nightmare when I realized I had run through most of my money and still had a ways to go. I pulled over and let the tears flow.

That’s when I noticed the unopened farewell card my neighbor had shoved in my hand as I left. I pulled the card out of the envelope, and $100 dropped out—just enough to get me through the remainder of my trip. Later, I asked my neighbor why she had enclosed the money. She said, “I had a feeling it would help.”

~ Nadine Chandler, Winthrop, Massachusetts