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The Broom Master
The Broom Master - A Buddhist Tale from Tibet
Adapted by Elisa Pearmain
The children at the village school laughed at Chunda. They said that the boy was a simpleton because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't seem to learn to read or write. But the adults of the village were fond of Chunda, for he had a kind heart, and though he was a wisp of a teen, he was always willing to help, running an errand or sweeping a front yard.
Chunda admired his older brother Raj above all else. Raj, who was a couple of years older than Chunda was a bright scholar. When he turned 16, he decided to move to the city to study Buddhism at the monastery. Chunda begged to go with him, and his brother found a way for Chunda to live at the monastery and to earn his keep by working. At the monastery Chunda swept the yards, and clapped the dirt from the sandals of the monks as they came in for the evening meal. He watched and listened as the young monks sat in long conversations. How he wished that he could join in, but he would remember how the children had laughed at him, and his shame always drove him away.
Chunda's brother noticed his brother's sadness and longing, and spoke to him. “Chunda, perhaps you could study to be a monk as well." “But how could I become a monk?” He asked, “I can't read or write, or memorize?”“ There is more to becoming a monk than book learning. Go to see the Buddha (who was the master of the monastery at that time) and tell him your wishes. He is wise, and compassionate.” So Chunda went and sat before the Buddha who quickly saw that he was an honest young man of pure heart. He gave Chunda just one line of scripture to learn. It was the first of hundreds that each monk was expected to learn by heart. "Give up negative actions. Free yourself from negative thoughts."
Chunda tried and tried to learn the short passage, but he had to repeatedly ask for help, and once he had learned the first line, he would forget it when he began to learn the second. Chunda returned to the Buddha and told him what had happened. The kind man sat in silence for some time. Finally, an idea occurred to him. “Chunda, you are a hard worker are you not?' he asked. “Yes master." "I would like to give you a special job. I want you to sweep the temple hall each day. Can you do that?" “Oh yes, teacher.” Chunda said, jumping up with delight. “That is something I can do well.” “Very well then, Chunda. I will give you the job of sweeping the temple. That is all that you must do, but as you sweep the floors you must speak these two lines to yourself, over and over: "Sweep away the dust, sweep away the dirt." Can you remember that?” “Sweep away the dust, sweep away the dirt. Yes, that is easy, because that is what I will be doing!” Chunda set off to begin his work. Every day he did sweep the temple, all day long, and as he swept he kept up a rhythm, “Sweep away the dust” he would say with each sweep out, and “Sweep away the dirt,” with each sweep back. Often he would get lost in thought and he would forget to say the lines. Luckily the other monks knew what he was supposed to be chanting, and they would remind him, and he would go back to is work. "Sweep away the dust, sweep away the dirt."
Then one day the Buddha came upon Chunda who was standing still, thinking hard about something. "Chunda, where is your mind right now." "Oh sorry, Master, I should be sweeping," No, Chunda," he smiled, "share your thoughts.""Well I was thinking that you are a wise man, and you have given me these lines to say about something that I know how to do. When I remember to say them I feel at peace. You have not given me any more lines. Do you mean for me to learn something more from this?" "Yes Chunda. You have found the peace that is there for us in the present moment. Now I want you to think about this: You are sweeping clean the dirt from the temple. Think also about sweeping clean the inner dust and dirt in your mind." "But what are inner dust and inner dirt?" "Well, Chunda, think of the nature of dust and dirt: They cover what is beautiful and clean, and cloud what is clear. And dust and dirt often cover those things that are old and of no more use to us. It is also the nature of dust that we can see it in the air, but when we grasp for it, it is not there, just like thoughts of the future or the past. Think on this and notice when your thoughts are clouding you from the present moment, and causing unhappiness, and notice when you cling to old ways of thinking." Chunda went back to sweeping.
One day Chundra noticed that he was often longing to sit with the other students as they talked about the things they were learning. "But," he would think to himself, "I am not worthy to sit and talk with the other monks and students my age, for I cannot read nor write." This way of seeing and thinking was like dirt, it was an old way of seeing himself that kept him from happiness. "I should sweep these thoughts from my mind." He thought. "Sweep away the dust, sweep away the dirt." He felt peaceful again. Another time he noticed that he was often living in the future wishing, "If only, if only I could read and write like the others, then …" These wishing thoughts were like dust. He was always trying to grasp things out of his reach, and missing the present moment. "Sweep away the dust, sweep away the dirt."
Chunda went and shared his insights with the Buddha who again smiled. "Ah Chunda, you are doing very well. Tell me, can you stop and enjoy the beauty of a clean temple after you have swept?" "Yes, master." "Good then, " smiled the Buddha, "I hope you will now remember to also stop to notice the simple joy of a clean inner temple, as well as an outer one." Chunda did stop to notice, and he continued to sweep the inner dirt, and the outer dirt, and to stop often to experience the peace of the present moment, and the simple joy that was there when all negative thoughts were gone. And in this way Chunda continued to sweep, to chant and to ponder on the nature of grasping and clinging, and the peace of living in the present moment.
In time the other students noticed his peace, and began to talk with him. He was able to share his wisdom with other monks. As the years passed his wisdom and inner peace grew. He became known as The Broom Master, and many came to hear his simple, yet profound wisdom.
Sources: Conover, Sarah, "The Broom Master" in
Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents,
(Spokane, WA: Eastern WA University Press, 2001) pp. 68-71.Lama Surya Das, "Greatness of Heart is What Counts," in
The Snow Lion's Turquoise Mane: Wisdom Tales from Tibet
. Pp. 45-48.
Follow-up Suggestions: Start by just noticing what strikes you about the story. Is it a phrase, and image, an idea or a memory? Write it down or talk about it with others.
Share the story The best way to ponder a story is to share it. By retelling it in your own words, you are internalizing it and drawing out what is most important in the story to you. Two people would likely retell it quite differently. To retell it, you may want to read it several times, and then write an outline of the main sequence of events. You may also wish to find the other sources of the story, which are both, quite different. Please note that in the written versions the details of Chunda's insights are omitted. I have projected these examples of dust and dirt, which reflect my own connections to the story. You may wish to substitute those that feel more natural for you.
Questions to ponder: As you go about your life or sit in meditation, what do you notice that you grasp for? Do you make "if only" statements? Do you tell yourself, "If only" stories, as to how your life could be different if only certain circumstances were different? Write or tell these to someone else. Notice when they come up and try to sweep them away rather than falling into these story thoughts. Come back to the present moment. Do you notice yourself clinging to old ways of thinking about yourself and what is possible for you? Do you have relationships or habits that are old and familiar but harmful? Do you find yourself thinking a lot about the past? Again, notice when these thoughts come up and try to sweep them away, and to bring yourself back to the present moment.
This story represents mindfulness in action, as the character learns a meditation technique that helps him to continually notice where his thoughts are and to bring himself back to the present moment. He uses a mantra and a repeated action. You might like to try simply watching your breath, or counting from one to ten over and over, or cultivating images of peaceful scenes in your imagination. See my suggestions for practicing mindfulness and my bibliography of resources on mindfulness on this site.
Suggested activity to do with a partner or small group: The listeners pretend to be Buddha like, giving the teller total compassion, and nonjudgmental stance. The teller sees themselves as Chunda did, going to the Buddha for insight. As the teller, share with the listeners some of what you cling to or grasp for in your thought patterns. Are there areas of your life where you hold on to or frequently find yourself having fear thoughts, or shame, or other thoughts that keep you from living in the present moment? Share these with your Buddha listeners, and practice sweeping them away from your mind as they come up. Also notice - When negative or troublesome thoughts are swept away, what does it feel like without them? Can you feel a sense of peace? Is there love underneath, or is there more fear to deal with? Often we feel that we must be vigilant in our thinking to keep bad things from happening and to find the best outcomes to our problems. Actually a quiet mind is the most alert to creative solutions, and to handling crisis in the moment, than one encumbered by disquieting thoughts.
See my bibliography for suggestions of many other tales to inspire your mindfulness practice. Many mindfulness related tales can be found in my award-winning collection of tales
Doorways to the Soul
(Pilgrim Press 1998). See my resources page.
Compiled by Elisa Pearmain M.Ed, M.A.
Resources Containing Mindfulness Related Stories
Brody, et al
. Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope
: Stories of Peace, Justice, and the Environment (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers l992) Bruchac & Caduto,
Keepers of the Animals
, (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Press, 1990).Conover, Sarah,
Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents
(Spokane WA: Eastern Washington University Press, 2001). DeMello, Anthony, Song of the Bird, & One Minute Wisdom, (NY: Doubleday, 1982,'85,)DeRoin, Nancy,
(NY: Dell Publishing Co. Inc., 1977)Downing, Charles,
Tales of the Hodja
(New York: Henry Z. Walck, 1965).Feldman & Kornfield
, Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit and the Heart
(HarperSanFran, l996).Forest, Heather,
Wisdom Tales From around the World
(Little Rock: August House 1997) Kopp, Sheldon,
If you Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him: The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients
(Bantam Books, 1972). Martin, Rafe -
The Sound of One Hand Clapping
, MacDonald, M. R.,
(Hamden, CT: Linnet Books l992)Pearmain, Elisa,
Doorways to the Soul: Fifty-Two Wisdom Tales
(Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1998). Reps, Paul,
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
, (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1947) Shah, Idries,
The Way of the Sufi
, (NY: E.P. Dutton, l970) & The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudhin (NY: Simon & Schuster, l966). Surya Das,
The Snow Lion's Turquoise Mane
Wisdom Tales From Tibet
(1992) New York: Harper Collins Publishers. Swami Prakashananda,
Don't Think of a Monkey
- (Freemont, CA: Sarasvati Pubs, 1994).Yolen, Jane,
Favorite Folktales from around the World
, (NY: Random House 1986).
See “The Forum” for examples of stories and follow-up activities used in therapeutic settings.
See both the Wisdom Tales featured stories and the Character Ed featured stories for stories and follow-up activities.
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