If clearing outer dirt
does not remind you
to clear your inner dirt,
your cleaning is incomplete.
Two brothers once lived in the city of Rajagaha in ancient India. Their names were Maha and Chula Panthaka. Their grandfather frequently took the older brother, Maha, to hear Shakyamuni Buddha speak. The time came when Maha decided to become the Buddha’s disciple… The older brother was extremely clever, and further, was very industrious. He was immediately recognised as an outstanding disciple.
One day, the older brother thought of his younger brother Chula, and was determined to bring him into the Buddhist monkhood too… The younger brother had a very gentle personality, and worked unstintingly with the other disciples to further the Sangha. But there was one thing that caused a great deal of concern. He found it difficult to memorise… After concentrating as hard as he could, he was able to memorise the first line of a verse, but when he concentrated on the second line, he could no longer bring the first line to mind…
The older brother felt sorry for his brother at first… As time passed… he gradually became disgusted. Other disciples did not look down on the younger brother… But the older brother could not settle down… [He thought]… “They may be laughing behind our backs”… [Once], the older brother’s duty was to inform the doctor how many disciples would attend [his meal offering to the Buddha]. He gave a number that did not include his brother. He then quietly informed him that he should return home.
The younger brother was very upset about this… [as] the reverence in which he held the Buddha was as strong as any… and did not want to leave. When the Buddha saw him walking alone crying, he said… “Don’t cry, Chula Panthaka. Everyone has something that they are unable to do well. On the other hand, everyone has something they can do well. What is your good point?”… “Well,” he said finally in a bright voice, “I’m good at cleaning!” The Buddha handed him a piece of cloth. “Then use this to clean the wall. And while you are doing so, repeat. ‘Away with the dirt!’ Just repeat that phrase over and over.”…
The next day, the Buddha and his disciples attended the banquet… “A disciple seems to be missing…” the Buddha said. “My younger brother is so poor at memorising that he returned home,” the older brother replied. “I wonder if any of my disciples do not have a weak point,” the Buddha said. “But even more important, are the teachings of the Buddha even necessary for a person who does not have a weak point? Please bring Chula Panthaka here.” The older brother realised the error… and left to bring his brother. When he opened the door to his room, he heard a resonate voice. “Away with the dirt! Away with the dirt!…” He saw a confident brother whose face was shining, earnestly cleaning… He could not refrain from placing his hands together [in reverence].
Hokkukyo Chushaku (Commentary on Dhammapada)
Adapted from Aiko Watanabe