Parables have been a well-established method of sharing faith stories, and having recently read “The Gem in the Robe,” I wanted to share some thoughts.
First, the text:
The house was a very prosperous one
and the poor man was served many trays of delicacies.
The friend took a priceless jewel,
sewed it in the lining of the poor man’s robe,
gave it without a word and then went away,
and the man, being asleep, knew nothing of it.
After the man had gotten up,
he journeyed here and there to other countries,
seeking food and clothing to keep himself alive,
finding it very difficult to provide for his livelihood.
He made do with what little he could get
and never hoped for anything finer,
unaware that in the lining of his robe
he had a priceless jewel.
Later the close friend who had given him the jewel
happened to meet the poor man
and after sharply rebuking him,
showed him the jewel sewed in the robe.
When the poor man saw the jewel,
his heart was filled with great joy,
for he was rich, possessed of wealth and goods
sufficient to satisfy the five desires.
We are like that man.
In the beginning of the parable, I felt like I was in the shoes of the poor man. I’ve been to friend’s homes that are larger and have been fed delicacies (mmm, pizza).
But from there, my thoughts turned to the jewel? What was it that the rich man was able to give the poor man? In my opinion, the jewel was the absolute happiness of one’s Buddha nature. Just as we are unable to see our own eyebrows without having a mirror, without the help of another, we can’t truly believe that we possess ultimate potential.
I also was surprised that the rich man rebuked the poor man. After all, the poor man unassumingly was just trying to get by in life, moving from country to country. He had a difficult life, and who was the rich man to get all uppity about the jewel he sewed in his friend’s robe?
But from the perspective of Buddhism, if the “rich man” knew that the best way to reach the “poor man”‘s heart was to rebuke him, then this was the ultimate manifestation of compassion. How compassionate of the rich man to care enough to point out to his friend that he had this jewel the entire time. And most importantly, it worked, the poor man saw the jewel and could now spend his life doing other things.
In the spirit of Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni) or Nichiren Daishonin, I’d like to believe that the poor man would then do the same thing for someone else, that the rich man had done for him. As for the rich man? Surely, he had many other friends that were also unaware of this deep treasure in their lives.
Buddhist Next Door