Bhikkhuni Triệt Như – The Fount of Happiness – No 11
Translated into English by Như Lưu
THE TINY SAND CRAB
When I was a young child, every year our parents would find many ways to reward my siblings and I for our hard work at school. At Lunar New Year, we would be given some small coins that were enough for us to gather and play a traditional “gourd, crab, fish, tiger” game of dice over the three days of the New Year festival. When we had grown up a little more, we could write letters to Santa Claus and ask for presents. We would wake up early on Christmas day and run into the lounge to grab our presents while wondering when Santa had visited our house. When we were still older, after we finished the scholar year, our parents would take us during the summer holidays to the seaside town of Vũng Tàu. On the white-sand beach, along the water’s edge, we could spot tiny balls of sand stacked on top of each other and hordes of tiny sand crabs hurrying madly around them. These crustaceans have a tiny crab-like body with a grey shell and are smaller than our little finger nail. They gathered grains of sand and made them into tiny balls which they deposited near the water’s edge. A little while later, the tide would come in and sweep away the tiny balls of sand, returning them back into grains of sand. The next day, we would come out and again see innumerable tiny balls of sand laid near the water’s edge.
Vietnam has a folk saying in verses to describe the sand crabs:
“Sand crabs carry the sand of the Easter Sea
Spending a lot of effort but not achieving anything”
Time passed. After I committed myself to the spiritual path, I followed my Master on his teaching trips and flew everywhere. As I looked out the window of the plane down towards earth, all I could see were masses of fluffy clouds that drift slowly below the wings. As the plane descended, I could see hills, beaches, rivers and then freeways and cars moving very slowly like tiny black insects. When we got closer, I could see houses clustered together, like tiny toy boxes neatly aligned in rows. I could imagine that each of these tiny boxes have bedrooms, lounges, dining rooms, kitchens and even tinier people. From this distance people would seem like ants, or like the sand crabs that are as small as a little finger nail and live by the vast ocean. Why do we keep fighting, disputing, getting into conflict and then end up with sadness, anger, blame and suffering?
A tsunami can wipe away a whole city. A bushfire can destroy all valuable structures. An erupting volcano can smother a whole village. An earthquake can shake a whole city. A pandemic can bring the whole world down a terrible vortex. Why hasn’t humanity awakened? Why can’t we let the Pacific Ocean live up to its name? Why can’t we uphold the standards of the noblest, most intelligent animal in the universe, and live a life worthy of the noblest, most intelligent status in the world?
Let us reflect on our life. We have been running around, putting in a lot of effort, waking up early and going to bed late, building up a business, going through joy and sadness, making plans, feeling anxious. Why are we doing this? Our goals can be encapsulated in what the Buddha called the five desires: wealth, beauty, fame, food, rest. These can be narrowed down to three elements: status, money and love. These three are intimately linked. Fame and status often go hand in hand with love and money. If we have wealth, we will also often find fame, status, power and love.
But why haven’t we recognized that we will all leave this world empty handed. Can anyone take with them their money, degrees, positions into their next life? Will our beloved follow us to the other world?
For this reason, the awakened person needs to realize that status, money and love are just like a magic trick, they look real but are only a game. Our deluded eyes have been mesmerized by a clever magician. When the curtains are drawn across the stage, the play ends and we go home, empty handed.
On reflection, when people spend all their life chasing status, money, love and creating untold suffering onto themselves and others, they are not dissimilar to the sand crabs that are so busy doing something totally meaningless.
This is the reality that we all face. Everyone should be able to see it. Apart from very young children, anyone from the age of eight or nine would have seen aged and sick people. When people turn 20, 30 and become an adult, they are excited as they enter life with big dreams, they feel that life is welcoming them with open arms, the future seems filled with flowers and music, with hope and happiness. We need to sympathize with young people as we were just the same. This age group can be aptly described by the saying “yet eating to satiety, anxious to get somewhere”.
The suttas recounted the lives of the ancient Wheel-turning Kings (S: chakravarti-raja) who ruled at the time when people’s life span reached tens of thousands of years. The kings would ask their barber to let them know when a single white hair appears on their head. When the barber removed the white hair and placed it on the king’s hand, the king would know that he had reached old age. He would abdicate in favor of the eldest heir and go into spiritual retreat in the mountain of Snow. This beautiful tradition was followed by many of the Wheel-turning kings.
I have been thinking of our times and of myself when I read this story. What age does a human being reach nowadays? Two thousand years ago, the Buddha himself only reached the age 80 when he passed from the world. We have an old saying that “reaching the age of 70 is rare”. We know that the aging process starts at around the age of 50, although modern medicine has found that some body functions stop any growth at the age of 20-30 and start a slow aging process. The age around 60-70 is the age of decline and death. We can already see in ourselves that our hair is no longer smooth, our lips no longer rosy, our past has become a heavy burden and our future lacks any bright light. But we still forge ahead into the dead-end without trying to find our way out.
The dead-end road is really the road of life, the road of status, money and love, the road of desire, greed and passion. We spend all our short life serving status, money and love only to leave empty handed. Like the tiny sand crab on the edge of the Eastern Sea. Like the innocent silkworm who builds such a beautiful cocoon and lays inside it, not knowing that it will one day be boiled to death, just because it has woven such beautiful thread.
Meditation Centre, the 25th of June, 2021
Link to Vietnamese article: https://tanhkhong.org/p105a2472/triet-nhu-snhp011-con-da-trang