by Rev. Marvin Harada.
Last month I shared an article based on the book, “Who ordered this truckload of dung?” by Ajahn Brahm. This month I would like to share another wonderful teaching from that same book. This essay is about the title of the book, “Who ordered this truckload of dung?” Imagine that one day you come home to find a truckload of dung in your front yard. What would you do? How would you handle such a situation?
First of all, there are three main points. The first is that you didn’t order the truckload of dung, but it is there. Second, no one can remove it for you. Third, the longer it sits there, the more it stinks. It is almost impossible to endure.
The truckload of dung is a metaphor for when we encounter difficulties or suffering in life. Whenever we face problems in life, we think, “Why me? I never ordered this problem? Why is this truckload of dung in my yard?
However, just like the problems of life, unfortunately, no one can remove them for us, no one can take this awful truckload of dung away for us. What do we do? Do we continue to mope and cry, while the pile of manure gets stinkier and stinkier?
Ajahn Brahm beautifully relates how many of us choose to put some of the manure into our pockets and we carry it around with us. We find that as we do this, we begin to lose friends. Haven’t we all been around someone like that? They are not pleasant to be around. Someone who wallows in misery is not pleasant to be around either.
No one can remove the big truckload of manure for us, but if we take out our shovel and wheelbarrow, then little by little, we can move the manure to our back yard, where we can mix it into the earth for the benefit of our plants and trees. I grew up on a farm, and cattle manure can be great and free fertilizer for crops. If we begin to remove the manure, even a little at a time, then the big pile of manure gets smaller with each load. Life’s problems too, must be faced and dealt with, little by little, a shovel full at a time, a wheelbarrow at a time.
In time, if we move that truckload of manure to the backyard, and mix it into the soil there, then we begin to see how our backyard has now changed. Our vegetables grow luxuriantly. Our flowers are full and radiant. Our trees are lush and green. What was once a stinky pile of manure, has been transformed into a beautiful garden.
The same applies to our problems in life. What was once something so awful and despicable, something so all consuming that it is almost too much to endure, can be transformed into something beautiful and fragrant. What a transformation has occurred. Imagine if a terrible problem in our life could be transformed in that manner. If problems could be transformed in that way, then is there anything that could be a hindrance in life? If a pile of manure can be transformed into a beautiful garden, what is there that cannot be transformed?
Such is the dynamic nature of Buddhism and the Buddhist teachings. Buddhism first challenges us to accept the fact that although we did not order the truckload of dung, nonetheless, it is there in our front yard. We have to deal with it. We have to accept it. No one can remove it for us. But we don’t have to remove it with our bare hands. We can use a shovel, a wheelbarrow, a spade, to help us move the manure to the back yard, and to mix it into the earth there. The teachings are the assisting factors in helping us remove that truckload of manure. The Sangha gives us encouraging words to support us, to keep digging, to keep shoveling. Sometimes they even lend us a hand.
Shinran Shonin, in one of his poems, uses the metaphor of ice and water to illustrate the same kind of teaching. The ice represents our hard ego, that is stubborn and self-centered. Water represents the ego self that has been transformed, melted, by the light of wisdom. Shinran Shonin poetically states that the more ice there is, the more water there is, meaning that even a mountain of ego can be transformed into a deep lake of water. The more manure there is, the more fertilizer there is to transform our garden.
Problems and sufferings in life do not have to be like a truckload of dung in our front yard. Through the teachings, we can transform them into the fertilizer that brings real beauty and richness to our life.
Rev. Marvin Harada