The Story of Buddha and the Finely Tuned Instrument

Many years ago, Sifu (Teacher/Instructor) Patrick taught me about the Buddhist concept of moderation. In my teenage years, and up until my mid-twenties, I’d frequently swing between emotional extremes of happiness and sadness; my accompanying actions were just as impulsive. I would often isolate myself from friends when going through these extremes to avoid my consequences from affecting them– but this thinking was naive. I was always doing it for me.

Most of my life, I’ve been around people who are unable to practice self-control and emotional stability. Because of this, I believed that controlling my emotions meant to suppress my identity. However, I didn’t realize that living at the extremes removed me from living in the present moment: thinking about the past and the future would use time from today. The story that Sifu shared with me was about Buddha during the ascetic phase of his life:

One day, Buddha fell over next to a river while trying to mediate in his malnourished and emaciated state. Laying weakly by the river bank, he overheard a conversation between a teacher and student passing by on a boat. The teacher was advising the student on the importance of properly tuning an instrument. “If you tighten the string too much, it will snap. And if you give it too much slack, it won’t play.” It was then, that Buddha realized the path of moderation, or “The Middle Way.” Buddha had lived life as both a slack string (one of a lavish prince Siddhartha), and one of a string almost about to break (ascetic monk). But only a finely tuned instrument can bring out the true music from within it.

I share this story with you, because it offered great value for me in my personal growth. May you find the middle path in your own life, and walk it towards success.

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“Indian Toilet. Indian Toilet Paper.”

You’ve been there. I know you have. You might not admit it, but we’ve all experienced one of the biggest fears known to the civilized world: having to take a dump without a clean toilet in sight.

I was nine years old when I first visited family in the country of India with my parents. After a lengthy eight-hour drive from the airport with no air conditioning through the overcrowded streets of rude people, rickshaws, and eunich beggars, the first thing I wanted to do after arriving at the destination was to visit the “porcelain bank” to make a deposit, and then take a nice hot shower to relax from a long day. I went inside the house and asked my new aunt where the bathroom was located, and she pointed outside to a brown and silver metal door. “The kingdom of relief awaits.” I thought as I walked outside. When I opened the door, I thought there was a misunderstanding. Inside, there was a porcelain hole in a small 3×5-foot closet with a large plastic cup underneath a water faucet; and a giant lizard on the ceiling wall. Confused, I went back inside and asked for the toilet again and also for some toilet paper. My aunt took me back outside, pointed to the hole in the ground and said “Indian toilet.” She then pointed to the cup and water faucet and said “Indian toilet paper.” I was shocked and disgusted at this idea. But nature was calling, and it does not care about morals or values when you have to go.

It’s not easy to squat over a hole in the ground to take a dump, let alone ignore a large lizard on the ceiling above. Sitting in that position made it impossible to relax enough to let anything pass through. After a few days, I was finally able to accomplish something. Sort of. Nothing says welcome to a foreign country better than having to clean up by splashing freezing water on your private credentials.

The following day, we went to go visit family friends that lived in the neighboring village. I had to go “fulfill my duties” again, but didn’t see a bathroom in sight. I asked my cousin, and he stood there for a minute. He then proceeded to give me his small half-filled bottle of water and chuckled as he pointed outside to the sunflower fields and said, “Indian toilet.”