Don’t Get Lost

On one occasion the Buddha was asked, “Do all of Master Gotama’s disciples attain Nibbāna or do some not attain it?”

The Buddha responded, “Some do, brahman, and some do not.”

“Why is that, Master Gotama, since there is Nibbāna, and the way leading to it, and Master Gotama as guide?”

The Buddha responded to his questioner, “Suppose a traveler wanted to go to Rājagaha and he approached you and asked to be shown the way. You respond by carefully giving the directions to Rājagaha. Then this traveler takes a wrong road by mistake and never makes it to his destination.  Another traveler asks you the same question, you give the same directions, and he successfully makes it to Rājagaha. Now, why is it that among these two travelers you instructed with directions only one made it and the other did not?”

“What have I to do with that, Master Gotama?  I am simply one who shows the way.”

The Buddha then continued, “So too, brahman, there is Nibbāna, and the way leading to it, and myself as guide, yet when my disciples are advised and instructed by me, some attain Nibbāna and some do not.  What have I to do with that, brahman?  A Perfect One is simply one who shows the way.”

In this brief conversation, we catch a glimpse of the Buddha’s character and the role of a Perfect One in helping the many beings to attain Nibbāna.

But look a little closer and there is sage advice for those of us on the path.

I see it as: Don’t Get Lost!

How do you see it?

(Note: This conversation can be found in Bhikkhu Nānamoli’s The Life of the Buddha, pages 200 – 201.)

4 thoughts on “Don’t Get Lost”

  1. This is a wonderful dialogue.

    In the giving and receiving of instructions, two people enter into a relationship that doesn’t end when the last words of instruction are spoken.

    I suspect that the Buddha, as do teachers today, would verify with his students that they understood the instructions. And would take the time to answer any of their questions and address their concerns. At least, that’s how many teachers approach their work in modern times.

    Of course, ultimately, the student must find their own way on the path.

    That’s said, the Buddha’s words, “What have I to do with that, brahman?” come across as cold an uncaring . . . perhaps the Buddha could have done more? Don’t we all wonder if we could have done more?

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment and for comparing the Buddha’s dialogue to modern teaching techniques where checking questions and verifying seems to happen more frequently. I have found that reading about the Buddha has been very useful for helping me appreciate various nuances of today’s practice that might have gone unnoticed to me. Your comment is an example of this!

      1. I think you reading “cold and uncaring” into Buddha´s words “What have I to do with that, brahman” is a question of interpretation – and perhaps a taking things in an isolated fashion, out of the larger context.

        Nothing in the sutras indicates that Buddha was a cold, uncaring person. Quite the contrary, in my opinion. Even on his death-bed he was inviting his disciples to ask their questions.

        When we work in any “helping profession”, we have to be able to eventually say “what have I to do with that?” Many “helping professionals” (here I include monks, nuns, school teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, etc) actually suffer from “co-dependence” where they feel excessively responsable for others, get involved in psychological games as “saviors” and worry endlessly about “could I have done more?” – never letting go. As an ex-codependent myself, I know the importance of being able to finally say to myself “what have I to do with that?” and being able to respect the other person´s choices – even when they are not what I believe to be correct.

        On the other hand, there are people who, due to their personal conditioning, need to be told “you have everything to do with that!” These are people who need to learn to help others, who need to learn from the example of giving their lives to the hungry tiger to feed her cubs.

        I think we have to be able to read the sutras on a case-by-case basis without over-generalizaing.

        We also have to observe what each student needs. Different sutras are remedies for different afflictions.

        At least that´s how I see it…

        Thanks, Kusa. I enjoyed reading this post.


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