The 84th problem

by Modaser Shah

This is a story related about the Buddha, considered by some Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages as one of the myriad prophets sent by God to various nations.

A farmer came to the Buddha, having heard many stories about his amazing ability to assist people to free themselves from  suffering, looking for help with his never-ending problems. He liked farming but hated that it depended on the whims of nature: rain or no rain or too much rain, each producing different results. He was fed up with his nagging wife and ungrateful, tiresome children.  And there were also unfriendly neighbors and merciless tax collectors and greedy merchants. What were one to do?

The Awakened One listened patiently and said,” I am sorry but I cannot help you. ”

The farmer couldn’t believe his ears and asked for explanation.

The Buddha explained:” Everyone has 83 problems. When you fix one, another crops up.”

The man interrupted,  furious, “You are supposed to be a great teacher.  I  had great expectations.”

“Maybe I can help you with your eighty-fourth problem.”

Incensed, the man cried: ” You are adding to my problems! What kind of help is that?”

Calmly, with a kindly tone, the Buddha said, “It is simply this: that you don’t want to have any problems.”

It is not related how the farmer reacted; perhaps, one hopes, he was silently enlightened, able to face life as it comes, without illusions.

Life without problems! What a dream, but alas,  only a dream. To paraphrase Rumi: problems are like cracks in  the walls, which let the light in, illuminating the inner darkness. As Carl Jung said: “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”

Of course,  the acceptance of  the notion that  life comes with problems and changes beyond one’s control, the ultimate being death, must not be understood as passive acceptance, but, what one might call, effortful acceptance, as struggling with difficulties is part of life.   Mark Twain (in what I would refer to as a Nasruddinesque moment) said,  “My life has been full of misfortunes, most of which never happened.”


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