A story from the teachings of Buddha that asks, “Who are you really?”
Once there lived a housewife named Vedehika who had a reputation for gentleness, modesty, and courtesy. She had a housemaid named Kali who was efficient and industrious and who managed her work well.
Then it occurred to Kali the housemaid, “My mistress has a very good reputation; I wonder whether she is good by nature, or is good because my work, being well-managed, makes her surroundings pleasant. What if I were to test my mistress?”
The following morning Kali got up late. Then Vedehika shouted at her maid, “Hey, Kali!”
“What makes you get up late?”
“Nothing in particular, madam.”
“Nothing in particular, eh, naughty maid, and you get up late?” And being angry and offended, she frowned.
Then it occurred to Kali, “Apparently, my mistress does have a temper inwardly, though she does not show it because my work is well-managed. What if I were to test her further?” Then she got up later again.
Thereupon Vedehika shouted at her maid, “Hey, Kali, why do you get up late?”
“No particular reason, madam.”
“No particular reason, eh, and you are up late?” she angrily hurled at her words of indignation, and she angrily took up the bolt of the door-bar and hit her on the head, cutting it.
Thereupon Kali, with cut head and blood trickling down, denounced her mistress before the neighbors, saying, “Madam, look at the work of the gentle lady. Madam, look at the action of the modest lady. Madam, look at the action of the quiet lady. Why must she get angry and offended because I got up late and hit me, her only maid, cutting me on the head?”
Thus the housewife lost her good reputation.
It is easy to portray calm, humility, and civility when all is going our way, but when things around us start to fall apart, what do we reveal about ourselves?
My parents and grandparents taught, rather strongly, that we build character early and often so that we can withstand adversity without letting it beat us down. I grew up in a family culture based on these kinds of ideals:
- Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.
- Kites rise highest against the wind-not with it.
~Sir Winston Churchill
- March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.
And yet, for all their teaching and training, I found my relatives often burying their emotions to keep up a sense of self-mastery that actually masked great insecurity. A stiff upper lip is fine to have in an emergency situation, but having one all the time creates too much stress. I realized the payment we make for masking when I witnessed heart attacks and strokes hit a number of family members.
Determined to not go down the same path, I’ve tried to balance tough-mindedness with tender heartedness, assertiveness with compassion, and inner strength with inner peace.
How do you handle adversity? And if you grew up like I did, how do you balance those “be tough” messages with the realities of everyday life?
- - - -
Photo credit: Brian Snelson
- - - -