Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 22. The Monk Who Tried Too Hard

Sona was the son of a rich businessman. He liked most of all to listen to lute music and to play the instrument. He had been raised in wealth and luxury, so his skin was very delicate and soft. It was even said that hair grew out of the skin of his soles. The rumour was so strong that Sona was once brought before King Bimbisara, who wanted to see the unusual feet he had heard so much about.

Sona lived near the Vultures’ Peak Rock in Rajagaha, where the Buddha stayed during some rainy seasons. One day, Sona went to the Vultures’ Peak Rock to listen to the Buddha’s discourse, which was about the happiness experienced from non-attachment to worldly desires. As he wanted to experience this happiness, Sona asked to be ordained as a monk.

After becoming a monk, he was taught to be constantly mindful, even when walking. Sona was very enthusiastic. Every day he walked to and fro in meditation in the monastery until one day his feet developed blisters and bled.

But even after all his efforts Sona did not experience happiness, only pain and disappointment. Thoughts of craving for worldly things still came to his mind. “It is no use,” Sona said to himself. “I have tried so very hard, but have still not achieved what I wished for. It is better for me to return to lay life and enjoy the happiness I used to experience by performing charity.”

When the Buddha heard about this he went to see Sona. “Sona,” he said, “I have heard that you are not getting good results from your practice of mindfulness and want to return to the lay life. Suppose I explain why you did not get good results, would you stay on as a monk and try again?”

“Yes I would, Lord,” replied Sona.

“Sona, you were a musician and you used to play the lute. Tell me, Sona, did you produce good music when the lute string was well tuned, neither too tight nor too loose?”

“I was able to produce good music, Lord,” replied Sona.

“What happened when the strings were too tightly wound up?”

“I could not produce any music, Lord,” said Sona.

“What happened when the strings were too slack?”

“I could not produce any music at all, Lord,” replied Sona

“Sona, do you now see why you did not experience the happiness of renouncing worldly craving? You have been straining too hard in your meditation. Do it in a relaxed way, but without being slack. Try it again and you will experience the good result.”

Sona understood and stayed on in the monastery as a monk and soon attained sainthood.