Here is a bonus story! We won’t have a public talk about this, but I’ll still put up a recording next week. Just because I really like this story!
audio file – from the audiobook version of “My Heart is a Golden Buddha”
The Pure-hearted Sculptor
If you go to Bulguk Temple near Gyeongju, you can still see in the courtyard two magnificent stone pagodas. There is an air about them of something profound and peaceful, and perhaps you will understand why when you hear how they came to be.
Over a thousand years ago, after Kim Daesung became prime minister of the Silla Kingdom, he began to rebuild Bulguk Temple.
He wanted to add two pagodas that would express the richness and depth of the Buddha’s teachings, but in order to do this he knew he needed to find an artisan whose great skill was matched by an equally deep sincerity and faith. Unfortunately, no matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find such a person.
Yet Kim Daesung knew that if he was sincere enough, he would surely find a craftsman of equal sincerity.
So, for one hundred days, he fasted and prayed. Although he was rebuilding Bulguk Temple in honor of his parents, it wasn’t for them alone that he was praying. He was praying for all beings, that they would truly awaken to their inherent Buddha-nature, and that the entire world would live together peacefully and harmoniously.
He poured his entire heart into his prayers and meditation, and on the night of the one hundredth day the Buddha appeared in a dream, saying to him, “In the lands of the old Baekje kingdom is a sculptor of great depth and sincerity, called Asadal.”
Kim Daesung left immediately for the southwest of Korea, to the lands that had been the old Baekje kingdom. He spent months there, traveling through villages and cities, always asking if anyone had ever heard of a stone carver by the name of Asadal.
One day, as he traveled through a remote mountain valley, he heard a woman call, “Asadal, dinner’s ready.” At last, he had found the man he’d been looking for!
He humbly asked Asadal to design and carve two pagodas for Bulguk Temple, and explained his hope that they would express the Buddha’s teachings and guide all who gazed upon them.
Asadal was filled with joy at the prospect of being able to contribute to the reconstruction of a great temple like Bulguk, but he couldn’t immediately accept Kim Daesung’s offer.
For Asadal had a wife, Asanyo, who he loved very much. They lived together with her father, and it was he who had taught Asadal all of the stone carver’s arts. But he was elderly, and would never survive the journey to Bulguk Temple.
Yet if Asadal went by himself, Asanyo would be left trying to care for her father by herself. No matter how Asadal looked at the situation, there seemed to be no good answer.
That night Asadal told his wife about Kim Daesung’s proposal. Asanyo was filled with joy, for she loved him deeply and knew that he was capable of producing something wonderful. But she noticed that Asadal was uneasy, and also realized that even traveling to Bulguk Temple would take many, many weeks.
“I know the circumstances will be difficult, but the pagodas you’ll make will convey the Buddha’s teachings throughout the centuries. Don’t worry about father; I’ll take good care of him. And even though we’ll be apart, think of all the benefits those pagodas will have for so many generations of people.
“You’ve dreamed about being able to do something like this, and when the work is finished, we can be together again.”
With this, Asadal made up his mind to go to Bulguk Temple and carve the pagodas. He and Asanyo held each other and cried for a long time, promising that one day they would hold each other again.
After he arrived at Bulguk temple, Asadal set about designing and carving the pagodas. Although he missed Asanyo terribly, everything he did was imbued with the love he felt for her.
Thinking of her hope that these pagodas would benefit generation after generation, his great love for her expressed itself as compassion for all beings and the hope that they would dissolve all traces of self-centeredness and awaken to the eternal, fundamental Buddha within.
He focused on the pagodas with this utter sincerity, and the hope that they would be beacons that would guide all beings to this bright path.
When Asadal began to work on the first pagoda, called the Dabo Pagoda, an image of the four all-embracing virtues arose within him, for with these, anyone would be able to live a true life and would open themselves to innumerable blessings.
The first virtue is freely giving to those in difficulty. The second is encouraging others to live together harmoniously through gentle speech and a kind face. The third virtue is helping others through words, actions, and even mind. And the fourth virtue is sharing unconditionally, by becoming one with other people and their circumstances.
Asadal decided to represent these virtues as pillars, so after finishing the foundation of the pagoda, he erected four rectangular pillars, plain looking but sturdy.
On top of these he built an elaborate and refined structure, representing the functioning of the earth and heavenly realms. Thus, the Dabo Pagoda teaches us that it is these four virtues that support the functioning of all things in the world and universe.
As Asadal designed and carved the second pagoda, known as the Sokga Pagoda, it was with the hope that beings would put into practice the four all-embracing virtues represented by the Dabo Pagoda, and in so doing, they would awaken to their inherent nature and go on to become Buddhas themselves.
This he represented with clean, straight lines and smooth squares, one on top of another; thus developed the Sokga Pagoda’s noble form. Even today, these pagodas are still there, speaking silent words to all who come.
Both Kim Daesung and Asadal were deeply sincere people, who worked hard at letting go of self-centeredness and the tendency to see themselves as existing apart from others.
Kim Daesung wanted to build the pagodas in order to help all beings, while Asadal entrusted every single thing to his inherent nature, and every stroke of his chisel contained his pure heart. And so, the Dabo Pagoda and the Sokga Pagoda are made of much more than just stone.
If people realized just how precious it is to be born as a human being, they wouldn’t waste their life just wandering around.
Even worse than this are those who think only of themselves, and so turn their backs upon the tremendous opportunities to create virtue and merit which come from being born as a human being. The thoughts we are giving rise to now can even determine whether we are reborn as a more evolved human being, or whether we wear the mask of an animal.
So, have a great heart like Kim Daesung, and raise an intention to benefit each and every being. Diligently rely upon your foundation with the sincerity and focus of Asadal.
Practice like this, and your life will shine forth like the Dabo and Sokga Pagodas, whose light remains undiminished after even a thousand years.