Suddhipanthaka and Mahapanthaka were brothers. Suddhipanthaka’s name means “little roadside,”44 and his big brother’s name means “big roadside.” In India it is the custom for women who are about to give birth to return to their parents’ home. But Mahapanthaka’s mother didn’t want to go home and so she waited until the last minute to leave. Consequently, her son was born on the side of the road.
When the time came to give birth to her second child, she should have known better, but again she waited. It happened again, and the second child was called “Little Roadside.” Although born in similar circumstances, the two brothers were very different in nature. The older brother was remarkably intelligent, but the younger one was remarkably… stupid. He was so stupid that he couldn’t even remember half a line of verse. The Buddha had instructed five hundred Arhats to teach him a verse, and they took turns day and night trying to teach him: Guard your mouth, unite your mind,
With your body, don’t offend.
Do not annoy a single living being.
Stay far away from non-beneficial bitter practices. Conduct like this can surely save the world. The three karmas of body, mouth, and mind should be pure. Do not cause others to be afflicted, and don’t cultivate ascetic practices which are not in accord with Dharma. These non-beneficial bitter practices include maintaining the morality of dogs or cows, worshipping fire, sleeping in ashes, and sleeping or sitting on beds of nails, which, of course, hurts a lot. One who cultivates virtue and 44. xiao ji lu , “Suddhi”, apparently represents ksudra, “small.” at the same time avoids these meaningless practices can truly save the world.
For many days, the five hundred Arhats combined their great spiritual powers trying to teach Little Roadside the verse. They taught him over and over, over and over, and he forgot it. “Recite the verse,” they would say.
“But I can’t remember it,” Little Roadside would answer. Finally his brother scolded him. “You’re good for nothing.” He shouted. “You can’t leave home. You’re useless!” and he chased him away.
Little Roadside may not have had much of a memory, but he certainly had a temper. “If you won’t let me leave home,” he shouted, “I’ll show you! I’ll kill myself!” He grabbed a rope, ran to the back yard, and climbed a tree, ready to hang himself. At that moment Shakyamuni Buddha transformed himself into a tree spirit and explained the Dharma to him. “Your brother is your brother,” he said, “and you are you. He says you can’t leave home, but you don’t have to listen. You can cultivate right here. Why should you kill yourself?”
“That makes sense,” sniffed Little Roadside. “He’s he and I’m me. He has no right to tell me I can’t leave home.” “Right!” said Shakyamuni Buddha. “Since you can’t remember half a line, I’ll give you two words, ‘sweep clean.’ Remember these two words, and use them to sweep your heart clean. Sweep the floor and sweep your heart free from dust.”
Little Roadside said, “Yes, I’ll sweep my heart. Sweep…what?”
“Clean,”said the Buddha, “sweep clean.”
“Oh yes,” said Little Roadside. “Clean…what was the first word again?”
“Sweep,” smiled the Buddha.
“Sweep clean!” said Little Roadside and he recited and swept remembering the Buddha’s instructions to sweep his heart clean. In less than a week all of a sudden he was enlightened, understood everything very clearly, penetrated the Real Mark of all Dharmas, and was even more intelligent than his brother. Little Roadside wasn’t like us. We recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha” everyday, but the more we recite the more false thinking we have.
If stupid people work hard and cultivate, they also can become enlightened. Don’t say, “I’m too stupid to understand the Sutras.” If you don’t understand them, don’t read them; it will suffice to contemplate your heart, for when you have seen it clearly you will be enlightened. How should you contemplate your own heart? Watch for false thinking, and sweep it out of your heart. Then you can be enlightened.
Little Roadside, stupid as he was, became enlightened. We are all much more intelligent than he, and could no doubt remember “sweep clean” hearing it only once. So don’t cheat yourself or take yourself lightly. Go forward bravely and study the Buddhadharma. Were I to speak the most wonderful Dharma, unless you believed it, it would be of no use to you. But were I to speak utter nonsense, should you actually practice, it would be wonderful Dharma. If you don’t practice the wonderful Dharma, it is not wonderful for you. You must always make vigorous progress. Don’t fall behind or get lazy. This is most important, for if you can always make progress, the day will certainly come when you will recognize your original face.