USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Enlightenment’
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Buddha Reaches Enlightenment

Piece:
C is the interviewed party.
J is the interviewer.

C: “So this is a story about the Buddha. So the Buddha was doing this stuff, and like he reached enlightenment, right? And then he gets up and he’s like, ‘whoa, I’m enlightened,’ right, and he runs into this farmer and the farmers like, ‘wow, you look so radiant, you look like amazing, what is going on?’ And Buddha is like, ‘im enlightened, my dude, I just reached enlightenment.’ [The farmer says] ‘no you didn’t, that ridiculous. How did you — why would you say such a thing?’ And the Buddha is like, ‘that’s weird, can’t he see how radiant I am? Can’t he see that I’m enlightened?’ so the Buddha keeps walking on, you know, in his enlightened state and he runs into a wealthy merchant on a horse, and the merchant is like, ‘ wow you look so radiant. You look amazing. What happened to you? You look so at peace.’ And the Buddha says, ‘I’ve reached enlightenment.’ And [the merchant] is like, ‘get out of here, man. Who are you? What are you talking about?’ So the Buddha keeps trucking along, thinking, ‘no one believes that I’m enlightened. What’s going on?’ Finally, he runs into this old man, and the man is like, ‘you look so radiant. You look at peace, what’s going on?’ Buddha doesn’t say anything. He just asks the man, ‘do you need some help?’ And the man says he could use some help carrying his food. And so the Buddha helps this man take care of his stuff and spends time with this old man. Finally, the old man says to the Buddha, ‘you are enlightened, you’ve reached enlightenment.’ And that man became one of the first people to spread Buddhism because the whole thing is about showing and not telling”

J: “So this was a thing you were told?”

C: “Uh yeah. I was told this.”
J: “Was this like a family story or-”
C: “No. I learned this when I was a monk.”

Analysis:

This story exemplifies a common trope of many stories in many cultures, called ‘the rule of threes’. This rule identified a common theme among stories, wherein change occurs on the third attempt or the number three is significant. In this example, the Buddha approaches three people; the first two are dismissive to his attempts to tell them of his enlightened state, so he changes his approach for the third, who accepts him fully as enlightened.

While those outside of the Buddhist faith may not believe this story at all, and those within may see it more as a way to teach a theme or idea instead of a direct account of history, the story still presents a common trope of religions and faiths. The third man Buddha encounters believes he is enlightened because he is not focused on proving it; the Buddha merely helps the man and acts in a humble, enlightened way, which causes the man to come to his own conclusion that the Buddha has reached enlightenment.

Context:

The interviewed party is a 21-year-old male student at the University of Southern California. Before moving to Los Angeles, he spent large portions of his life in both New York City and Thailand, where his family is from and some still reside.

This interview was conducted over a series of days in person inside the common area of the interviewer’s home. The responses were recorded in order to accurately dictate dialogue.

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