This story came to me in a super long dream that lasted the entire night. In that dream, I found myself standing in front of a broken pagoda that was half completed. Beside it was a plague that says “The 100th pagoda of She Bai (许白)” and here is the story from my guide.
That pagoda was built by a rich merchant named She Bai. He had built numerous pagoda in various part of China because he believed that the merits of doing so would cure his ailing mother.
SheBai was the only child to his single mother. His father died when he was still young and his poor mother had suffered much to provide for him. SheBai wanted to make it rich so that he could provide his mother with luxury and comfort. He worked hard and soon became a trader in ancient China.
Consequently, he spent a lot of time travelling and trading, building his riches gradually. Just when he became successful and was ready to return home for good, he found out that his mother was sick with an incurable ailment. As he was feeling sad and helpless, he remembered an ancient Buddhist scripture in his possession. He had acquired it from a remote part of China and was told that it was a priceless antique. That scripture taught people how to make their wish come true.
He didn’t believe in that scripture but kept it as an antique. For the first time, he decided to study what is inside and give it a try. According to that scripture; if one can build a 100 pagoda, then his wish would be fulfilled. Somehow, SheBai decided that that was the best thing he could do to save his sick mother. However, he wasn’t rich enough to build 100 pagoda yet. With this new found purpose in life, he turned to trading once again. Travelling further and wider to fund his project. He started building pagoda all over China, wherever his business took him.
Unfortunately, news of his mother’s death reached him when he was building his 100th pagoda. That news brought immense grief and anger because he did not get to see his mother for one last time. Wreaked with guilt and anger, he tore the ancient scripture into pieces.
Unexpectedly, a note fell out from the scripture’s ornate cover. SheBai picked up the note and was surprised to see his name on it, and it said ‘SheBai, have you found yourselves yet?’
The message in that note shocked him so much that it did not occur to him, how strange it was. How could an antique message be waiting for him in that antique scripture? Instead, his mind was hit by the simple message.
He was lost all along. What is his purpose? What was he after? Why was he doing what he did? He screamed and shouted at himself, missing his mother terribly. He couldn’t even remember how she looked like. He had been away from home for so long. And for what?
Sobbing uncontrollable, he walked away from the 100th pagoda that he was supervising. His mindless wandering lead him to a small temple and someone shouting at him, jolted him from his stupor.
“Hey! Why are you kicking down people’s wishing pagoda?” shouted a monk.
“What?” SheBai said with bewilderment. His eyes still blurred by tears.
A monk was pointing to piles of neatly stacked stones lining a path. SheBai had accidentally kicked them over while wandering aimlessly around. “Why did you kick these wishing pagoda down?” asked the monk angrily as he pointed to the fallen piles of stones.
“What?” SheBai was still afraid of the truth subconsciously. But the Truth is the Truth, and it completely crushed him. Wishing pagoda is not a building but just a pile of stones? Those many years away from home building pagoda became a sad joke all of a sudden.
SheBai howled with sadness and he laughed hysterically at his own foolishness.
That angry monk became concerned by SheBai’s outpour of emotions. What he said next caused SheBai to calm down with bewilderment.
“Is your name SheBai?” enquired the monk.
“Yes.” SheBai replied softly
“There is a letter for you, please follow me” With that, the monk turned and walked into the temple. The bewildered SheBai just followed obediently.
Inside the temple, that monk fetched an ancient letter and handed it to SheBai. “Our great grand master left this letter to you when he passed into parinirvana.”
The confused SheBai looked at the ancient letter blankly. Somehow, the handwriting feels familiar to him. Inside the letter, there was only 4 words.
“Time to come home”
A wave of calmness washes over SheBai. His mind was blank but calm. For the first time, he sees where he is. The Buddha smiling gently on the alter. The peacefulness of the monastery. He had wandered for a long time. He had chased after the meaningless for a long time. He is now home at last.
SheBai became a monk at that Monastery.
May all be well and happy
Note: SheBai ‘s name in Chinese becomes 白许 (Futile wishing) when read in reverse.
Many of us chased after goals that we set for ourselves. Perhaps it will be good for us to sometimes, sit back and ask ourselves, “Are they important and really relevant for happiness?”
Let us not make the same mistake as SheBai. His time chasing after the pagoda project might have been better spent with his dying mother. Sometimes we just find meaning in the most meaningless stuff in life.