In ancient China, there used to be a very wise prime minister. Originally, he passed the Imperial Examination ranking at the top and was eventually promoted to prime minister. He helped the king rule the country effectively and was fond of getting inspiration from the ancients’ words of wisdom. Naturally, he took a keen interest to Mahayana and became quite well read on Buddhism.
After reading up on Mahayana, he decided to talk to an expert. So, he inquired and was told that the wisest one was someone known as the “Cloth Bag Monk 布袋和尚”. The prime minister sent his subordinates out to request that traveling beggar to come to the royal court for an audience with him. After several failed attempts for one reason or another, the prime minister decided to corner that beggar monk in a street corner himself.
The prime minister said: “Venerable Monk, what is the essence of the Buddha’s teachings?”
The Cloth Bag Monk dropped the cloth bag he was carrying. The prime minister was thoughtful for a brief moment then he said: “I see. Surely there must be some higher form of knowledge.”
The Cloth Bag Monk picked up the cloth bag and walked away.
The prime minister looked stunned for a moment. He finally understood. From then on, he developed a profound respect for Mahayana. He commissioned many temples to be built around the country, sponsored many people to leave the home life to study the teachings and personally came to the temples to make offerings.
What did the prime minister understand when the monk dropped his cloth bag? The cloth bag carried all his worldly possessions. The message was “to drop it”. We should drop our attachments, especially things that we hold to be very dear. Buddhism teaches us to “see it through and put it down 看破, 放下”. That is what wise people are able to do.
The prime minister was particularly wise that was why he understood. Then he realized that it was only an end to a goal. That was why he asked for a higher meaning for the teaching. So what did he finally understand when the monk disappeared in the horizon? Keep dropping everything until there is nothing left. Then you will reach True Emptiness, the highest Mahayana teaching.