Parable of the worm:
Swift Attainment versus to Gradual Attainment
Master Hui Re’s teaching as translated by Ben Le and edited by Maxine
Imagine a bamboo shoot with fifty-two segments. Inside, at the bottom, is a small worm. If this little worm wants to get out, she has to eat upwards through fifty-two segments. The bamboo represents our polluted Saha world. It includes all the realms between the hells and highest heavens of Samsara. The passage up the bamboo represents the Holy or Sagely Path in Buddhism. On this long, arduous path the aspirant has to go through all fifty-two stages of the Bodhisattva’s Path until finally attaining Buddhahood: the fifty-second level of this path. The little worm is you and I.
There are different kinds of little worms. People who have never come across the Holy Dharma are like worms that have never even thought of getting out of this bamboo. Many other little worms cannot even eat their way out of the first segment of bamboo, not to mention the other fifty-two. They represent the kind of person who cannot properly enter into the Door of the Dharma. Even if they have heard a lot of Dharma talks, their doubts are still strong.
Some worms are very lucky. They realise where they are and that there is a way out. They arise Bodhicitta (the desire to achieve enlightenment and the aspiration to help all living beings) and bravely set out on the very long journey to the top of the bamboo. They learn and practice all the Dharmas necessary to get them to Buddhahood. They keep pure precepts. They enter into deep mediation and generate genuine wisdom. (The Three Studies, precepts, meditation and wisdom are the three tools one needs to attain Buddhahood.) They eat their way up this bamboo, segment by segment. The Buddha taught that it takes three Incalculable Kalpas (eons) from the day one arises Bodhicitta till the day one reaches the fruits of Buddhahood.
Therefore those who follow this Holy Path must keep up their spiritual practice, life after life. There are endless obstacles to their practice on this journey up through the 52 segments. As soon as the aspirant worms start to make real progress in any life, they are already old and soon will die. In the next life the whole learning process must start again from the beginning. The aspirants have forgotten all the dharma they learnt in the previous life and have to learn to walk, talk and go to the loo all over again. If they have the karma to come across a good teacher, they will once again start learning and practicing the Dharma. In this world there are so many distractions, interruptions and entertainments that can lure them off the path. So many hidden dangers and pitfalls.
In this polluted, Dharma-ending age, we are not suited to following this long arduous path. We shouldn’t waste time. We should just go straight to the Buddha-field, the Pureland of Amitabha Buddha. Don’t be the worm that tries to eat his way up through all these numerous segments. You can escape sideways! You don’t even have to eat your way out. All you need to do is to have faith, and rely on the Buddha’s Great Vows. Amitabha Buddha made the vow that any being who calls on his name in faith will be accepted to his Pureland, his Buddha-field. Amitabha Buddha even drills the hole in the side of the bamboo for the aspirant to escape and helps her out. All you have to do is call on Amitabha with a deep, sincere mind, have profound faith that you are a very ordinary little worm person and that Amitabha Buddha can and will answer your call, and transfer all your merits to rebirth in the Pureland.
If there are any errors in this parable, I (Maxine) apologise.