A Dharma Tale: The Onion
A young man had a small garden behind his cottage. He had enjoyed the bounty of his garden for many years. One day a terrible storm rolled in over the mountains and brought torrential rains to his valley. All of his garden was washed into the road. He watched helpless and in deep anguish. Many thoughts filled his mind and his sorrow deepened. The night fell and he collapsed in despair.
The morning brought a fresh new day but all around the cottage the man saw his beautiful valley destroyed; trees had fallen, roofs had peeled from homes, crops washed away. Even though the young man’s home was intact all he could see was his empty garden so rich with vegetables to feed him through the winter. He knelt down and wept on the wet ground. Through his tear filled eyes he saw something in the soggy earth, a glistening skin of an onion, a big round onion like a pearl.
He took the onion inside and put it on a clean, round plate. He could never bring himself to eat it. As the days passed all he saw in the onion was the memory and destruction of his lost garden.
On the seventh day after the storm an old monk came by with his morning begging bowl. The young man opened his door and upon seeing the monk’s bowl laughed with irony. The young man showed the monk his own empty bowl and then pointed towards his barren garden. The monk smiled and invited the young man to join him on his walk.
The monk listened as the man told of the terrible storm and his anguish over the loss of his garden. After a long while the two men came to the bank of a very wide river. There was a small wooden boat tied to a stake. The monk gestured to the young man to get into the boat. The man began to argue with the monk “Why should I come with you?” – “Why do you want me to leave my home?”
The monk replied “You told me how this storm destroyed your garden but I have also heard through your story how this storm destroyed your spirit.” – “I saw a big, white onion on your table. You might have used it to make a nice broth but you left it there to rot in your cottage that was not damaged at all by the storm.” The monk unmoored the boat and eased it into the river. He turned to the young man and said ” I am taking you to a place where you can heal from your loss and find new meaning in your life.” The monk reached his hand out to him saying “Please join me.”
So the two men began to cross the river in the little boat. A storm suddenly came up and the young man panicked, fearing for his life. He relived all the anguish from the night of the other storm and his mind went wild. He felt trapped in this little boat in the middle of the river. He stood up pulling at his hair, his eyes wild, and the boat rocked perilously. All the while the monk sat quietly with a calm smile on his face. The man sat down breathless with his emotions and then considered diving into the rough waters and drowning himself.
Eventually, somehow, the boat managed to cross to the other shore and the sun broke through the blackened clouds. As the men stepped out of the boat the monk turned to the young man and asked “Have you crossed the river now?”
The young man looked deeply into the old monks eyes and began to weep. As he looked back across the river he saw the distance he had come was not near as long as it had felt. His tears ran freely and soon he smiled feeling a warm opening spread through his chest. The monk smiled too and said “Often in life we are forced to cross rives in order to grow. Some people tip the boat over and drown. Others row back to where they started and never make it across. But some do cross the river and find liberation. I am glad you chose to cross the river.”
The young man turned to pull the boat ashore and upon turning around the old monk was gone. Where the monk had stood there on the sand sat a clean round plate that held one large white onion that shone like a pearl. The young man knelt down and said with a grateful heart “This will make a fine broth.”