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The Lost Son

“A young widower, who loved his five year old son very much, was away on business when bandits came who burned down the whole village and took his son away. When the man returned, he saw the ruins and panicked. The took the burnt corpse of an infant to be his son and cried uncontrollably. He organised a cremation ceremony, collected the ashes and put them in a beautiful little bag which he always kept with him.

Soon afterwards, his real son escaped from the bandits and found his way home. He arrived at his father's new cottage at midnight and knocked at the door. The father, still grieving asked: “Who is it?” The child answered, it is me papa, open the door!” But in his agitated state of mind, convinced his son was dead, the father thought that some young boy was making fun of him. He shouted: “Go away” and continued to cry. After some time, the child left.

Father and son never saw each other again.”

After this story, the Buddha said: “Sometime, somewhere, you take something to be the truth. If you cling to it so much, even when the truth comes in person and knocks on your door, you will not open it.”

What is the Spiritual Moral / Message of “The Lost Son” Story?

In the journey of life, we often encounter moments of profound loss and devastation. The story of the young widower serves as a poignant reminder of the impermanence of the material world and the inevitable trials we must face. Despite the heartbreaking circumstances, the essence of the story lies not in the tragedy itself, but in the father's reaction to it. His attachment to the illusion of loss blinds him to the truth that stands before him, highlighting the dangers of clinging to our perceptions and beliefs even in the face of undeniable evidence.

At the heart of this tale lies the concept of attachment—the deeply ingrained human tendency to grasp onto that which brings us comfort or security. The father's attachment to the belief that his son perished in the fire clouds his judgment and prevents him from recognizing the miraculous return of his child. This attachment, born from fear and grief, serves as a barrier to experiencing the truth of the present moment, illustrating the spiritual principle that our attachments can often lead us astray, obscuring the deeper truths that lie beneath the surface.

The story also underscores the importance of discernment—the ability to perceive reality beyond the veil of illusion. Despite the father's initial refusal to open the door, his son persists in his attempts to reunite with him. This persistent knocking serves as a metaphor for the unwavering presence of truth, gently nudging us towards awakening even in our moments of deepest despair. It is only through the cultivation of discernment and an openness to the unexpected that we can transcend the limitations of our perceptions and embrace the truth that lies beyond.

Central to the spiritual message of the story is the theme of surrender—the act of relinquishing our attachments and surrendering to the flow of life. The father's refusal to open the door represents his resistance to accepting the truth of his son's return, driven by his attachment to the past and the pain of his loss. Yet, it is only through surrendering to the unfolding of life's mysteries that we can truly find peace and liberation from suffering. By releasing our grip on the past and embracing the present moment with an open heart, we open ourselves to the infinite possibilities that lie beyond our limited perceptions.

Ultimately, the story serves as a powerful allegory for the human condition—the eternal struggle between illusion and truth, attachment and surrender. It reminds us that in our darkest moments, when the illusion of loss threatens to consume us, the truth of our inherent divinity remains ever-present, patiently awaiting our recognition. It is through the journey of awakening—of letting go of our attachments and opening ourselves to the boundless expanse of truth—that we can find true freedom and liberation from the shackles of suffering.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. As you reflect on the young widower's journey, consider moments in your own life where grief or loss may have clouded your perception of reality. How did your emotions influence your ability to see the truth of a situation?
  2. Contemplate the symbolism of the father's actions, from mistaking the burnt corpse for his son to carrying the ashes in a beautiful bag. How do these gestures reflect the human tendency to hold onto illusions even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?
  3. Reflect on the significance of the son's return and his persistent knocking at the door. Have there been times when truth or opportunity presented itself to you, but you were unable to recognize it due to preconceived notions or beliefs?
  4. Consider the role of fear in the young widower's response to his son's return. How did fear of further disappointment or pain contribute to his reluctance to open the door and embrace the truth?
  5. Explore the theme of perception versus reality in the story. How do our perceptions shape our understanding of the world around us, and how can clinging to false beliefs prevent us from seeing the truth that stands before us?
  6. Contemplate the Buddha's wisdom, “If you cling to it so much, even when the truth comes in person and knocks on your door, you will not open it.” How does this teaching resonate with your own experiences of clinging to beliefs or perceptions that may no longer serve you?
  7. Reflect on the concept of attachment and its role in the young widower's journey. How did his attachment to the belief that his son was dead prevent him from embracing the truth of his son's return?
  8. Consider the father's response to his son's knocking at the door, shouting “Go away” in his grief-stricken state. How does this moment highlight the ways in which our emotions can cloud our judgment and prevent us from recognizing truth?
  9. Reflect on the consequences of the young widower's inability to see the truth. How did his refusal to open the door and embrace his son ultimately lead to a tragic missed opportunity for reconciliation?
  10. Contemplate the broader spiritual lessons embedded within the story, particularly the themes of acceptance, surrender, and the impermanence of life. How can embracing these principles help us navigate the complexities of our own journeys and open ourselves to the truth that lies beyond our perceptions?