There is an old story about a man who came to see the Buddha because he had heard that the Buddha was a great teacher. Like all of us, he had some problems in his life, and he thought the Buddha might be able to help him straighten them out. He told the Buddha that he was a farmer.
“I like farming,” he said, “but sometimes it doesn’t rain enough, and my crops fail. Last year we nearly starved. And sometimes it rains too much, so my yields aren’t what I’d like them to be.”
The Buddha patiently listened to the man.
“I’m married, too,” said the man. “She’s a good wife… I love her, in fact. But sometimes she nags me too much. And sometimes I get tired of her.”
The Buddha listened quietly.
“I have kids,” said the man. “Good kids, too… but sometimes they don’t show me enough respect. And sometimes…”
The man went on like this, laying out all his difficulties and worries. Finally he wound down and waited for the Buddha to say the words that would put everything right for him.
Instead, the Buddha said, “I can’t help you.”
“What do you mean?” said the man, astonished.
“Everybody’s got problems,” said the Buddha. “In fact, we’ve all got eighty-three problems, each one of us. Eighty-three problems, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you work really hard on one of them, maybe you can fix it – but if you do, another one will pop right into its place. For example, you’re going to lose your loved ones eventually. And you’re going to die some day. Now there’s a problem, and there’s nothing you, or I, or anyone else can do about it.”
The man became furious. “I thought you were a great teacher!” he shouted. “I thought you could help me! What good is your teaching, then?”
The Buddha said, “Well, maybe it will help you with the eighty-fourth problem.”
“The eighty-fourth problem?” said the man. “What’s the eighty-fourth problem?”
Said the Buddha, “You want to not have any problems.”
An excerpt from the book “Buddhism Plain and Simple” by Steve Hagen, copyright 1997 by Steve Hagen. Used by permission. For information on Steve, his books, and Dharma Field Zen Center, visit dharmafield.org