In many Buddhist temple, on the weekends, the abbot usually gives a talk about Buddha teaching. Sometimes, he also tells story to help us learn faster and memories the teaching longer. Today, I would like to share one of those stories with you
Several decades ago, there was a talented captain who led a group of soldiers. Under his command, he and his team defended his town successfully in many battles from the invaders.
However, there was an issue with him that upset many of his soldiers.
The reason: the captain got angry quickly when things did not go well. He beat and ridiculed his soldiers when they made mistakes in front of everyone. Consequently, some of the members did not get convinced by his instructions.
The soldiers seemed fine outside, but they did not yield and trust him as their captain inside their heart.
He knew punishment was not the right way, but his anger controlled him every time. And every time, when he lashed out to his soldiers, he regretted every time. He knew he should not have done it, but he did. He tried to control his anger but failed. He felt helpless and got angrier about himself. And when he got mad, he beat his soldiers again. The relationship between him and his soldiers worsen day after day. He realised that if he did not fix it, then sooner or later, his team spirit would break, and defeat is inevitable. His people would get killed and enslaved, and his country would get lost from the invaders.
His personal adviser told him that he could seek help from an old monk in a temple nearby. So the captain visited the monk and asked for help. The monk gave him a hammer with a simple instruction to follow:
“Son, every time you get angry, use this hammer to hammer nails into a tree in your barrack. If you were upset ten times a day, you should hammer ten nails in that tree. When you do that, you will find your anger will lessen every time. Come see me again when you get it under control.”
The captain said goodbye to the monk and followed his instructions. On the first day, he nailed twenty times. On the second day, he nailed fifteen times, and by the seventh day, he did not nail any. He made it, and he was calm and composed. He looked at the tree that he poured his anger on
Image: (Blanchette et al., 2015)
The tree was full of nails. For a moment, the captain was shocked. He could not believe he did not nail anything on the last day.
So it was time for him to re-visit the monk.
The monk told him
“Son, now you can manage your anger, I want you to do one more thing.”
“And what is that?” the captain asked.
The monk said, “For every nail, you hammered in the tree, you need to take them out. All of them, one by one. This will train your patience, son”.
So the captain went back to his barrack and started to take the nails out. One nail after another, eventually he took all nails out. There were 70 of them.
The captain came to see the monk and the monk said to him.
“You probably have seen, although you took the nails out of the tree, the damaged done was irreversible. The damage is permanent. The tree is wounded, and there are many holes in the tree. Think of these holes are the damage you did to your people every time you lost control of your anger. However, it was not too late. Go back, treat them with respect and over time they will respect you again. Sooner, under your leadership, you would unite your team as one. Every time you gets angry and about to act harshly, remember this story.”
The captain acknowledged the monk’s teaching, and he controlled his anger well. As a result, he earned back his people respect gradually. Since then, he has been hammering holes in the same tree to channel his anger. This way no one gets hurt but the tree.
Many years later, he discovered something unusual dark brown colour formed in the tree, especially around the holes where he hammered his nails in.
Curiosity got him, he scrapped out some these thick dark brown and showed it to the monk.
“Master, I collected these wood from the tree that I hammered the nails on. I would like to show you because these wood only formed around the wounded areas. I also noticed that these woods have a darker colour, and they are harder than the one without being hammered.”
“Alright, son, you just created something extraordinary without your intention.”
“What have I done, Master?”
“ Son, look carefully, these woods are aloeswood (Agarwood). And when you heat them, you will feel its divine fragrance. This is a rare find. I could never imagine you had it in your barrack all of this time. This is faith”. The old monk said
“What should do with these?” asked the captain.
“Son, you see, despite receiving damages from you, this tree has never held any grudges against you. It has absorbed your anger and turns it into hard resin to harden itself. This resin has a divine fragrance, and it is precious. The tree has grown internally because of the external attacks.
You can tell your people about this tree’s story and train them the way I trained you. After that, you can also tell them what you have experienced, how it changed your life when you control your anger.
One more thing, you may already notice, this tree does not die, it grows when receiving damages from you. It teaches you a lesson, don’t give up and keep going. Endure hardship; you will grow just like this tree. Pass this to your people so they can live a better life.
But first, spread the good deed. If you could collect enough resin, then make incenses and burn them so your people can feel its fragrance. This fragrance will inspire them and make them remember this story better.
The Captain followed the monk’s advise and under spread this story to his soldiers. They have successfully defended their country
Why I am telling you this
You see, I hope to share this lesson with you too so when you burn agarwood incense, you will remember the captain story.
Live with love, and control your anger, my friend.