The clam and the monk

The monk lives alone in the mountains. About five years ago, he was not alone. With the death of his master, the other young monks left the cold monastery one by one. The last of his companions said to him as he left: Buddhist doctrine is not here. The monk accepted their departure with equanimity, but was in denial as to the reason for their departure.

From January to June, the monk did not see a single worshipper. Fortunately, the monk lived a simple life, eating the vegetables he grew, fetching his own water from the river at the bottom of the hill and reinforcing the monastery's broken roof with thatch and wood. The monk was alone and lived a self-sufficient life. His only regret was that there was no one with whom he could discuss the Dharma.

One day, the monk once again went to the river alone to fetch water. He was feeling his way along the riverbank when he tripped over something and almost fell. Then he heard someone saying "Oh!"  The monk looked around and saw no one.

"Hello?" The monk asked tentatively.

"You should have said 'sorry'," the voice replied, "you stepped on me so hard."

"I'm here!" The voice said again.

The monk was so surprised to hear it that he knelt down and rummaged around the muddy riverbank following the voice, finally digging a clam almost the size of his hand out of the mud.

"You can talk." The monk said.

"Of course! What else do you think I am? A miserable and weak mollusk?" The clam's shell opened and closed, and the sound came from that gap. Through that gap the monk saw the pale pink flesh of the clam, which surprisingly looked a little like a tongue.

"You have often said that there are spirits in all things, and now you do not believe that a clam can speak? What hypocrisy!" The clam hit the nail on the head with its criticism.

The monk was ashamed at its words and apologised sincerely.

The clam added, "Don't despise me because I am a clam. The shell of a clam is my shackle, and we shellfish are far older than any human civilization. All the mysteries of this world are revealed in the markings of my shell."

After hearing the clam's words and remembering his plight left alone in this small temple, the monk was in awe of the clam and took it back to the temple to be carefully nurtured. Apparently inexperienced in this area, the monk put the clam into a wooden jar filled with water, but this provoked a strong protest from the clam.

"Are you trying to kill me?" The clam shouted.

The monk was puzzled in his mind, since the clam was an intelligent creature, it should live in clean, clear water.

"I need mud and sand," said the clam, "I cannot live without these two things. You must know that no fish can survive if the water is too clean."

The monk found every word of the clam to be philosophical. The conversation with the clam was far more rewarding than his previous study of the scriptures alone. Thus the monk and the clam lived together in the temple, and whenever the monk felt confused, the clam was always there to help him. When the monk asked the clam about Buddhism, the monk said, "Have you ever heard the story of two ghosts competing for a corpse?" The two ghosts race and the first one to reach the pavilion gets the corpse and eats it. The result of the race was that the two ghosts seemed to arrive at the same time, and it was so difficult to tell the winner from the loser that they had to ask the Elder Revata, who was staying at that pavilion, to judge to whom the corpse should belong. Elder Revata knew that no matter what he said, he would not escape death, so he had better tell the truth. When the later ghost heard this, he became furious and ate all the limbs and head of the corpse and left. The ghost who had arrived first felt guilty and took the limbs and head of the corpse and put them back on the body of Elder Revata, so that his body was restored to its original state.

“The Buddha said that man is originally a 'false self' made up of a combination of material elements and mental elements, that there is no one constant self-existence, and that life, in whatever form, is like a river flowing incessantly, continuing in change all the time."

Clam commented: "I love this story. I can be not a clam either, you can be a clam. Your body, so soft compared to hard stone, how is man not a mollusk if you change your definition of soft? You live alone in this stone house as I do, and if you are a clam, the house is your shell."

The monk lived with the clam until one day he noticed that the clam had stopped talking. For a long time in the past, the clam's shell had always been tightly closed, a defensive posture, a habit of their molluscs, and even the clam with its supreme intelligence could not escape the shackles of its rudimentary physiology. Now, however, the edges of the clam's shell were closed tightly, and the monk ran his hand gently over its shell, as if he were stroking a precious imported vessel, trying to awaken his friend. The clam's shell was no longer as wet as before; its surface took on a dehydrated roughness, like sandpaper, and as brittle and hard as an old man's fingernails. A few tiny cracks. He squeezed the shell of the clam, which immediately opened both shells, from which it emitted a fishy odour and spat out a few pearls.

He recalled that the Buddha had said, everything with form is unreal.

"This is a Buddhist relic! This is a Sarira!”  The monk held the pearls and cried out in excitement.

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