The lesson of the rich young man


He went away sad. . .

The rich young man in Mark’s Gospel must have been very confident when he asked Jesus; ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ We can feel his ego smiling; hubris dancing before the fall.  He went away sad because he was a man of great wealth. 

There is a Buddhist story retold by Joan Chittister tells about another young man who struggled to achieve success and the like all great tales the ending is more about intention than achievement. 

Once upon a time, Tetsugen, a follower of Zen in Japan, decided to publish the sutras, the life of Buddha, in Japanese. At that time the sutras were still available only in Chinese. To translate and publish these works in Japanese, then, would be a project of great significance, the value of which would be applauded everywhere.

The books were to be printed with wood blocks in an edition of seven thousand copies, a tremendous undertaking. 

Tetsugen began by travelling and collecting donations for this purpose. A few sympathisers would give him a hundred pieces of gold, but most of the time he received only small coins. He thanked each donor with equal gratitude. Finally, after ten long years of begging, Tetsugen had enough money to begin his task.

It happened that at that very time the Uji River overflowed. Famine followed. Tetsugen took the money he had collected to publish the books and gave it away to save the villagers on the river from starving to death.

Then he began again his work of collecting the money necessary to produce the sutras. 

This time it took seven years before Tetsugen had enough money again to begin his task. But the money was barely collected before an epidemic spread across the country. This time Tetsugen gave away what he had collected to help the sick.

After twenty more years of begging, he was at last able to publish the sutras in Japanese. 

The printing blocks that produced the first edition of sutras can still be seen today in the Obaku monastery in Kyoto. But today the Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras, and the first invisible sets surpass even the last one. 

Money is not inherently evil. My attachment to money is because it depletes my life, diminishes my freedom and cripples my choices. Success is often described in terms of money, houses and titles but we have to ask ourselves what will our children inherit? What will they say we held as the scared text of our lives? 

Virginia Ryan, Catholic Schools Office, Broken Bay

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