The Parable of the Wealthy Man and the Poor Son

A POOR little boy ran away from his father when he was very young. He lived in another country for many years. He wandered about in all directions, seeking food and clothing. While wandering here and there, he happened to walk towards his home country.

At that time his father stayed in a city of the country. He had been vainly looking for his son and thinking of his son ever since he had lost him. The father was now very rich. The poor son came to the city where his father was living and thinking, “I am old and decrepit. I have many treasures. But I have no son other than the missing one. When I die, yearning for my son, my treasures will be scattered and lost.”

At that time the poor son happened to stand by the gate of the wealthy man’s house. Seeing the rich man, the poor son was frightened and thought, “Is he a king or like a king?”

The rich man recognized him at first sight as his son. He was delighted. He immediately dispatched a man standing beside him to quickly bring back the poor son. The messenger ran up to the poor son and caught him, but the poor son was frightened and cried, “I have done nothing wrong. Why do you catch me?”

The messenger pulled him by force. The poor son thought, “I am caught though I am not guilty. I shall be killed.” More and more frightened, the poor son fainted and fell to the ground.

Seeing all this in the distance, the father said to the messenger, “Drop that; do not bring him forcibly! Pour cold water on his face to awaken him!”

The father said this because he had realized that his son was too sullied to meet a noble man. He knew that the man was his son, but expediently refrained from telling others that this was his son.

Waking up, the poor son stood up and went to a village of the poor to get food and clothing. The wealthy man dispatched messengers in secret. He said to two men who looked worn-out, powerless and virtueless, “Go and gently tell the poor man that he will be employed here for a double day’s pay. If he agrees with you, bring him here and have him work to clear dirt and that you two also will work with him.”

The poor son drew his pay in advance, and cleared dirt. Seeing him, the father had compassion towards him and took off his necklace, his garment and other ornaments. He put on tattered and dirty clothing. He came to the workers and said, “Work hard! Do not be lazy!” And noting this poor man working hard, the father told him, “Do not hesitate to take trays, rice, flour, salt and vinegar, as much as you need! Make yourself comfortable.”
Years later, the rich man gave him a name and called him son. The son was glad to be treated kindly, but still thought that he was a humble employee. Still more years passed. After that the father and the son trusted each other. Now the son felt no hesitation in entering the house of his father, but still lodged in his old place.

Now the rich man became ill. After a while the father noticed that his son had become more at ease and peaceful, that he wanted to improve himself, and that he felt ashamed of the thought that he was base and mean. The moment of death for the father drew near. The father told his son to call in his relatives, the king, ministers, and members of his household. When they were all assembled, he said to them, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is my son, my real son. I am his real father. He ran away from me when I lived in a certain city, and wandered with hardships for more than fifty years. His name is so-and-so. All my treasures are his now.”

The son was very glad to hear this. He had the greatest joy that he had ever had. He thought, “I never dreamed of having this store of treasures myself. It has come to me unexpectedly.”

The wealthy man is the Eternal Buddha while the poor son is ourselves who do not realize that we are Buddha’s children. We often ask Buddha, “Give me this! Give me that!” It is a stage of being “outlandish”, so to speak. However, if we put forth effort without giving up, we will be given precious Buddhahood.

[From the Lotus Sutra, chapter 4]