One of Śākyamuni’s greatest disciples, Cūdapanthaka, was dull by birth and unable to remember even his own name. One day Śākyamuni found him crying and asked him kindly, “Why are you so sad?”
Weeping bitterly, Cūdapanthaka lamented, “Why was I born stupid?”
“Cheer up,” said Śākyamuni. “You are aware of your foolishness, but there are many fools who think themselves wise. Being aware of one’s stupidity is next to enlightenment.” He handed Cūdapanthaka a broom and instructed him to say while he worked, “I sweep the dust away. I wash the dirt away.”
Cūdapanthaka tried desperately to remember those sacred phrases from the Buddha, but whenever he remembered one, he forgot the other. Even so, he kept at this practice for twenty years.
Once during those twenty years, Śākyamuni complimented Cūdapanthaka on his constant diligent effort. “No matter how many years you keep sweeping, you grow no better at it, and yet that does not cause you to give up. As important as making progress is, persevering in the same endeavor is even more important. It is an admirable trait—one that I do not see in my other disciples.”
In time Cūdapanthaka realized that dust and dirt did not only accumulate where he thought they would, but in places he least expected. Surprised, he thought, “I knew I was stupid, but there’s no telling how much more of my stupidity exists in places I don’t even notice.”
In the end Cūdapanthaka attained the enlightenment of an arhat, a stage at which one is worthy of receiving respect and offerings. Besides encountering a great teacher and the true teachings, it was his long years of effort and perseverance that crowned him with success.
(By Kentetsu Takamori, author of the book Why do we live?)
Also read the article Every action has its purpose.