In the Spirit of Ch'an 3

Shakyamuni Buddha had two other disciples, one very bright and the other quite dull. The first disciple, Ananda, had a powerful mind and a fabulous memory. However, he never attained enlightenment during Shakyamuni's lifetime. Ananda thought that Buddha would reward his intelligence with enlightenment. It never happened. After Buddha entered nirvana, Ananda hoped Mahakashyapa would help him.

After Buddha's passing, Mahakashyapa tried to gather 500 enlightened disciples together in order to collect and record the Buddha's teachings. He could find only 499. Some suggested that he invite Ananda, but Mahakashyapa said that Ananda was not enlightened and therefore was unqualified for the assembly. He said that he would rather not have the gathering at all than allow Ananda's attendance.

But Ananda persisted. Three times he was turned away by Mahakashyapa. Ananda said, "Buddha has entered nirvana. Now only you can help me reach enlightenment!" Mahakashyapa said, "I'm very busy. I cannot be of help. Only you can help yourself." At last, Ananda realized that he had to rely on his own efforts if he wished to attain enlightenment. He went off to a solitary and secluded place. As he was about to sit down, he attained enlightenment! Why? At that moment he relied on no one and dropped all of his attachments.

Another story describes the dim-witted disciple named Suddhipanthaka, or Small Path. All except Small Path could remember Buddha's teachings. If he tried to remember the first word of a phrase, he forgot the second, and vice versa. Buddha gave him the job of sweeping the ground, since he didn't seem fit to do anything else.

After he had swept the ground for a very long time, Small Path asked, "The ground is clean, but is my mind-ground clean?" At that moment everything dropped from his mind. He went to see the Buddha, who was very pleased with his accomplishment and affirmed that Small Path had become enlightened.