Some people came upon Nasruddin one night crawling around on his hands and knees under a lamppost.
“What are you looking for?” they asked him.
“I’ve lost the key to my house,” he replied.
They all got down to help him look, but after a fruitless time of searching, someone thought to ask him where he had lost the key in the first place.
“In the house,” Nasruddin answered.
“Then why are you looking under the lamppost?” he is asked.
“Because there is more light here,” Nasruddin replied.
I heard this story from one of my first Vipassana1 meditation teachers, Satya Narayan Goenka. S. N. Goenka, who recently passed away at age 89, was one of the most important teachers of Buddhist meditation in our time.
This particular ancient, Sufi story of the wise fool, Nasruddin, was told at the 10-day, silent meditation retreat that I attended in 2006.2 It was the year my mother died. My house had just burned down to the ground with everything in it. My marriage had ended. The time seemed ripe to learn this valuable tool.
The Vipassana retreat was comprised of 10 days of silence, meditating, eating and resting.3 At the close of each day was an hour-long, recorded video talk by S. N. Goenka. His talk always included teaching stories, the kind that showed us the world, or ourselves, differently. A good story has levels of meaning and on first hearing, you know something’s up because of your reaction… a grin, a shiver, a whimper, a laugh. Yet, the strength of the story is not always obvious or immediately understood.
Whew, you could have heard me groaning on hearing this story. To me, it was not at all subtle. It smacked me awake to the folly of looking for truths outside of myself. I believe that every one of us looks in certain places for the “key” to happiness. But perhaps we are like Nasruddin looking under the lamppost, when we might profit more by looking inside our own homes. It was clear to me that I should look inward for the answers I was seeking. Learning to look, instead of react, turns out to be the key.
Goenka’s teaching of living each moment happily with an equanimous mind, in order to progress toward the ultimate goal of liberation from suffering makes a lot of sense to Ivan and me. We have scheduled a 10-day, silent meditation retreat in the Kaufman, Texas Vipassana Center for March.