Dharma Stories

The Four-Year-Old Elder

Master Cheng Yen’s Teachings
Translated by the Dharma as Water Team


If we awaken our true nature and sense of mission, then in everything we do, we will feel at ease and will have no grievances.

In life, we should strive to be able to let everything go and focus wholeheartedly on the practice of giving and serving others. If we can learn to stop taking issue with people and things, we will feel free and at ease in life.

During the Buddha’s time, there was a king who left the city to tour the countryside. This king rode upon a great white elephant with a procession of servants following along beside him. Along the way, he spotted an old man walking towards them. Afraid that they would frighten the old man, the king ordered his servants to stop so that the old man could slowly walk past them.

When the old man saw the king in the distance, he also slowed down and came to a halt. Seeing that the long procession of servants had also stopped, the old man felt comfortable enough to continue forward. When the old man walked by this procession, the king called out to him in a kind and gentle tone, “Old fellow! I see that your hair is white. You must have a few years on you!”

The old man looked up at the king, smiled innocently, and stuck out four fingers before the king, saying, “I am only four years old.”

Doubtful, the king asked, “You are only four years old?”

The old man firmly replied, “Yes! I’m only four years old. The life I led until four years ago was a life of confusion and ignorance. I was not truly living. Fortunately, I was able to listen to the Buddha’s teachings. It has only been four years since I accepted the Buddha’s teachings.”

“Now, I have let everything go. With my whole heart, I want to give of myself and serve others for the rest of my life. In doing so, I have come to realize what a joyful thing it is to give. When we refrain from taking issue with people, we become so free! Now I understand that the absence of afflictions brings us peace in body and mind.”

“For the past four years, my life has been so carefree. This is what it means to really live. So, having only just begun to truly live my life, I am only four years old.”

Hearing this, the king replied happily, “Old fellow! In life, we really do need to be able to let things go and give of ourselves to others. You do not take issue with anyone or anything, so your life must be very carefree. I truly envy you! Though you have only been learning the Buddha’s teachings for the past four years, your life is already full of purpose.”

In order to comprehend the true principles of the Buddha’s teachings and follow in the footsteps of the sages, we must first learn to let things go. Some people are very forceful about their opinions. They think that being accommodating of others will disadvantage themselves, or that everything around them is set in stone. Thus, they are unwilling to yield at all. These perspectives entangle us like ropes, bringing us unspeakable suffering! If we cannot immediately let go of our unenlightened way of thinking, how can we possibly follow in the footsteps of sages?

Learning to let go and give of ourselves is not actually hard. Reaching this state of peace in body and mind is also quite easy! But when sentient beings fail to let go of their attachments to self, they make things very difficult. If we are able to let go, the Buddha Dharma will be right before our eyes!

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