The Cracked Water Pot

Last week in yoga, the instructor read this Buddhist parable. At least she told us that it’s Buddhist in origin, I was unable to find out from whence it came. I’d heard this lesson before but hearing again, at the beginning of a new year when so many of us are anxious to right ourselves, to do better, to become better, it resonated with me.

THE CRACKED WATER POT
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end
of a pole, which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a
crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a
full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to
the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering
only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of
course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect
to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed
of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish
only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it
spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed
of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” Why?” asked the bearer.
“What are you ashamed of?” “I have been able, for these past two years,
to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water
to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my
flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full
value from your efforts,” the pot said. The water bearer felt sorry for
the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the
master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the
path.”

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice
of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path,
and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt
bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized
to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers
only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s
because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of
it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while
we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have
been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s
table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this
beauty to grace his house.”

***

The instructor closed the class by saying: If there is something that you want to change about yourself, change it. But if you cannot change it, then learn to look at it differently and accept it wholly.

I appreciated her simple and direct message. So often I can create drama around change, looking far into the future to imagine all that could go wrong. But it’s often true that the solution is simple if I choose to remain present in the day. If there is something you want to change, try changing just for today and see what happens.

Or, as the lesson teaches us, seek a new perspective. Striving for perfection, it’s easy to become blind to our positive qualities and laser-focused on our faults. But these aspects of ourselves don’t exist in a vacuum. What I perceive as a flaw turns out to be inextricably linked to a quality that my friends love about me. Perhaps it’s worth some self-examination to discern if these flaws are actually beautiful aspects of ourselves that serve a purpose we’ve not yet discovered.

It seems to me that the real lesson is to make a choice to either embrace our flaws or have the courage to change. And what we want to stop is the suffering of indecision and wallowing in our imperfections.

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