The Five Men at the Temple

A Professor, a Buddhist Master, a meditation monk, a virtuous layman, and a bad guy went to a temple.

The Professor was first to brag in front of everyone, including the monks:

"I am a world-known Professor of Physics at MIT and a former highly regarded Buddhist scholar-monk.

My learning, knowledge, intelligence and memory are unrivalled amongst human beings. In addition to Physics, I have mastered all other sciences and can boast a remarkably wide amount of knowledge of every other area of human endeavor. What is more, during the more than a decade spent as a Buddhist monk, I was able to learn and memorise the whole Tipiṭaka, the commentaries, and subcommentaries. I have read countless books on Dhamma, learned from some of the wisest Buddhist Masters through personal contact, and of course have read all the Mahāyāna sutras, including the Tibetan Kangyur and Tengyur. In short, I am one of the most learned persons one would ever have the privilege to meet."

The Buddhist Master was quick to acknowledge the profound erudition of the Professor and former Buddhist scholar, and also affirmed his own credentials:

"Yes, Professor, I remember you from the time we spent together in both Sri Lanka and Thailand. You are indeed one of the most knowledgeable people I have met and you taught me so much Dhamma! But, Professor, with all due respect to you, Sir, your knowledge is book knowledge.

I am considered one of the wisest and most compassionate Buddhist Masters of today’s crop. The knowledge of Dhamma that I have learned from the Suttas and the books is indeed quite voluminous, but through my powers of contemplation and wisdom born of meditation, I have been able to interpret that Dhamma, understand and comprehend it. I also possess the boundless compassion required to properly teach and instruct all my disciples, and they have all attained distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the Noble Ones."

The meditation monk also praised the Great Masters and introduced himself:

"Yes, Professor, I have heard about you — your knowledge is indeed profound. And yes, Master, you have been a great inspiration for me since I came across your teachings — your deep wisdom and boundless compassion are indeed exemplary!

I have been a Buddhist monk since the age of 7. I have been focusing on meditation: developing and cultivating my mind through the four satipaṭṭhānas, the 37 bodhipakkhiyā dhammā and the 40 kammaṭṭhānas, and I have consequently been able to achieve all levels of concentration and insight, including the four rūpa jhānas, the four arūpa jhānas, the cessation of perception and feeling, and all 16 stages of insight. But my chief quality is appamāda — heedfulness — and the Buddha said at AN 10.15 that “all wholesome qualities are rooted in heedfulness and converge upon heedfulness and heedfulness is declared foremost among them”. And I now have a disciple who is following my instructions faithfully."

The virtuous Buddhist layman humbly said:

"I am a simple construction laborer. As the Buddha said in AN 5.41, I am one who, with wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of my arms, earned by the sweat of my brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, I make myself happy and pleased and properly maintain myself in happiness; I make my parents happy and pleased and properly maintain them in happiness; I make my wife and children, two dogs and cat, colleagues, and nanny happy and pleased and properly maintain them in happiness.

I visit the temple, do pūja, chanting, and converse with the monks who teach me the Dhamma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end. I also donate to the temple on a regular basis. Moreover, I was the one who actually built this very temple, because I am a bricklayer. I practice at home: I read the suttas, meditate every day, observe the five precepts scrupulously and the eight on Uposatha days. The good deeds that I do are of benefit to myself, my family, my friends, and the world at large — not just my virtuous Dhamma practice, but also my hard work in the civil construction field since I build the very homes where people dwell.

But since I am humble and I also hold deep respect for all of you, Sirs, for your great knowledge and learning, wisdom and compassion, and heedfulness and meditation mastery, I am content to receive the least appreciation for my immaculate practice of the Dhamma and my tough job. After all, I am happy, I make others happy, and I spread the good name of the Dhamma as well."

The bad guy quipped:

“oh to hell with you guys… get lost! you may be gr8 dudes and all, but despite all the “good” stuff y’all do, I, Māra Namuci, can destroy all of dat - every thing you do, and everything you have already done. why?? because I am in your minds, coz ur not yet enlightened, as gr8 as u think u r. i can take hold of your minds and make u go astray, going contrary to the dhamma - therefore i can destroy the buddhist religion that way. i can destroy this temple also. in fact, i can destroy the whole planet earth. why? becoz i have taken hold of a dude called d. trump, and i’ve taken hold of a large number of people in usa to get to vote for that chap, so now he can press a button and gone is the earth!”


This simile conveys a meaning. The meaning shall be disclosed tomorrow, as I am tired and need to go to bed.

And anyway, this post would become too long for people to read, so I would rather separate the story with the meaning behind it, and keep you in suspense. :grinning:

By the way, the story/simile is not meant to have anything to do with politics - it is about the Buddhist practitioner, how to achieve inner harmony and progress on the Buddhist path. But more on that, tomorrow.



Right. Hold your breath. :slight_smile: This is just a story. The wise “Masters” are fictional impersonations of our imperfect minds. So, since you may have already started questioning what this is all about, and I still haven’t gotten to bed, I will say this:

These “people” are all various aspects of our self:

The Professor stands for: the knowing mind, or one’s intelligence, learning, pariyatti, memory.This is simply the learning of the Buddhist: reading the suttas, books, articles and websites, listening to Dhamma talks, and knowledge gained from conversing with Buddhist monastics, Buddhist teachers and other wise Buddhists. In terms of the five aggregates, I think perception and consciousness might best fit here. If you had to compare it to the government, it is the Legislative Branch.
The Buddhist Master stands for: the pure heart (emotional intelligence), or one’s wisdom and compassion, Buddha-nature and Bodhicitta (for our Mahāyānist friends), Right View and Right Intention. In terms of the five aggregates, I would say feeling (because the pure heart is emotional intelligence that understands right and wrong, happiness and suffering in quite a direct and precise way), but also part of mental formations (and maybe consciousness, but not sure how much). It’s like the Judiciary branch of government.

The above two constitute the deep level mind of the person (subconscious in psychology), other religions mistake if for a soul, Mahāyāna Buddhists say it is Buddha-nature, etc. It is just two aspects of the mind: the one that perceives and so learns the Dhamma and can then teach it to the emotional intelligence (pure heart), which is then able to make better decisions.

The meditation monk stands for: the person’s mind. Although the previous are also part of the person’s mind, this one is actually the mental formations - i.e. his decision as to whether to listen and obey what the former two teach him or whether to listen to the bad guy instead - Māra, i.e. the defilements which tell him to either be lazy and lie in bed all day long, or even worse do bad things and go punch someone. This where heedfulness comes into play: if the person is heedful, he will listen to his own wisdom and compassion (which is itself backed up by learning), and if he is heedless, he will listen to his defilements and hindrances. This is the most important part of the person of all. And it also constitutes the Right Effort (the mental energy part), Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. He is the Prime Minister of the Executive Branch. Prime Minister and his cabinet (will/volition/intention and his concomitant saṇkhāras (the other 50 or so)). That’s why heedfulness, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and intention are so important: they are the link between the wisdom and compassion (which is so enormous in all people) and the actual conduct and practice of the person. Speaking of which,

The construction worker stands for the body, physical effort, energy, moral discipline, virtue by body and speech (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood), and practice in general. If we take a country, it’s the actual people - the ordinary folk who actually keep the country going. Of course, in terms of the aggregates, this is the rūpa (body, form), but also lots of the saṅkhāras - the actual deeds (whereas the intentions are the mind of the person (the meditation monk, prime minister).

Māra stands for the defilements, character flaws, etc. ignorance and delusion; conceit and pride; greed, lust, wanting, desire and craving; aversion, hatred, and anger - mostly those. Others worth mentioning are fear, doubt, and laziness. Basically all defilements, poisons, hindrances, latent tendencies, fetters, taints, etc. Māra infests every part of the previous ones. Defilements obscure the knowing mind, the pure heart, the person’s ability to make sound decisions and choices and his purity of concsiousness, which then leads to unskilful actions and inappropriate practice. This is why Māra can take hold of all of them and ruin the person, thereby his religion, and even the world. In fact, Māra is so strong that he is already quite successful at all that.

How this all works:

Defilements have been troubling our minds since benningless time. When the mind of the person is defiled, and he chooses to act according to those defilements, he thereby is following Māra’s orders. His actions now constitute akusala kamma that bring dukkha (bad vipaka). When the dukkha becomes particularly intense for him, his pure heart awakens.

We said that the pure heart is closely related to the feelings. When the pain becomes too big, he realizes he must do something. It is his wisdom and compassion awakening. It is the knowing mind which has read the suttas and the books, listened to the Dhamma talks and conversed with the wise kalyāṇamittās. The pure heart can now instruct the person’s mind. The person’s mind now chooses to listen to the Buddho within him, instead of Māra. Then the person’s mind tells the body: “Dear body, you’ve got the feet, the hands and the eyes, please read some suttas, we need to learn more about what the truth about life is. The knowing mind will learn the meaning, it will tell it to the pure heart and the pure heart will understand it. Out of compassion, the pure heart will tell me what to do, and I will, in turn, tell you exactly how to practice correctly. Then all you have to do is do it, and so I will teach you how to be generous, virtuous, how to converse properly with people, etc.”

The body obeys. The knowledge - both theoretical (through reading, listening, conversing) and experiential (through practice (trial and error) - goes through the mind into the knowing mind (which is now even more intelligent) and then into the pure heart (which is now even wiser and more compassionate). The pure heart can now teach the mind better and it, in turn, can instruct the body to act even better. And so on. That is how the practictioner develops himself, advances on the Noble Eightfold Path, becomes better at every level - cognitive, understanding, empathetic, intentional, and practical, thereby also hedonic (because his sukha is constantly increasing).

The real message here is this: for success in a pracititioner’s practice, there must be harmony between the various elements of his being. Inner harmony is born of the lovin-kindness and mutual cooperation of those elements. This is why we have mettā bhavanā for ourself. The idea is that we must gradually get rid of the defilements (Māra, the fifth “person”). Māra only goes away from the person upon Arahantship. Until then, the mind has to trust that his Buddho (pure heart, wisdom-compassion) is telling him the right things. Of course, this pure heart is not perfect, but it is good enough and most of the time it says the right things, to the extent that the knowing mind is knowledgeable in the suttas and the Dhamma enough. Ultimately, it is all in the hands of the mind and its ability to make the right decision. This is why heedfulness is the most important thing. But the mind also has wisdom, otherwise it wouldn’t be able to listen to his bigger brother, the pure heart. Māra dwells mostly in the mind, although it has spread everywhere (except the body - maybe).

But bit by bit, the person, through
faith and confidence in the Triple Gem
learning the Dhamma of the Buddha taught by the Saṅgha (suttas, books, articles, Dhamma talks, discussion with monks and teachers, Buddhist forums) in order to improve his knowing mind
contemplation of everything he has learned (in order to improve the wisdom and compassion of his pure heart)
practice of all the various practices (the pure heart instructing the person’s mind that instructs the body what to do and the body does it)
leads to
realisation - Right Knowledge, the “paths”
attainment - Right Liberation, the “fruits”, Arahantship
and finally
he is able to share his realisations, help others, and teach so that they, too, can attain Nibbāna for themselves and escape saṃsāra.

And it all began with the defilements (praticularly ignorance which then led to suffering which then spurred him to do something about it and he found Buddhism, gained faith, learned, discussed, contemplated, understood, practiced, realised and then attained the highest happiness, deepest inner peace and perfect freedom.

Know right from wrong - and their consequences - and act accordingly.

Buddhism = knowing mind + pure heart + courageous, immaculate effort = Faith + Good friendship + Knowledge + Understanding + Heedfulness + Contentment + Love + Caring + Courage + Immaculate goodness + Effort + Mindfulness + Stillness + Insight + Wisdom -> Letting go of all evil things -> Happiness + Peace + Freedom + Bliss -> Sharing + Helping + Teaching -> Gone beyond the world of suffering

Once we realise the various parts of ourself in action, once we get to know them, their duties and responsibilities (characteristic, function, manifestation, proximate cause), once we are able to get them to work together harmoniously and with love for each other, Māra becomes known. The Buddha often faught with Māra. How did he make Māra disappear right there? “I know you, Māra.” Not, I am going to destroy you, Māra. But “I know you.” Wisdom.

This cooperation between the able layers of the mind and the physical actions leads only to well-being for the person. His inner harmony then conduces to outer harmony - his work, school, or monastic environment, and then the world as a whole. Why is the world so chaotic? Because within all people there is Māra that is preventing the mind and body of the person from cooperating thus creating havoc whithn him. He then acts in unskilful ways to various degrees, the most extreme one being joining ISIS. It’s just a lot of Māra in those people and very little Buddha.

In every person there is a Buddha and a Māra, but to varying degrees. This is why we say someone is “good” and someone else “bad”. It just depends whether his Buddha is gaining the upper hand or whether it is Māra. Buddha here means that his heart is pure (has a lot of wisdom and compassion) because he is intelligent (has learned the Dhamma) and so he is able to instruct his mind appropriately which then instructs the body to act in line with the Dhamma.

Also, the more we see these various aspects of personality and practice, we are more able to understand anattā.

Ultimately, the most important thing for a person is: self-love and self-protection. Self-love means that the various components within his being are cooperating with each other in a mutually loving and respectful way. Self-protection means that he has enough courage to withstand the onslaught of Māra - his internal Māra and the Māra within the people around him.

To do this, he uses his “Buddha-nature” to “connect” with the “Buddha’s” in other people, rather than allow their Māras (abuse in particular) to affect him. This means he is now able to have better relationships with people, and is able to deal with abuse as well. External protection is very important and conduces to freedom from harm. It is called assertiveness. It is born from “I know you, Māra.” To achieve that external protection from other people’s wrong actions, he first needs inner harmony.

Ultimately, inner harmony - the cooperation of his knowledge, wisdom, compassion, heedfulness, right intention, and correct practice of the Dhamma conduces not only to his own happiness and well-being (because he has self-love and self-protection), not only to the happiness and well-being of others (because he has better relationships, is kind and compassionate towards them, and is even helpful in various ways), but also leads to his Enlightenment, and when he becomes a teacher to the Enlightenment, or progress towards Enlightenment for many other people.

I intentionally made everyone conceited. This is the biggest obstacle for us, except ignorance. Which is why it is the penultimate of the 10 fetters (the last one being ignorance), and which is why, although, yes, they are indeed great and capable, their ignorance causes their conceit, and their conceit causes Māra to remain there. Which is why Māra actually is able to mess with those guys. Which is why they are actually not enlightened. Which is why WE are not enlightened. Which is why we need to get our guys to realise we are not enlightened and so to work together to do the necessary steps to remove Māra and thus become enlightened.


The characters are fictional, deluded and of exaggerated conceit - they represent our own minds, which are unenlightened. It is also a story that I came up with yesterday at 6pm, wrote when I got home late evening and only wrote the explanation at 4am last night, so don’t focus too much on details but on the general idea - itself which I came up with a week or so ago and developed since then.

More behind the story:

The story about the Five Men at the Temple occurred to me just yesterday. I was going to my temple, just got off the bus and within walking distance, and I told myself (as I sometimes do) “Tell me a joke, Stephen.”

So I thought, okay, I am going to the temple. In the days before I had came up with and developed the idea of the five elements within a person - his intelligence, his emotional intelligence (wisdom+compassion), his mental ability to heed the advice of the former and then instruct his body to act accordingly, along with the defilements themselves as the fifth.

So, my joke began with “Five Men are going to the temple. The Professor (intelligence, learning), the Zen Master (wisdom and compassion), the meditation monk (heedfulness and intention), the good layman who is an ordinary worker (the body/doer/practitioner), and Māra the evil one (defilements).”

Within the 3 minutes that it took to reach the temple, the “joke” was more or less developed fully. I told it to the monk, and he thought that I had read it from somewhere, perhaps Zen, since at the time I told it to him I was still struggling to name the Master (Zen Master, Great Sage, Buddhist Teacher, Guru, etc). He was really surprised that I was capable of inventing such a good story within such a short time and said that he would tell the story at Dhamma schools to young children. He said it is always the one at the bottom - the evil one - who is able to demolish the work of everyone else. He saw the truth in it. Then I explained what I actually meant by the story. I told the story and its hidden meaning to the lay people, a Samatha Trust teacher and a Sri Lankan man, and they were really impressed.

Now having said that we needn’t focus on the details since everything was written down quickly - and the commentary, not even reread - I invite people to share their opinions, and suggest where it could be improved. A friend on Facebook has started proofreading it, and is looking for a good image of Māra and the Buddha as a cover, so we might be able to make something out of it :smile:

The more people that join with suggestions for improvement - the better!

“The foremost of those who exercise authority is Māra the Evil One. […] Māra is the foremost of rulers, blazing with power and glory.” - AN 4.15

“Therefore, Ānanda, behave towards me with friendliness, not with hostility. That will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time. And how do disciples behave towards the Teacher with hostility, not with friendliness? Here, Ānanda, compassionate and seeking their welfare, the Teacher teaches the Dhamma to the disciples out of compassion: ‘This is for your welfare, this is for your happiness.’ His disciples do not want to hear or give ear or exert their minds to understand; they err and turn aside from the Teacher’s Dispensation. Thus do disciples behave towards the Teacher with hostility, not with friendliness." - MN 122

“And how do disciples behave towards the Teacher with friendliness, not with hostility? Here, Ānanda, compassionate and seeking their welfare, the Teacher teaches the Dhamma to the disciples out of compassion: ‘This is for your welfare, this is for your happiness.’ His disciples want to hear and give ear and exert their minds to understand; they do not err and turn aside from the Teacher’s Dispensation. Thus do disciples behave towards the Teacher with friendliness, not with hostility. [118] Therefore, Ānanda, behave towards me with friendliness, not with hostility. That will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time." - MN 122


I have just realised what the meditation monk stands for: yoniso-manasikāra - wise consideration, “work of the mind that goes back to the source” as Ajahn Brahm translates it.

The mind considers: “Am I going to listen to Buddho (the one who [actually] knows) or an I going to listen to the Evil One who only wishes for my harm and the harm of others and the harm of both?”

If the mind is wise, it will make the right choice.

Its work goes back to the source of knowledge and understanding of the truth.

And I have just found the proof that this is so at SN 9.11.

1 Like

A verdadeira mensagem aqui é esta: para o sucesso na prática de um praticante, deve haver harmonia entre os vários elementos de seu ser. A harmonia interior nasce da bondade do amor.

Stephen18 eu agradeço pela sua resposta, tenho aprendido muito ao ler explicações tão claras e inteligíveis que nos ajuda a aprender e então colocar em prática o que nos melhora sempre. Muito obrigado pela sua orientação e ajuda.

Google Translation
The real message here is this: for a practitioner to be successful in practice, there must be harmony between the various elements of his being. Inner harmony is born from the goodness of love. Stephen18 I thank you for your response, I have learned a lot from reading such clear and intelligible explanations that it helps us to learn and then put into practice what always improves us. Thank you very much for your guidance and help.