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How Many More Lifetimes Until Enlightenment?

| Nirmala | Awakening

How Many More Lifetimes Until Enlightenment?

Published on
04 April 2024

A story I used to tell in satsang about acceptance and surrender in relation to spiritual enlightenment

A fairly renowned spiritual master wandered into a small Indian village and sat down under a large leafy tree in the village center. A crowd quickly gathered because word had spread that the master had an unusual power or Siddhi, which meant that he could tell you how many more lifetimes before you would be fully enlightened. 

The first person brave enough to approach the master was a very dedicated practitioner of devotional spiritual practices. Even as he approached he was chanting a mantra and holding a mala of prayer beads in his hand. When he asked, "How many more lifetimes for me?", the master pondered for a moment and then said, "For you, five more lifetimes." The devoted bhakti was so discouraged by this news that he threw down his prayer beads and stormed off.

The next person willing to approach the master was the local scholar of spiritual texts. Even as he walked up to the master, he was holding his place with his thumb in a thick book of spiritual wisdom. "How many more lifetimes for me?", he asked. After staring into the distance for a while, the master replied, "For you, ten more lifetimes." Well this did not go over well, and the scholar dropped his book in the dirt and slouched off with a dejected look on his face. 

Well now the villagers were not so eager to learn how many more lifetimes for them, as none of them were as dedicated to their spiritual practices and study as the first two to ask. But finally, another villager approached the master, and everyone was shocked because he was a simple street sweeper who was not known to pursue any spiritual practices. Nonetheless, he asked the question, and the master quickly replied, "For you, as many more lifetimes as there are leaves on this tree, as he pointed up to the thick foliage above him.   

To the amazement of everyone, the street sweeper started laughing and crying and dancing for joy at the news. When the master saw this unusual response, he became very curious and asked, "Why are you so happy? I just told you that it will be thousands of more lifetimes?"  

The simple man kept laughing and crying with joy, and finally managed to reply, "I am overjoyed because now I know that it will happen for me eventually! I never even dared to hope, but now I am completely at peace and truly ecstatic to learn that even for an ordinary simple person like me, full enlightenment is not only possible but ultimately certain to happen. So I cannot contain the immense joy arising in my heart!"   

Upon hearing this, the master smiled broadly and then reached over and touched the trunk of the tree, whereupon all of the leaves of the tree fell to the ground.