Courtesy of National Palace Museum

Altruism Changes His Fate

Zheng Jian, Contributor, Dora Li, Contributing Translator

Many years ago, there was a man who was so poor that he had to beg for food. Even though he was a beggar, he very much wanted to live a normal life. So, he stored the food and grain he was given. Even though he carefully stored food for years, he noticed that there was little food in his storage room.

He decided to see how his food was disappearing, so one night he hid in a corner of his storage room. Soon, he saw a fat mouse enter and begin to eat his food. He angrily shouted, “I’m just a poor beggar! Rich people have more grain than I. Why don’t you go and eat their food? I had to beg to get the little food I have.”

The mouse could talk and said, “How poor you are or how much food you have is fixed in your fate. No matter how hard you work, you are predestined to be poor.”

The beggar asked, “Why?”

The mouse replied, “I do not know, you should ask the Buddha.”

The beggar was determined to ask the Buddha why he was so poor. He set off the following day, begging as he went. He walked from morning till dusk. Once it got dark, he stopped at a house he was passing. When he knocked on the door, the housekeeper opened it. When he asked for food, the landlord came. He asked the beggar why he was still on the road since it was getting dark.

When the beggar told him about going to see the Buddha to ask about his fate, the landlord immediately let him in. He brought out a lot of food and silver and gave them to the beggar, who was very confused and asked why.

The landlord said, “I have a sixteen-year-old daughter who cannot speak. When you see the Buddha please ask him why.”

The beggar figured that since he was going to see the Buddha anyway, he could do this, so he promised that he would ask the landlord’s question.

The next day, he continued walking, on and on, until he saw a temple. He went to the temple to ask for water to drink. He saw an old monk holding a tin stick. The monk looked very old but very energetic. He handed the beggar a cup of water and asked where he was going.

When the beggar explained that he was going to see the Buddha, the old monk got very excited and grasped his hands tightly. He said, “Please help me and ask the Buddha a question. I have cultivated* for 500 years. I think that I should have gone to Heaven by now, so why am I still here?”

The beggar promised the old monk he would ask, and continued on his way.

He walked and walked, overcoming various obstacles on the roads he traveled. Finally, he arrived at a bend in the river. He wanted to cross, but there were no boats. He was very worried and cried out, “Why is my life so hard and miserable!”

As he stood there weeping, he noticed a turtle floating by. The turtle asked the beggar why he was crying bitterly. The beggar told the turtle that he was traveling to see the Buddha. The turtle said, “I have cultivated for more than a thousand years. I should have changed into a dragon and flown away long ago. Why am I still here? Please help me and ask the Buddha when you see him. Get on my back, and I will carry you across the river.” The beggar happily promised that he would help the turtle by asking.

The beggar walked and walked. Many days passed, but he still did not see the Buddha. He thought that since he walked so far, he should have finally seen the Buddha! He felt very sad and tired. When he sat down to rest, he fell asleep and had a dream.

In his dream, the Buddha appeared and said, “You’ve traveled so far, you must have something important to ask me.”

The beggar said, “Yes, Buddha. I have several things to ask.”

The Buddha said, “Fine. But you can only ask three questions.”

The beggar thanked Buddha. He thought, “I have several requests, which one I should ask first? The turtle cultivated for more than a thousand years. It was very hard, so I’ll ask his question first.”

He asked the Buddha, “Honored Buddha, the turtle has cultivated for a thousand years. Why hasn’t he changed into a dragon?”

Buddha said, “The turtle is attached to the shell on his back.”

The beggar thought, “The old monk cultivated for more than 500 years. It was not easy. So I will ask his question next.” He said, “Buddha, an old monk has cultivated for more than 500 years, why hasn’t he flown to Heaven yet?”

Buddha said, “He is attached to his tin stick.”

The beggar thought about the landlord’s daughter who could not speak. Who would marry her? He felt that he should ask this question next. So, he asked the Buddha, “Why is the landlord’s daughter dumb?”

Buddha said, “The daughter will start speaking when she sees her future husband.”

As soon as he answered the third question, the Buddha disappeared. The beggar suddenly realized that he did not get to ask his own question. Depressed and hopeless, the beggar began walking back. He was sure that he was predestined to be a poor beggar.

On his way home, he met the turtle, who urgently wanted to know the answer to his question. The beggar said, “Please carry me across the river first.” After the turtle carried him across the river, the beggar said, “Don’t you think that you are too attached to the shell on your back?”

The turtle enlightened immediately. He removed his shell and gave it to the beggar, saying, “There are 24 priceless pearls in this shell. I give them to you as thanks for helping me!” Then, the turtle transformed into a dragon and flew away.

The beggar took the 24 lustrous pearls and continued walking home. He arrived at the temple and looked for the old monk. Naturally, the old monk was very anxious to know the answer to his question. The beggar said, “Do you think you have an attachment to the tin stick in your hand?” The old monk enlightened. As soon as he handed his tin stick to the beggar, he flew into the sky.

Finally, the beggar arrived at the landlord’s home. Before he could knock on the door, the daughter rushed out and shouted, “Father, the man who went to see the Buddha has returned!” The landlord was shocked upon hearing his daughter’s voice for the first time! He was so happy that his daughter could speak that he asked the beggar to marry his daughter.

Even though the poor beggar did not get to ask the Buddha about his fate, his fate was changed because he was altruistic and placed others’ needs before his own.


*Cultivate: To engage in cultivation, a method of self-refinement that could lead to immortality.


Suppose the beggar chose to ask his own question, I imagine the Buddha would have answered: because you could not let go of selfishness…

Amy November 30, 2023

Oh…I got goosebumps…

Greet August 10, 2023

This is a wonderful story! I sent it to my grandchildren who are 12 and 14 years old. It will be very helpful for them to read it. In the modern world, children are immersed in the world of electronic devices and games. It is very important to talk to them about true values, about good and evil, so that they make the right choice. Thank you!

Irene Reyzin July 29, 2023

I truly enjoy reading the articles/stories contained in advertisements you send.
Learning is a life-long experience and each story has provided valuable insight.
I’m 81 years old and remain on a path of learning and curiosity.
Thank you for providing these delightful stories.
The Shen Yun Collections are exquisite and I share them with family and friends.

Sharon July 29, 2023

Thank you for this story. It made me cry w happiness

michele baymor July 29, 2023

Wonderful wisdom!

S. Lee July 29, 2023

Sometime we cannot see the truth of how we are to help someone. Sometimes the help is to give food and something the help is to not give good. Having true clarity, you can see how you are to help others and how they are to help you.

Tammie Roitman July 29, 2023

I have always enjoyed your stories, whether they related to characters, of folk lores or philosophical. Please keep them coming. The accompanying artwork is wonderful. Thank you!

Bryan July 29, 2023

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