Two Philosophical Stories About Fulfilling a Debt

Zen basalt stones and bamboo.

No matter the wealth we own or the position we hold in life, there are other people to whom we will still find ourselves in debt. (Image: Scorp37 via Dreamstime)

No matter our wealth or position in life, there are other people to whom we will still find ourselves in debt. Here are two philosophical stories that showcase this.

A man attempting suicide was rescued in a temple

As the man slowly aroused from his stupor, he spied the Abbot and realized his suicide attempt had been thwarted. In acknowledgment, he said: “Thank you, Abbot; you needn’t waste your time and effort saving me, as I have decided not to live anymore. I will end my life tomorrow if I don’t die today!”

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The Abbot sighed: “I really can’t stop you. First, however, I need to ask you, have you paid off all your debts?”

Surprised by the question, the man replied: “Although my family is poor, I have enough food and clothing, and I have never borrowed any money.”

The Abbot wisely said: “Your life was given to you by your parents, so you owe them a debt; your food, clothing, and other needs are from the mountains and rivers of the world, so you owe a debt to the world; your knowledge and wisdom were from your teacher, so you owe a debt to your teacher… The debts that people owe in their lifetime are too many. Have you paid them all?”

You owe your parents a debt because they gave you life.
You owe your parents a debt because they gave you life. (Image: Andrew Angelov via Dreamstime)

The man said in panic: “So I do have debts! How do I pay them back?”

The Abbot smiled and said: “Where’s the difficulty? All that’s required is to embrace one word — cherish. Then, act on cherishing everything and everyone in your life.”

Enlightened by this encounter, the man bowed to the Abbot a few times; he walked out of the temple revitalized, eager to face the world once more.

True and enduring love

One morning, an 80-year-old man went to see a doctor to remove his stitches. Instead, the receptionist told him that the doctor was busy operating on a patient. 

The old man sat and waited patiently but constantly kept glancing at his watch. Finally, a nurse hurriedly approached and started chatting with the man. She invited him to sit down and removed the gauze layer by layer.

The nurse asked the man: “Why are you in such a hurry?”

The old man responded: “I have an appointment with someone. Sorry to trouble you!”

The nurse pondered silently, “This old man doesn’t have to go to work, so what is making him so pressed for time?”

The man continued to speak: “I’m going to the nursing home to have breakfast with my wife.”

Elderly woman with a cane stands with her back to the camera, look out a window by a ledge filled with plants and a watering can.
The man was in a hurry because he was going to the nursing home to see his wife. (Image: Piksel via Dreamstime)

The nurse asked: “Why does she live in a nursing home?”

He replied: “She has had Alzheimer’s for some time now.”

Having removed the stitches, the nurse glanced at her watch. “Oh! If you are late, will your wife worry about you?”

“No, she hasn’t recognized me for the past five years. She doesn’t know if I’m coming or not!”

Quizzing him further, the nurse asked: “She hasn’t recognized you for 5 years!? So why do you still go every morning?”

The old man smiled. While patting the nurse’s hand, he said: She doesn’t recognize me, but I recognize her, so that’s all that matters.”

He slowly stood up, turned, and walked away. The nurse looked at his departing form, and tears slowly began to fall.

Overcome with emotion; she thought: “This is the true and enduring love I’m looking for: ‘She doesn’t recognize me, but I recognize her, so that’s all that matters.’ This simple statement contains endless unconditional love.”

This is a case of genuinely fulfilling one’s marital debt.

Translated by Patty Zhang 

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