It happened once upon a time that a man died, and his son was very concerned that he should do whatever religious duties were necessary so that his father would go to heaven. He went to one temple, and then another, but he wasn’t sure of the effect. Then he heard that the monk Gautama – the Buddha himself – was sitting in meditation on the edge of the village, and so he went to implore his help.
When the man found Gautama, who was sitting under a tree near a pond, he seized his feet in supplication, and begged him to make sure that his father would be granted immediate entry into heaven. “World honoured one,” said the man, “you have this power, I know! Do not refuse my request.”
Gautama looked at the man for a moment, and then said, “To accomplish this, you must first go home, fill a pot half with rocks and half with butter, and then come back here.”
The man did as Gautama told him. Because it was for the sake of his father, he chose the biggest pot he had When it was half full of rocks and half full of butter, it was very heavy. Then he returned with the pot to Gautama, and the Buddha said, “Now circumambulate this pond seven times.”
With determination, the man began to piously walk around the pond, carrying the heavy pot. After seven circuits he came to stand again in front of Gautama, who said, “Now take the pot into the water. Let it sit on the bottom of the pond.”
This the man did.
“Now,” said the monk, “take a big stick, and break the pot. But you must break it with only a single blow. And if the rocks float and the butter sinks to the bottom, your father’s progress to heaven is assured.”
Exhausted, but frantic to fulfil his duty, the man found the biggest stick he could, and with all his remaining strength, drove the stick through the water to break the pot. But to his dismay, the stones did not float – the butter did. The stones sank to the bottom of the pond.
Clambering out of the water, the man came to the Buddha and said, “World Honoured One – you said that the stones should float, but how can that be? It is the law of nature that butter floats, and stones sink. Did you deceive me?”
Gautama smiled. “If you know about the laws of nature, then where is the problem? If your father is like butter, he will float upward. If he is like stone, he will sink. What can you or I or anyone do to change the laws of nature?”