I first read the parable of Enyadatta in The Three Pillars of Zen by Roshi Philip Kapleau. I eventually tracked down the original (possibly) story to The Surangama Sutra, one of the Buddhist sutras in the Mahayana tradition. In that version the name and gender of Enyadatta were different. I will excerpt Kapleau's version of the story below, followed by my interpretation.
Enyadatta was a beautiful maiden who enjoyed nothing more than gazing at herself in the mirror each morning. One day when she looked into her mirror she found no head reflected there. The shock was so great that she became frantic, rushing around demanding to know who had taken her head. "Who has my head? Where is my head? I shall die if I don't find it!" she cried. Though everyone told her, "Don't be silly, your head is on your shoulders where it has always been," she refused to believe it. "No, it isn't! No, it isn't! Somebody must have taken it!" she shouted, continuing her frenzied search. At length her friends, believing her mad, dragged her home and tied her to a pillar to prevent her harming herself.
Slowly her close friends persuaded her that she had always had her head, and gradually she came to half-believe it. Her subconscious mind began to accept the fact that perhaps she was deluded in thinking she had lost her head.
Suddenly one of her friends gave her a terrific clout on the head, upon which, in pain and shock, she yelled "Ouch!" "That's your head! There it is!" her friend exclaimed, and immediately Enyadatta saw that she had deluded herself into thinking she had lost her head when in fact she had always had it.
When this happened to Enyadatta she was so elated that she rushed around exclaiming, "Oh, I've got it! I have my head after all! I'm so happy!" As her joy subsided Enyadatta recovered from her half-mad state.
My interpretation: We drive ourselves mad searching through life for things to make us happy and fulfilled, when in reality we are already complete and have everything we need.
Last modified April 5, 2009