Thus I have heard, Gautam Buddha and his disciple Ananda were once coming from a faraway place. They lost their way – they were supposed to reach the city where they were going hours ago, but it was now almost sunset and there was no sign of the city. They can see far away into the distance, because they were on the heights of a hill. Ananda became very concerned and worried; Gautam Buddha was old, sick, and he needed some comfortable place to rest for the night. The whole day, in his old age and sickness, he had been just walking.
Just by the side, a wood cutter was collecting wood. Ananda asked him,”How far is the nearest town?” He said, ”Don’t be so depressed, it is not more than two miles.” That gave Ananda new and rejuvenated courage, and new energy. Buddha smiled. But Ananda could not understand why he smiled, but he remained silent, not wanting to bother him – he was already too tired.
Two miles passed, and there was no sign of the city. There was an old woman, who lived by the side of the road on her farm, and they ask her, “How far is the town?” She said, ”My sons, it will be not more than two miles. You have almost reached; it is just a little bit further.” Ananda said, ”But the other man was saying two miles, and this old woman is also saying two miles.” Buddha again laughed; he said, ”Perhaps it is two miles, let us try.”
Two miles passed and the town was still not anywhere in sight. They met another man who was going in the opposite direction. He certainly must know how far the town is – he is coming from the town, thought Ananda. Ananda, very excitedly, asked him,”How far is the town?” The man said, ”How far? It may be just two miles.” And Buddha laughed again.
Now it was too much. Ananda said, “We are tired and you are still laughing. And you must be laughing at me, because there is nobody else here. I am getting worried, because now it is getting dark, and we cannot even see any lights anywhere. And all these people are strange – everybody says two miles. We have already gone six miles, and it is still two miles. It seems the people of this area can only count up to two miles.”
Buddha said,”You don’t understand, Ananda. This is what I have been doing my whole life. Those people are very compassionate. They know it is not two miles, but they managed to push you six miles. Their lies… they were lying, but their lies were out of compassion. And that’s why I was laughing. I was not laughing at you, I was laughing because this is what I have been doing my whole life. When people ask, How far is enlightenment? – just two miles; just a few steps more, and you have already reached. And it remains always two miles. But this is how people go on progressing. They go on coming closer and closer and closer, but those two miles… they remain always there. So the people of this area are very compassionate and they completely understand human psyche.”