I vaguely recall reading this story before, possible from the Suttas. Can anyone tell me the scriptural source? (Not looking for modern re-telling such as those by Ven Thich Nhat Hanh.)


"A young widower, who loved his five year old son very much, was away on business when bandits came who burned down the whole village and took his son away. When the man returned, he saw the ruins and panicked. The took the burnt corpse of an infant to be his son and cried uncontrollably. He organised a cremation ceremony, collected the ashes and put them in a beautiful little bag which he always kept with him. Soon afterwards, his real son escaped from the bandits and found his way home. He arrived at his father's new cottage at midnight and knocked at the door. The father, still grieving asked: "Who is it?" The child answered, it is me papa, open the door!" But in his agitated state of mind, convinced his son was dead, the father thought that some young boy was making fun of him. He shouted: "Go away" and continued to cry. After some time, the child left. Father and son never saw each other again." After this story, the Buddha said: "Sometime, somewhere, you take something to be the truth. If you cling to it so much, even when the truth comes in person and knocks on your door, you will not open it." (http://viewonbuddhism.org/resources/buddhist_stories.html)

  • Fwiw Ven. Yuttadhamma Bhikkhu has been telling this story in his videos, no closer to the source tho.
    – user8527
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 12:22

3 Answers 3


As mentioned in another answer the story as written is published in at least one book by Thich Nhat Hanh. The following is copied from Being Peace, it's slightly more elaborate than the version you posted (e.g. "velvet bag" instead of "little bag") but with many of the same phrases:

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Thay doesn't attribute a source for this story.

The next story on the page of stories which you linked to, i.e. Angry Buddha, is attributed to Being Peace -- so I suppose that probably is where they found the Lost Son story too.

I gather that the Vietnamese tradition is eclectic so in theory Thay might have gathered that story from anywhere, but I think the content or 'moral' of the story suggests it probably is from the Mahayana or Zen tradition.

  • 1
    I did search on fakebuddhaquotes.com to see whether this might be listed there -- sometimes that site reveals that a misquote is an inaccurate paraphrase of something from a sutta -- but it didn't list this one. I do think that the moral of this one sounds like a Zen preoccupation i.e. that "the illusion of knowledge is an obstacle". Warning people against "wrong views" is a feature of the "early Buddhist doctrine" too, but... this seems to warn against "fixed views" or "attaching to a view", which might also be inferred from the suttas but isn't so prominent a theme.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 18:01
  • I know of Ven TNH having this among his stories. I believe it has a scriptural source though. Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 0:51

Venerable, sadly, I could find no such reference in SuttaCentral. I performed a search for son, which revealed 730 results. None of those results had the words "ashes". And of the 20 results with "father", none revealed a story related to your search.

If there is such a story, it lies beyond the scope of what I could find in SuttaCentral, which does include Jataka stories. Unfortunately I'm not entirely sure of the extent of English translations on SuttaCentral. Perhaps such a story has yet to be translated and recorded in SuttaCentral.

What I did find was a relatable sutta addressing the panic/fear of the first part of the story:

SN1.55:1.1: “What gives birth to a person? What do they have that runs about? What enters transmigration? What’s their greatest fear?” “Craving gives birth to a person. Their mind is what runs about. A sentient being enters transmigration. Suffering is their greatest fear.”

And I found a relatable sutta addressing the delusion in the second part of the story:

AN3.111:1.4: Any deed that emerges from greed, hate, or delusion—born, sourced, and originated from greed, hate, or delusion—is unskillful, blameworthy, results in suffering, and leads to the creation of more deeds, not their cessation.

The story illuminates these two principles in a very concrete way that is easy to understand.


  • Thanks, but does SuttaCentral have suttas in English translation? Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 0:49
  • Yes. SuttaCentral has multiple English translations where copyright permits. Ajahn Sujato and Brahmali's own English translations are without restriction. Jatakas will eventually follow with contemporary translations as possible. SuttaCentral is also actively engaged with translations to other contemporary languages, such as German, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, etc.
    – OyaMist
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 14:49
  • Oh, sorry. I meant to say "does SuttaCentral have all suttas in English translation". Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 7:19
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    @KumāraBhikkhu I think so yes. Its Introduction says, "We have gathered translations of early texts in over thirty modern languages. ... We have published an entirely new translation of the four Pali nikāyas by Bhikkhu Sujato, which is the first complete and consistent English translation of these core texts. And Bhikkhu Brahmāli is producing a much-needed modern and accurate translation of the Pali Vinaya." I think that Ven. Sujato translated all the suttas except for the Khuddaka Nikāya, plus they have other people's translations of most everything.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 9:11
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    @KumāraBhikkhu It has a discussion forum too, in case you'd like to ask your question there -- discourse.suttacentral.net. One of the good things IMO about Ven. Sujato's translations is that (by changing the Settings) you can display them side-by side (line by line) with the Pali, i.e. to see what (Pali words) he translated.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 9:34

The way it is told seems like a jakata tale, ie a little story about lay people being morons, then some sentence from the buddha, so probably a story from the jakata (in pali or some equivalent version in other collection) and mixed with the twisted version by the mahayanists of the Discourse to Dīghanakha https://suttacentral.net/mn74/en/sujato to feed their infatuation with ''enlightenment as having no views'', the ''two truth'' doctrine, the ''four noble truth and 8 fold path of the suttas is just a skillful mean given by the buddha to non-mahayanists and not the real teaching" and so on. https://books.google.com/books?id=kl8QBwAAQBAJ chapter 32

  • Is there an animated GIF here for slow nodding? Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 8:05
  • Nice link to MN 74
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 18:38

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