Tag Archives: Siddhartha

Mahabodhi

24 Jul

The scene appears simple enough. One man alone sitting under a tree.  Yet, the serenity of this moment was the equivalent of a spiritual earthquake in the history of mankind. There was a Great Awakening and the tree itself was transformed so much so that it became the parent of its own lineage of Sacred Banyan Fig trees and bore its own taxonomy — ficus religiosa.  There could be no other Bodhi trees elsewhere in the world if such trees could not be traced to the single tree that Siddhartha had sat under. So, what happened to Siddhartha himself? After the defeat of Mara, Siddhartha was no more. He had ceased. Instead, he was a transient being who neared the light. His understanding swelled and as he felt the final remnants of his mental struggles and doubts disintegrate, he passed through the light and he could see the world now from the light’s vantage point.  He understood the world as it truly was and realized the cause of suffering and how to remove it.  There were specific truths that were revealed to him and these truths formed the foundation of the steps one had to follow in order to eliminate suffering.  These truths were the answers to his quest. How simple they were!  They were right before him all along, but he could not see them because of the chains of ignorance and attachment that kept him in the dark. As he embraced this supreme knowledge, the light seeped through all his pores and consumed his body.  He had meditated under the tree for 49 days.  But, he did not thirst or hunger. His senses were not dulled. He was satiated and ebullient. When he at last opened his eyes, it was as if he was a newborn looking upon the world for the first time. There were no longer any flickering shadows or other earthly distractions. Feelings of pride, greed, covetousness, or worry that plague all people were unknown notions belonging to the someone he used to be.  He was free of these, but not completely.  He believed in the middle way and that included grappling with doubt from time to time. Was it his duty to teach?  Look how his companions had so easily turned their backs on him. Would he find anyone receptive to what he had discovered? Was the world ready? He was not convinced of this right away. He debated with himself and in so doing realized that was why he had to teach. There had to be exchange and discourse.  For what was the point of attaining Enlightenment if he was not willing to then demonstrate the perfections of what he had learned?  He thought of his 5 companions. They would need to see him and he would let them prod their doubting fingers into what he had to say. Only then would they understand how he had Awakened. Only then would they know him as the Buddha.

Tempt

23 Jul

With his strength restored, Siddhartha crossed the river. On the other side he walked down a small hill and entered a grove of large canopy-branched trees.  One particular tree caught his eye. It was cheery with bright green spade-like leaves. It was still a young tree, but it provided just the right amount of shade for him in order to sit underneath. He would not sit without some comfort this time, and so he bunched together clumps of grass and fallen leaves and made a cushion for himself.  His stomach was full and his mind clear. He positioned himself to face where the sun would rise and he would not get up from his seat until he had discovered the answers to what he was seeking. When that had happened the last vestige of the prince would be gone forever.  He then lapsed into a sublime meditative state, but the threat of what Siddhartha may become should he succeed was a threat to the ignorance that kept so much of the world spiritually comatose.  Evil had taken notice and would not sit idly by while Siddartha began to tap into the source of the light. Christ was baptized in the Jordan River and after that he wandered into the Judean desert where it is said he fasted for 40 days and nights in order to steady his resolve and prepare for his earthly ministry.  As with Siddhartha, evil took notice of Christ’s meditation in the desert and was determined to lead Christ astray by tempting him 3 times. The devil — one who had fallen from the light — first tempted Christ by enticing him to turn stones into bread.  Despite his pangs of hunger, Christ rebuffed the devil. So, the devil next took Christ up to a high temple and implored Christ to jump as the angels below would catch him and break his fall. Certainly, the angels would not let Christ’s feet hit one stone below.  Again, Christ refused. Lastly, the devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world from atop the lofty peak of a mountain and told Christ all the below could be his if only Christ fell to his knees and worshipped him. Christ’s defiance was absolute. “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” With those words, the devil vanished and Christ was now ready to begin.  As Siddhartha sat, the powers of Mara — the Lord of Evil — began their relentless bombardment. Mara hoped to break Siddhartha’s concentration through planting seeds of doubt, hatred, and violence in his mind. The skies darkened and a punishing storm threatened to uproot the tree and wash Siddhartha away. Yet, he sat firm and unmoved. Next, Mara sent his 3 daughters before Siddhartha to dance and entice with him sensual delights. When that had no effect, Mara sent visions of Siddhartha’s wife and son.  Such visions would have to thwart Siddhartha and remind of him of his longings. But nothing. Frustrated and angry, Mara attempted to take Siddhartha’s seat.  But, it was as if Siddhartha had grown roots that tied him to the tree. Mara shouted at Siddhartha and said no one could testify as to what he was doing and that he was worthy to have the seat.  Then, Mara’s forces all yelled their support of Mara and that the seat was rightfully his.  What would be Siddhartha’s response to this? His 5 companions had deserted him and he was completely alone. Then, a curious thing happened. While still in the throes of his meditation, the middle finger of his right hand moved and gently touched the earth. The skies suddenly opened and the sun shone again as if to say “I stand witness.” And with that, Mara retreated into the darkness.

Wilderness

22 Jul

Siddhartha was lost in the forest. He had made a break from all trappings of his former life and had nothing more than his conviction. He needed to learn to quiet his mind and realized he needed a teacher. He had heard of 2 Hindu masters and so he searched for them.  When he found them he explained his quest and how he could not keep his mind from darting from idea to doubt and back again.  The masters agreed to take on Siddhartha as their student and he studied all night and day with them. Weeks rolled by and then months. They taught him how to focus on his breath and to breathe in the world around him in the correct way. They showed him how to tame his body with his mind and to balance.  They explained that Siddhartha would never get on the true road that would lead towards the answers he wanted until he could still the world first and become one with it so that there was no external or internal but only one breath that rose and fell in unison.  Siddhartha mastered the art of meditation and his teachers were very pleased with him. Yet, within the deepest beatitudes of his meditative journeys, he still had not come any closer to discovering the way to end suffering.  His restlessness was noticed by his 2 masters and they told Siddhartha that perhaps he should go to another forest. This forest was much further south and in the heart of a thriving kingdom at that time. In that forest, there were others like Siddhartha living simply and freed of the shackles of attachments. So, Siddhartha began another long walk and headed toward Magadha.  He crossed parched plains and his feet were cracked and deep red like the clay he walked on day after day.  When at last he reached the forest, he saw that it was different from where he had just come from. This new forest was not densely stacked, but instead sprinkled with umbrella branched trees scattered across hills and gulleys with lakes and ponds in between.  Siddhartha felt an immediate connection to the area as if this was where he had been born. But, of course he was now far from Lumbini. He had entered a new land with its own King. This King had seen Siddhartha as he had entered into the kingdom and was intrigued by his presence. There was an air of determination about Siddhartha that captivated the King and so the King had summoned Siddhartha before him. When the King learned that Siddhartha himself had once been a prince, the King could barely contain his excitement. He knew there had to be reason why Siddhartha had so roused him. The King asked Siddhartha to stay in his palace and to help him rule. Siddhartha smiled and said he was after something else and that he only asked for the King’s consent to let him go into the forest of Magadha.  The King agreed but asked Siddhartha that should he ever find the answers to what he was looking for that he would return and teach it to him.  Siddhartha saw many different individuals in the forest. There were Brahmins, yoginis, sadhvis, and others.  But, Siddhartha was drawn to 5 individuals in particular who reminded him of that wandering man he had encountered. All 5 were ascetics and practiced the most extreme type of self-denial.  They only drank a spoonful of water after their mouths had completely dried and they thirsted like a man near death. They only allowed themselves individual grains of uncooked rice when they hungered. They slept on the forest floor with no matting and spent nearly all their time in meditation or in debate over how close each was to overcoming suffering in this world.  They each believed that through concentrated willpower they could conquer the sufferings normal people had to endure and achieve some kind of sublime peace of mind.  But, they did not how to articulate this in a way that they themselves could understand and they were also competitive with one another. They pushed the limits of their physical austerities.  When Siddhartha joined them they were leery at first. He seemed to be like any other interloper who was looking for some quick path to actualizing some limitation within him.  Yet, when they saw his seriousness and his highly skilled meditation practices, they grew to respect him and accepted Siddhartha within their ranks.  The 5 then became 6.  Day after day, they drove each other further and further as they took on more and more exposure to the elements around them. They accepted pain, hunger, the heat of the midday sun, the pounding rains of the monsoon, and the wild animals around them.  6 years went by like this and Siddhartha had become nothing more than an exposed rib cage with hollowed out eyes and drooping earlobes.  He had gotten no closer.  Doubt began to cloud his concentration and he was not able to maintain his meditation. He was just like that sick man he had first seen. He had become frail and weak and it was not just his body but his mind too. How could he get to the answers he sought when he barely had energy to draw in a breath?  As he lost his focus and came out of his meditation, his ears caught some faint echoes of music. He tapped into whatever reserves he had left in order to attune to the source of these sounds and heard strings being plucked and strummed. A musician must have been passing through the forest.  The music was so harmonious. He knew that to have such melodies come out of one instrument that instrument had to be in balance. The strings could not be too tight otherwise the notes would be sharp. If they were too loose, they would be flat. There had to be a tempered slackness to the strings so they could be struck and blend together. A compromise had to be attained between the sharp and flat.  He slowly came out of his repose and steadied himself with a stick as he found his legs. He was nothing more than a skeleton  and he was covered in dirt and rot. He went towards a river and began to wash himself. There, a woman appeared who planned on making an offering to the forest spirits who had blessed her with a child. When she saw Siddhartha, she thought he was one of those spirits and presented him with the milk rice dish she had prepared. Siddhartha nodded and accepted the bowl from the woman. What he did not know was that his 5 ascetic companions had been watching him. They had seen him break his meditation and followed his meander to the river. They were disgusted by the sight of Siddhartha accepting the food and eating it. This act had confirmed their initial doubts about him. The prince inside Siddhartha had won out and Siddhartha was not true to the spiritual quest like they were. They turned away from him and left the forest. They went out in search of a new wilderness in order to continue to their practice free from the abomination they had just observed. Siddhartha was enjoying his meal so much that he did not notice his companions leave. Siddhartha felt his body become alive again, and soon he felt that familiar stirring and it sharpened his mind.  He thanked the woman and told her he was not a spirit but only a man. A man searching for a path that would lead to the end of all suffering. Thanks to her, he had the strength now to get on that path. And for the first time he himself had a clear picture of what this was. A middle path.

Renunciation

20 Jul

There had to be complete emotional and physical detachment. Both were difficult. The emotional came first when Siddhartha told his father his plan to leave the palace and his family. His father did not understand this and was angered. He absolutely forbade Siddhartha to leave. Guards were even stationed at the palace gates that night. Siddhartha did not argue with his father and did not attempt to explain what it was that he was after. This was a quest and one that Siddhartha himself did not yet fully comprehend. He knew only that he had to get on the wandering path. Next was his wife and child. How could he explain his leaving to them? When he entered their room his child was asleep in his wife’s arms and so he let them lay. He wanted to pick up his son and hold him one last time. But, he feared waking him so he did nothing but observe. He took in every detail. His wife may have him felt Siddhartha’s presence and the beating of his heart standing above her. She was still though. It was as if she knew nothing could change his mind and so she slept. Then Siddhartha walked towards the gates and there – wondrously – his father’s guards slumbered! He could not believe his luck. As he readied himself to cross beyond the walls that had nested him for so many years, he saw his faithful driver. The same one that had taken him out on that first day. Siddhartha told him to tell his father and family that perhaps one day he would return after he had discovered a way out of suffering. Then they could truly be happy. There would no longer be the horrible invetability of decay and death hanging over them. His driver nodded and kissed him. Siddhartha disappeared into that dark night and walked deep until his legs tired. Now came the physical detachment. As he sat in a forested area, he began to shear off his hair. His hair was long and luxuriant. He cut off big locks at a time that soon covered the area around him like the remains of a kill. He continued until he could cut no more. He then stripped off his royal silk garb and put on the simple cloth wrap like the wandering man he had seen. He removed his footwear and sank his bare feet into the earth. He would know this world through only his senses from now on. It would start with the touch of his feet and continue to his hands, nose, ears, and eyes. He was not embarking on a life of self-denial as it would appear. Rather he intuited that to position himself to find the answers he sought, he had to start with no obstacles or hang-ups. This was his renunciation and was truly a blissful moment. It took such great courage to detach in this profound way and something that if done in the same manner today would certainly cause the same anger as that of his father. Compare this with what the Gospels tell about Mary. The Annunciation. “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” The ring of truth in this is her reaction to when the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will have the son of God. And what is her first reaction? She is troubled. Many Italian frescoes that still survive from the 13th century depict this moment and what is telling is that in nearly all of them Mary is shown in a very accepting and accommodating manner. She actual bows to Gabriel in many of them. Yet, there is one painting that is true to how the above describes Mary’s reaction. Mary is shown recoiling in horror and has her dress held above her as if to shield her eyes from Gabriel. So, now even the Annunciation appears to be, at least initially, an act of denial by Mary. But, 2000 years hence we do not remember this. It was the most joyous of occasions with no fear or doubt. Siddhartha had no otherworldly encounter that brought him to his moment. He had earthly visitations that had done so. So, when he made the decision to cast off his attachments -all his worldly possessions and emotional ties- it was only so that he would be free from those things that had to be responsible for bringing suffering. Without them, he would be free in his journey. But, how would he survive? Surely he would have to eat and take shelter. He worried about these things like any other man would. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. But, he had monkey mind. He needed technique and training to master this. He had no idea where he would go or how long it would take.

Beginning

19 Jul

Old Age and Death.  Siddhartha encountered these on his next 2 trips. The concept of Sickness had unsettled him, and now these next 2 provoked. They baited him. They were part of an arc connected to an unseen cycle. But what?  He would not ponder this until much later. “I will get old. This body of mine will surely break down and become feeble. Then death. End. And yet we gleefully glide through…for that?” That stirring he had felt now rose to his heart and he felt deep sadness and regret. We enter into this life and the journey seems to only be about leading us out. He was bogged down with this and his heart ached – not out of disappointment but something deeper – as if his life had been unrequited. He did not cast blame on anyone for this for he was just now starting to learn. That was not the fault of his father who only had loved and protected his son.  The perceptions of reality and collective consciousness of a peoples get passed on like any other legacy. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. It results in stability and heritage (most of time). But, at other times it may result in stagnation and after a while those same old perceptions and social mores become the shadows we watch and accept. We forget what makes them. Or we choose not to remember. Siddhartha was stirred. That could only come within. It was not something that could be taught. When he was moved to go out again even after the sleepless nights that had ensued after his grappling with the visions of Old Age and Death, he tried to brace himself for what he could possibly encounter next.  He walked far down the road leading away from the palace. He saw again some of the other past visions on his way and he took them in. Still they were strange to him but he continued on until he saw some weird amalgam of all the visions he had so far absorbed. It came in the form of a man who was crooked and breathless like the sick man he had first seen, wrinkled and white-haired like the old person he had seen, and draped in nothing more than a cloth – just like the one that had been wrapped around the dead man he had seen.  What was this then? He approached the man and asked him.  The man was surprised by the inquisitive nature of the Prince. Siddhartha was dressed in his regal robes and his long hair was perfumed and combed straight back.  The man sensed who Siddhartha was. He replied, “I am only a man who has long left his home. Determined never again to return until my search for a way out of suffering in this world comes to an end.”  Siddhartha had never heard such a riddle. “Do you mean until you die?” he replied. Siddhartha’s recent discovery of death was fresh in his mind. He viewed it with such finality that he could only interpret what these words had meant was that the only way to find a “way out” of suffering was to end your suffering, and the only “end” had to be death.  That’s how it had to be. The man smiled at Siddhartha and answered, “Death does not end suffering in this life. It just passes it on to the next.”  Siddhartha could say no more. He stood silently and looked at the man with a blank expression. He felt warmed however. As if standing by a fire just in its infancy. Its flames still light hues of orange and delicately trying to darken and get stronger. But, not yet anywhere close to roaring. The man smiled again at Siddhartha and walked away.  This strange man had been the tinder. That stirring that had so gripped Siddhartha had now reached his mind. It brought him focus. He knew what he had to. He would have to leave the palace and his family, and like the wandering man, he too had to figure out a way out of suffering. Otherwise, death would come between him and everyone he had ever loved anyway. And what would then be the point of remaining confined within those walls and being content to allow the dancing to simply play out while watching and doing nothing?  He could never be happy with that especially after what he knew now.  He had to cast himself out. But, he wanted to say good-bye first. It seems you always have to begin with good-bye.

Apple

18 Jul

Plato wrote of humans chained in metaphoric caves of their own minds. We were content to watch the shadows on the walls from our chained positions and believed those shadows were reality.  How they danced and entranced us. We sat there watching them skip, move, fade in and flash out. Most people would never be able to unbind themselves from the trappings of their minds and get outside themselves to see what caused the shadows. To find the light.  Was it then so strange that Siddhartha was baffled at what he saw?  Though he was 29 what had he known?  The shadows had captivated and nurtured him.  He lived in the garden so to speak, but he also knew desire and had accepted its sensual gifts. While on this day the Apple of forbidden knowledge appeared before him, there was no fall with Siddhartha. The dichotomy of the East and the West appears. Adam was cast out of Eden after the bite.  Knowledge had specifically been kept away from him.  With greater understanding into his world and deeper insight into himself and Eve what would have happened? Imbalance, fear, and suffering? Siddhartha would learn of such things too, but after his taste there was first wonder. An ashen faced man doubled-over and feverish was in front of Siddhartha. The poor man tried feebly to muffle his cough in front of his Prince, but his hacking only got worse. His eyes welled up with puss and his skin was knotted and hanging off him in places. “This is sickness,” his carriage driver said. Siddhartha’s eyes got big. “Sickness?”.  He had heard that word somewhere. Perhaps in the tales he had heard as a youth. But, it was just a fantastical concept. He had never seen a sick person nor had he experienced sickness himself.  Now he was face to face.  His wonder began to fade.  If this man was sick, who else could have such sickness?  He felt something stir inside. It was an odd feeling and one that he could not place. It was guttural as if in his stomach. His heart and mind were still clear, but the stirring was to make its way up. It was moving. Siddhartha had to return to the palace. He turned away from the sick man and thought about his father, mother, wife, and child. Could they all become sick too? He could not banish the image of the sick man from his mind. He had to get outside the walls again.

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