Too Much Reading (also the Buddha)

I am taking two reading heavy classes this quarter (my college has 3 ten week quarters instead of 2 whatever week semesters), so I don’t think I’m going to be getting much pleasure reading done in the next ten weeks. The focus of the blog might be a little different, as I ruminate about Russian soul, African American soul, and Buddhism, though I’ll still post links and things from around the internet.

Let me tell you a story that I heard^ (most suttas, which are kind of but not really like Bible verses, begin, “This is what I have heard.”). There was once a great king of a small kingdom. Being a king, he was of the Kshatriya class^^. His wife, Queen Maya*, was pregnant with his first son. She had a strange dream during her pregnancy of a large white tusked elephant entering her side. On the day she was to give birth the Queen went to the garden. Her water broke and she lifted her right arm and gripped a tree branch tightly. Shakyamuni, which means “Sage of the Shakyas,” Buddha or Gotama, the family name, Buddha then did a very strange thing. He stood up and said, “In this life I will attain Awakening.” After this, he became a normal baby and cried and stuff. That is how the Buddha was born.

This is what I have heard. Shakyamuni Buddha’s father sent for a sage to tell his son’s fortune, and because of his strange birth, he told the sage to hurry. Alas, the Queen died before he arrived, exactly seven days after her son’s birth. His mother’s younger sister, his aunt, raised him ever after. When the sage arrived, he examined the young Buddha’s body. He found 32 major marks and 80 minor marks. “This is very auspicious!” he told the king. “Your son has two possible outcomes. He may become a king of the known world, rule with fairness, and be loved by his subjects. Or he may become a king of himself, a buddha.” The king wanted for his son all that he wanted for himself and more and asked the sage, “That first one sounds good! How can I insure that outcome?” The sage nodded, “Easy peasy: let him see no suffering. Let him not know what suffering is.” The king took the sage’s advice to heart. His son was not allowed outside the palace grounds and was given everything a child and then a young man could desire. He ate sumptuously, slept in a great bed with many women, and did not want for a thing. That is how the Buddha spent his youth.

This is what I have heard. When Shakymuni Buddha was 14, he was wandering his father’s land. He stopped underneath a tree on a hill and watched farmers working in a field some distance away. The breeze was light and he could not remember feeling more relaxed or pleasant than he did in that moment. He let all his worries and all his thoughts drift from him. After some time, he got up and walked back to the palace and soon forgot the peace and freedom he felt in that meditative state. Two years after that he got married. One night, ten years later, he woke up in the middle of the night. He was in his great bed with many women, but he felt nothing but discontentment. Perhaps the bed was too soft or one of the women was snoring or another was drooling. Perhaps he found drool on his own chin. Whatever the reason, he resolved that he was not satisfied with his current life and that the next day, he and his loyal royal charioteer would leave the palace grounds and he would see the world. And so, the next day, he and his loyal royal charioteer left the palace grounds. They went to a nearby village and on the outskirts of town they passed by an old man.
“What is that?” the Buddha asked.
The charioteer looked at the Buddha curiously. “That is an old man. This happens to everybody. Every person gets old,” replied the charioteer.
“Huh,” the Buddha said. “That is enough for today. I have much to ponder.” And so Shakyamuni Buddha and the loyal royal charioteer went back to the palace. The Buddha stayed up very late thinking about this. Have you really thought about getting old? Every person ages, it is unavoidable. Especially those of you who are young, have you really thought about what that means? I doubt it.** The next day, the Buddha asked to ride out again. This time they made it to the village gate and then, there, Buddha saw a sick person.
“What is that?” the Buddha asked.
The charioteer almost laughed. “That is a sick person. This happens to everybody. Every person gets sick,” replied the charioteer.
“Huh,” the Buddha said. “That is enough for today. I have much to think about.” And so Gotama Buddha and the loyal royal charioteer returned to the palace. The Buddha, again, stayed up much of the night thinking deeply about sickness. Have you thought deeply about sickness? Truly, every person gets sick, it is unavoidable. Have you really thought about what that means? I doubt it. The next day, the Buddha asked to go again to the village. On this third trip, they made it inside the village gate and then, there, the Buddha saw a corpse.
“What is that?” the Buddha asked.
This time the charioteer could not hide his surprise. “Gotama, that is a dead person. This happens to everybody. Every person dies,” replied the charioteer.
“Huh,” the Buddha said. “That is enough for today. I have much to contemplate.” And so Shakyamuni Buddha and the loyal royal charioteer turned back towards the palace. Late into the night, the Buddha thought and thought about death. Have you thought and thought about death? Every person dies, it is unavoidable. Have you really thought about that, and what it means? I doubt it. The next day, the Buddha and the charioteer went back to the village, this time going all the way into its heart. Then, there, the Buddha saw a man with a shaved head and rags for clothes.
“What is that?” the Buddha asked.
“That is an ascetic, a man who has renounced the world and chosen his own path,” replied the charioteer.
The Buddha did not respond to this. He was caught by the expression of purity and peace on the ascetic’s face. Without uttering a word, the two returned, once more, to the palace. On this day, Gotama Buddha resolved to seek Awakening, to end suffering for himself and all mankind, and become an ascetic. That is how the Buddha first experienced suffering.

This is what I have heard. When the Buddha came home on the fourth and final day of his explorations, he found that his wife had given birth to a son. He named his son Rahula. Let me tell you the meaning of that name. The first meaning is a fetter which, as you know, is a chain or rope tied around one’s ankle to keep one from escaping. The purpose of a fetter is restraint. The second meaning comes from Rahu, who is the astronomical snake who swallows the sun and moon, causing them to disappear. This is obviously inauspicious, and so the second meaning is a sign of trouble. You may take from these meanings that Shakyamuni Buddha had conflicted feelings surrounding the birth of his son. Still, soon after his son’s birth, the Buddha left the palace and went into the forest. He studied under a renowned religious teacher. Shakyamuni Buddha mastered his teacher’s technique, and the teacher was thrilled. “Come, you may now teach with me!” But the Buddha was not satisfied. He had not attained freedom. He went to five other teachers and repeated the process. Still he had not reached Awakening. He decided to find his own path. He did, and it involved remembering the day he reached a meditative state under the tree. After some time, at long last, underneath a bodhi tree, he achieved true Awakening. After coming down from this bliss, he thought, I cannot teach this to anyone! And if I cannot become a teacher, the only thing left for me is death. And so he chose to die.

THE END.

Just kidding. A spirit came to him and begged him not to die. The spirit told him that he could teach his technique and that many people would follow and understand him. The spirit told him that, with his help, other people could attain liberation. The Buddha thought about this. Though he had his doubts that any of mankind could overcome delusion and cravings, the spirit convinced him.*** That is how the Buddha became a buddha, which literally means an awakened one.

And so the Buddha immediately started getting followers, the whole known world fell under his sway, until Indians decided they didn’t care for Enlightenment anymore. Most of the rest of Asia does, though! Whooooo.

Anyway, that is the end of my story. I’m sorry it was so long. Tomorrow I will tell you why I told it.

^I don’t want to hear that my story isn’t correct. This is how it was told to me (except for my embellishments, like giving the loyal royal charioteer some character). Besides, obsession about how the Buddha really lived isn’t productive. His importance lies in the teachings ascribed to him, not the man himself. Also, no complaining about how I’ve spelled things. I’ve seen all of these spelled differently (oftentimes it’s the difference between a Pali vs. Sanskrit translation)!
^^The second highest class/caste, after brahmins. Kshatriyas were the warriors and rulers.
*Sidenote: There is a professor at my school who named her daughter Maia. Not after this queen, mind you, but after Maiasaura. “Mommy, why did you name me Maia?” “Well, honey, I love dinosaurs, plus you have that great big duck jaw!”
**Yes, my professor really said this. Yes, I wanted to bite his head off.
***Also some crap about how the Buddha with his infinite empathy wanted to ease mankind of suffering and it was what he wanted from the beginning and “Well, if you say so, Mr. Spirit.”

Advertisements

One thought on “Too Much Reading (also the Buddha)

  1. I’d heard this story before, a LONG time ago, but I’d forgotten most of it, so thank you for telling it to me again. It’s definitely interesting. And weird. And I completely understand the desire to write fanfiction from the secondary characters’ POVs. The loyal royal charioteer (or at least, the character you gave him) is one of the best parts of this, and I’d love to see what the Buddha’s auntie thought about the whole thing.

    Is it tomorrow yet?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s