Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Two Stories at Sedaka

I woke up the day before yesterday with the words "synthesis of sedakans, Tipitaka" in my head. I thought the Tipitaka were the "three marks of existence", but that apparently is the "tilhakhanna". The Tipitaka is of course the "three baskets of truth" in the Buddhist literature. And apparently there is a Sutta Sedaka within it, sometimes spelled Sedakam, in fact two of them, two stories which the Buddha told the people of Sedaka. They are instructive I think: 

Love, look after and trust yourself is the best way to love, look after and trust others.

Do not be taken in by that which seduces others, but stay upright, vigilant and mindful as if your life depended on it.

The Acrobat
The Buddha addressed the monks:

Once upon a time, monks, a bamboo acrobat, setting himself upon his bamboo pole, addressed his assistant Medakathalika: "Come you, my dear Medakathalika, and climbing up the bamboo pole, stand upon my shoulders." "Okay, master" the assistant Medakathalika replied to the bamboo acrobat; and climbing up the bamboo pole she stood on the master's shoulders. So then the bamboo acrobat said this to his assistant Medakathalika: "You look after me, my dear Medakathalika, and I'll look after you. Thus with us looking after one another, guarding one another, we'll show off our craft, receive some payment, and safely climb down the bamboo pole." This being said, the assistant Medakathalika said this to the bamboo acrobat: "That will not do at all, master! You look after yourself, master, and I will look after myself. Thus with each of us looking after ourselves, guarding ourselves, we'll show off our craft, receive some payment, and safely climb down from the bamboo pole. That's the right way to do it!"

The Buddha said:
Just like the assistant Medakathalika said to her master: "I will look after myself," so should you, monks, practice the establishment of mindfulness. You should (also) practice the establishment of mindfulness (by saying) "I will look after others." Looking after oneself, one looks after others. Looking after others, one looks after oneself. And how does one look after others by looking after oneself? By practicing (mindfulness), by developing (it), by doing (it) a lot. And how does one look after oneself by looking after others? By patience, by non-harming, by loving kindness, by caring (for others). (Thus) looking after oneself, one looks after others; and looking after others, one looks after oneself.

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Sumbhas. Now there is a Sumbhan town named Sedaka. There the Blessed One addressed the monks, "Monks!" 

"Yes, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "Suppose, monks, that a large crowd of people comes thronging together, saying, 'The beauty queen! The beauty queen!' And suppose that the beauty queen is highly accomplished at singing & dancing, so that an even greater crowd comes thronging, saying, 'The beauty queen is singing! The beauty queen is dancing!' Then a man comes along, desiring life & shrinking from death, desiring pleasure & abhorring pain. They say to him, 'Now look here, mister. You must take this bowl filled to the brim with oil and carry it on your head in between the great crowd & the beauty queen. A man with a raised sword will follow right behind you, and wherever you spill even a drop of oil, right there will he cut off your head.' Now what do you think, monks: Will that man, not paying attention to the bowl of oil, let himself get distracted outside?"

"No, lord."

"I have given you this parable to convey a meaning. The meaning is this: The bowl filled to the brim with oil stands for mindfulness immersed in the body. Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it a grounding, steady it, consolidate it, and undertake it well.' That is how you should train yourselves."

Photo: "Ninette de Valois" (1914).

Originally posted on Buddhist Travelers
aspara121: Okei, Thanks for posting the wonderful parable along with the unique image of the dancer. Both are a wonderful illustration of how we can train ourselves, especially if we imagine that a man with a raised sword will cut our heads off if we forget to practice mindfulness. *ouch!*

hadiwong: The parable of the acrobatic monks seems to indicate that the way of the arahant is more prudent than the way of the bodhisattva.
skyflash: Avuso,
My understanding is that each has to decide how far one can go .. individually.
A teacher always cite the example. PhD will be the best for everyone, but why not everyone want to be a Phd? Likewise, not everyone has the same aspirations, and even resources. Arahantship is what's practical for some, while Bodhisattva path is for some. (Based on my limited understanding through Diamond Sutra, a Bodhisattva is one who to be able to *see* (not just knowing the theory of) non-self).
Which is more prudent? it depends like everything else. With the appropriate conditions, this arises. When conditions changes, this fallen, and that arises.
For considerations, with metta.

hadiwong: Skyflash, I gained much wisdom from your input.
*bow respectfully and gratefully*

okei: I think this applies even to the bodhisattva, striving for the freedom of all sentient beings. It is through mindfulness and looking after self, that one knows best how to serve others. And it also reminds me something I read about meditation not being for any selfish motive, but done in a universal spirit also for the sake of all beings... the intent is "universal", for the love of all, but the intention is "concentrated".

okei: I do wonder though if "sedaka" has a meaning beyond just being the name of the town. Just idle curiosity though!
Update (Dec. 2013): Since writing the blog back in 2010, I became aware that "sedaka" means charity in Hebrew, and "sadaqat" means alms in Arabic... I never knew that! It surely meant the same in Pali also. The deeper wisdom is that looking after oneself is a kind of charity to others: "looking after oneself, one looks after others". Indeed, as Buddha says in the Dhammapada:
Don’t neglect your task
For another’s, though their need
May be great indeed.

Your task is to find
Your task and with all your heart
Give yourself to it.
And conversely, as long as we do not neglect ourselves, "looking after others, one looks after oneself." Charity and good deeds reflect back and benefit ourselves.
Thanks to D for reminding me of this post.

Monday, 19 July 2010

First Noble Truth (Interactive): what is the nature of our experience of life?

The First Noble Truth is the first of four Truths that the Buddha taught in his very first discourse after enlightenment, now known as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, literally “the discourse that sets the vehicle of teaching in motion”. These four truths seek to awaken us to an understanding of (1) the nature of life, (2) the origin of life, (3) the purpose of life, and (4) the way of fulfilling life’s purpose. 

This quartet of nature, origin, purpose and way is thus a paradigm of Buddhist philosophy. The first object of enquiry might have been “the world”, but Buddha like Descartes two thousand years later saw the need to ground his philosophy in subjective experience, in “life”.

1. What, in your opinion, is the foundation ground of knowledge that, through its understanding, all else will fall into place? 

God? The universe? Life? 

Unlike traditional Western philosophy, Buddha’s epistemological quest is intensely spiritual both in its purpose and its process. Buddha showed little interest in metaphysics or speculations in general except where they were of use in helping accomplish the difficult and personal process of awakening to the truth of life. The Four Noble Truths are found not in the statements themselves, but in our meditative contemplation and understanding of them. This is described in the teaching as a threefold process, though there is actually a zeroth stage that is taken for granted: (0) the opening the heart to the discovery of truth, (1) knowing or at least believing that we know the truth, (2) acting on the truth, putting into practicing what we know, and (3) awakening, for once we are fully awakened to a truth, then the truth acts on us. 

This quartet of being open to, knowing, acting on and being truth thus forms a paradigm for Buddhist ethics. So, the ethical quest is founded by truth, and conversely, we shall see on reading the Four Noble Truths that the seeds of truth are planted in the noble ground of ethics. The Four Noble Truths are so-called because the process of engaging with them is ennobling. And this is the purpose of this blog.

2. What, in your opinion, is the nature of our experience that we call life?

Consciousness? Growth? Unpredictability? Imperfection? Insubstantiality? Fun?

I pass the blog over to you! You can answer in any way you like, but let it be an expression of "life"... I want it to come from you.

Second Noble Truth (Interactive) follows here:

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Grace Lin

Genre: Literature & Fiction
Author:A girl and a dragon looking for fortune
Advantages: spellbinding creativity, intricately woven subplots, beautiful illustrations
Disadvantages: narrative quality in sections

The little girl Minli, inspired by the stories of her father and despite the exasperation of her mother at the foolishness of such stories, yearns to find the Old Man of the Moon who alone knows the answer to all her questions: how can the people of her village escape from poverty?, how can the barren Fruitless Mountain be made to bear fruit?, how can she change her family's fortune? This is no small problem. The people of her village work tirelessly from dawn till dusk to grow rice, and then they eat the rice they grow. This frugal existence seems to have no hope of improving for the better. The only light is the humanity with which life is lived, characterised by the telling of stories.

One day, through an act of generosity to a talking goldfish, she receives a lead in her quest, and, acting on it, she runs away from her beloved parents to fulfil the dream of bringing them a better life. She saves a dragon who can't fly from its lake of tears who then joins her, and together they meet many others along the way.

Everything has a purpose. Everything is alive. Each person or animal has a story. The stories are incredibly creative, inspired by elements of traditional Chinese folklore, and elaborately and intricately woven to make a fine tapestry of a book. This is the book's strength and it is beautiful how the author succeeds in tying up all the disparate strands of plot in the end. Together with the beauty of the author's own full-page colour illustrations, including the cover, the quality of the printing and the hardcover binding, this makes for a very beautiful book and a lovely gift to any child or any lover of folktales.

The only drawback I would say is a slight dip in the quality of the narrative in places and the sometimes tired manner of building suspense. But then, this is not a masterpiece of literature, but a tale intended for children which adults will thoroughly enjoy.

Finally, the book has been compared by some to "The Wizard of Oz". Both are heartwarming fantasies involving a girl on a quest for a mysterious saviour, but this is no Chinese re-make of a western classic. The underlying structure and themes and message are all different. It reminded me more of "Monkey" by Wu Ch'eng-en, but without the testosterone. Unlike "The Wizard of the Oz", the story has a multiplicity, shifting regularly for example to the parents awaiting their daughter's return, and these episodes are used with varying success to build suspense and convey new information. While, the Wizard of Oz turns out to be a fraud, the same is not true of the Old Man of the Moon, and there isn't quite the same sense of disappointment. But in both books, many of the answers the characters were looking for are found within themselves. Yet also in both, the journey was necessary. While in "The Wizard of Oz", courage and fear are discovered to be two sides of the same coin, in "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon", the underlying focus is rather on gratitude and generosity. But if this were merely a moral tale of acceptance and gratitude, it would be self-defeating because had it not been for dissatisfaction and the desire for something greater, then Minli would never have set out on her quest. Rather, everything has a reason. And do not underestimate the little dreamer! For, however impossible things may seem, they will often find a way.

Summary: A heartwarming fantasy, and a perfect gift for the child or the child-at-heart.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Music of Life

Can you hear the clash of cymbals
Echoing through the chamber hall?
Can you see the smiling dimples
Of children at the curtain call?

What discordant harmony then
As the audience stands up and leaves,
Except for one who takes his pen
And frantically a poem weaves:

“The night is young, so let’s go out
The music’s stopped, but we’ll pick up
Where it left off, or thereabout
In real life without a hiccup.” 

He rushes out after his crush
To slip the note into her hand
The hall lies empty now and hush,
Time stops... until the next big band.

Late that night, the heart skips a beat,
The janitor didn’t lock the door!
Creak! Click! Voices… then scuttling feet
Could a rehearsal be in store?

A jump on stage, a giggling thud,
A boy and girl without a doubt.
The bee has found his blooming bud
And in the darkness they make out. 

And so we leave the growing sighs
Echoing through the chamber hall,
And in the night with sparkling eyes
Rejoice the love that burns in all.