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.


  1. wonderful post & always a good reminder :) if i can provide one more word: in malay, charity is called "sedekah" ! i guess, to take care of oneself is always the best we can do sometimes if we want to truly help others. it's cyclical. taking care of others also helps us take care of ourselves! it's good for us spiritually, emotionally. as a contemporary, everyday example, it's why mums are asked to wear oxygen masks first before they attend to their babies.