Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"A Good Friend" (Jataka Tale)

Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly; Ken and Visakha Kawasaki, Jataka Tales of the Buddha, Part III, Silanisamsa Jataka: "A Good Friend" (Jat 190); Malalasekera, Ven. Nyanatiloka
The Buddha standing under a harvest Moon, Thailand (HappySUN/

Shakyan/Scythian "Men With Dragons" (nagas) Saka/Sakka royal gold artifacts (wiki)
The Buddha told this story at Jeta's Grove monastery about a pious lay follower [a noble disciple, with full confidence in the Buddha because he was already a stream winner, a winner of the first stage of enlightenment].
One evening, when this confident disciple came to the bank of the Aciravati river on his way to Jeta's Grove to hear the Buddha, there was no boat at the dock.

The ferrymen [having taken others across] had pulled their boats onto the farther shore, docked them, and gone themselves to hear the Buddha. 

But the disciple's mind was so full of delightful and uplifting thoughts of the Buddha that, even though he walked into the river, his feet did not sink into the water: He walked onto and across the surface of it as if he were on dry land.
    Jhana-bhavana levitation (Ruwan_W/flickr)
    The basic levitation instructions are given in the Path of Purification (Ven. Buddhaghosa's Vissudhi Magga). But, in general, like the Udana or "Verses of Uplift," the vital airs, particularly the wind-element, vāyo-dhātu, subtle lung, can be intentionally (through pranayama) or naturally manipulated by circumstance to achieve this. Spontaneous levitation is found in the body of many religions in stories of the lives of saints. Buddhist "sainthood" (arhatship, full enlightenment) is preceded by stages of sainthood: stream-winning, once-returning, and non-returning. By some strange similitude a "stream-winner" has won the stream (sotā) of the Dharma-Path, usually through the ear (sota) when hearing the Dharma as a listener or savaka (lit., a hearer) that leads inexorably to full enlightenment, and here is able to cross over the flood (ogha of samsara) to the farther shore (a synonym for nirvana). And when jhana is developed and mastered it literally becomes possible to levitate and manipulate physical reality with the power of the mind. The world without bends to the will within, that is, the determination (adhimokkha, adhitthāna, viññāna-kicca) coupled with absorption.
Golden Buddha under temple tree, New Year's fest Chiang Mai, Thailand (arztsamui/flickr)
However, when he noticed the waves on reaching the middle of the river, his ecstasy (jhana, meditative absorption) subsided, and as a result his feet began to sink. But as soon as he again focused his mind on the qualities of the Buddha, his feet levitated enabling him to continue walking joyously over the water.

Maha Leap, Kampong Cham (BokehCambodia)
When he arrived at Jetavana, he paid his respects to the Buddha and took a seat respectfully to one side.
"Good layman," the Buddha said, addressing the disciple, "I hope you had no mishap on your way."
"Venerable sir," the disciple replied, "while coming here, I was so absorbed in the Buddha that, when I came to the river, I was able to walk across it as if it were solid."
"Friend," the Blessed One said, "you're not the only one who has been protected in this way. In olden days pious laypeople were shipwrecked mid-ocean and saved themselves by remembering the virtues of a buddha." At that man's request, the Buddha told this story of the past (jataka, rebirth story).
Long, long ago, at the time of the Kassapa Buddha, a lay disciple who had already entered the path booked passage on a ship along with one of his friends, a rich barber.  
  • Kassapa Buddha was the buddha (a supremely enlightened teacher) immediately preceding the historical Gautama Buddha (Shakyamuni) in the lineage of buddhas. See The Story of the Lineage by Rhys Davids.
The barber's wife asked this disciple to look after her husband. A week after the ship left port, it sank in the middle of the sea. The two friends saved themselves by clinging to a plank and were at last cast up on a deserted island.

Compassionate vegetarian
Famished, the barber killed some birds, cooked them, and offered a share of his animal meal to his friend the Buddha's noble disciple.
"No, thank you," the noble disciple answered, "I'm fine." Then he thought to himself: "In this isolated place, there is no help for us except the Triple Gem [going for guidance to the "Three Guides," Tisarana]."

Naga "sea serpent" reptilian (Daklub/flickr)
As he sat meditating on the Triple Gem, a naga king who had been reborn on that island transformed himself into a beautiful ship filled with the seven precious things [gold, silver, pearls, gems, cat's eyes, diamonds, and coral.] The three masts were made of sapphire, the planks and anchor of gold, and the ropes of silver.

The helmsman, who was a spirit of the sea, stood on the deck and cried, "Any passengers for India?"
Golden Triangle Buddha looks upon a dragon-bird ship, naga boat (Wisdom Quarterly)
"Yes," the Buddha's lay disciple answered, "that's where we are bound!"

"Then come on board," the sea spirit cried out.

The layman climbed aboard the beautiful ship and turned to call his friend the barber.

"You may come," the sea spirit said, "but he may not."

"Why not?" the disciple asked.

His bad karma may sink the ship (AP).
"He is not a follower of the pure life," answered the sea spirit. "I brought this ship for you, but not for him."

"In that case," the layman announced, "all the gifts I have given, all the virtues I have practiced, all the powers I have developed -- I give the fruit of all of them to him!"

"Thank you, master!" cried the barber.

"Very well," said the sea spirit, "now I can take you both aboard."

The ship carried the two men over the sea and up the Ganges river. After depositing them safely at their home in Varanasi, the sea spirit used his magic power to create enormous wealth for both of them.
Then, poising himself in mid-air, he instructed the men and their friends, "Keep company with the wise and good," he said.

"If this barber had not been in company with this pious layman, he would have perished in the middle of the ocean." Finally, the sea spirit returned to his own abode, taking the naga king with him.

Having finished this discourse, the Buddha identified the [persons in that] rebirth and taught the Dharma, after which the pious layman entered upon the fruit of the second path [once-returning].
  • To say that the Buddha "taught the Dharma" is to say he gave a gradual instruction.
"On that occasion," the Buddha said, "the disciple attained arhatship. Sariputra was the naga king, and I myself was the spirit of the sea."

What is a "gradual instruction" to enlightenment?
G.P. Malalasekera (ānupubbī-kathā defined) edited by Wisdom Quarterly
O, savakas! There is giving, the results of giving; there is craving, grasping, clinging, the results of craving, grasping, clinging. There is letting go and the benefits of letting go...
"Gradual instruction," a progressive sermon or sutra, was given by the Buddha when it was necessary to first prepare the listener's mind/heart before speaking to the person on the advanced teaching of the Four Noble Truths, the key to the Buddha's liberating message.
The stock passage (e.g., DN 3; DN 14; MN 56) runs as follows:
Buddha cartoon, Kapilavastu (video still)
"Then the Blessed One gave a gradual instruction -- that is to say, he spoke on liberality ("giving," dāna), on virtuous conduct (sīla), and on the heavens (sagga); he explained the peril, the vanity, and the depravity of sensual indulgence [attempting to cling to unstable sense pleasures, chasing them through cyclical samsara], and the advantage of renunciation [letting go, freedom from sensual lust, nekkhamma].

"When the Blessed One perceived that the listener's heart/mind was prepared, pliant, free from obstacles, elevated and lucid, he then explained to that exalted [fourfold] teaching exclusive to buddhas (buddhānam sāmukkamsikā desanā), that is:
  1. disappointment (dukkha),
  2. its cause (samudaya, origin),
  3. its cessation (nirodha),
  4. and the Path (magga)."

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