Monday, October 16, 2017

Upagupta: "Worship" the Buddha?

Tenzin Youdon (OneIndia via Buddhist Channel, Sept. 3, 2008) corrected, expanded, and interpreted by Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Amber Larson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly Wiki edit

Mara is more Lucifer than Satan
NEW DELHI, India - This story will help us understand why the Buddha image is important to inspire and to recollect the Buddha, but not as a form of "worship."

This story is found in the Buddhist literature but not in the Pali language texts.
A few hundred years after the final passing into nirvana of the Buddha, there was a devout monk in India named Ven. Upagupta. He was the most popular preacher of the time. Whenever he gave a sermon on the Buddha's Dharma, the Teachings of the Buddha, thousands of people would flock to listen to his preaching.
  • Who is Upagupta? Ven. Upagupta (circa 3rd century BCE) was an Indian Buddhist monk. According to stories in the Sanskrit text Ashokavadana, he was the spiritual teacher of the Mauryan Buddhist, the Emperor of India Ashoka. Ven. Upagupta's teacher was Ven. Sanavasi, who was a disciple of Ven. Ānanda, the Buddha's cousin and personal attendant. Due to the absence of his name from Theravada Pali literature, it is assumed that Ven. Upagupta was a Sarvāstivāda (an extinct Buddhist school) monk. In Southeast Asian countries and Bangladesh, Ven. Upagupta is a great cult figure (Relics of the Buddha, John S. Strong, 2007, p. 145). In Burma he is known as Shin Upagutta. In the Lokapannatti Ven. Upagupta is sent by King Ashoka to tame Mara during an enshrinement ceremony festival. Afterwards, he asks Mara to take the material form (rupakaya, physical shape) of the historical Buddha so that everyone at the festival can see what the Buddha looked like (John S. Strong, The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna, 1989). In literature: Rabindranath Tagore in his poem "Abhisar" collected in Katha relates a story of Ven. Upagupta. In the story, in the month of Sraban, the monk was sleeping in Mathura when Vasavdatta, the city's diva or courtesan, trips over and notices the monk. Enchanted by his handsome appearance, Vasavdatta invites him to go with her to her house. But Ven. Upagupta tells her that he cannot go with her at this point. But when the time comes, he will go. After seven months, in the month of Chaitra, the city folks go to a festival in the forest. Alone in the city, Ven. Upagupta goes beyond the precincts and finds Vasavdatta severely deformed by a disease with pustules covering her body. The city people had cast her out of the city's wall in disgust. The monk nurses her with care -- telling her that the time for their togetherness has come (Rabindranath Tagore, অভিসার). Tagore adopted the story with some changes from the Vodhisattwavadanakalpalata by Kshemendra (translated by Nobin Chandra Das, 1895, Calcutta), the 10th-11th century Kashmiri poet.
Mara as Kamadeva (Eros, Cupid)
One day Mara, the tempter, became jealous of Ven. Upagupta's popularity. Mara knew that Upagupta's popularity was helping spread the Teachings of the Buddha. He was unhappy to see the words of Buddha filling the minds and hearts of the people.

So he used a cunning method to influence the people. He made a plan to stop the people from listening to Ven. Upagupta's sermons.
One day, as Ven. Upagupta began his sermon, Mara organized an alluring drama next to the place where Ven. Upagupta was teaching.

A beautiful stage show suddenly appeared. It had pretty dancing girls and lively musicians. The people soon forgot about the sermon and crossed over to see Mara's show and enjoy the performances.

Ven. Upagupta watched the people slowly drift away then he decided to join them. After sitting with the crowd, he decided to teach Mara a lesson.

When the performance ended, Ven. Upagupta presented Mara with a garland of flowers.
"You have organized a wonderful performance," Ven. Upagupta said.
Mara was, of course, happy and proud of his achievement. He gladly accepted the flower garland from Ven. Upagupta and held his head up high. Suddenly it happened that the garland changed into a snake-like coil. Slowly the coil tightened until it choked Mara's neck.
So painful was the coil gripping his neck that Mara tried to pull it off. But no matter how hard he pulled, he could not take the coil off his neck. He decided to ask help from Sakka, King of the Devas (minor gods) to remove the coil. But Sakka could not remove it.

"I cannot remove this coil," admitted Sakka. "Go see Maha Brahma [Great God/Great Supreme]," he advised, "who is the powerful one."  So Mara went to see Maha Brahma and asked his help, but he also could not do anything. "I cannot remove this coil," admitted Maha Brahma. "The only one who can remove this coil is the person who put it on you." So Mara had to go back to Ven. Upagupta.
"Please remove this coil; it is so painful!" he begged.
"Yes, I can do that but only under two conditions," said Ven. Upagupta. "The first is that you must promise to no more disturb Buddhist devotees in the future.

"The second is that you show me the real image of the Buddha. For I know that you have seen him on many occasions, but I have never seen him. I would like to see the real Buddha image exactly like him, with the special 32 characteristics of his physical body."
Mara was overjoyed. He agreed to Ven. Upagupta's conditions. "But one stipulation," pleaded Mara. "If I change myself into the image of the Buddha, you must promise that you will not worship me, for I am not a holy person like you."
"I will not worship you," promised Ven. Upagupta.

One of the earliest depictions (Gandhara)
Suddenly Mara transformed [shape shifted] himself into an image that looked exactly like the Buddha. When Ven. Upagupta saw the image, his mind was filled with great inspiration. Profound devotion arose in his heart. With folded hands, he at once paid homage to the Buddha figure.
"You're breaking your promise!" shouted Mara. "You promised you would not worship me! Now why do you pay homage to me?"
"I am not worshiping you. You have to understand. I am paying homage to the Buddha," explained Ven. Upagupta.

The next Buddha's physical form
From this story we can understand why the Buddha image is important. It inspires us and helps us  recall (buddha-anussati) the many sublime qualities of the Buddha, bringing them and him to mind so that we can venerate that ideal, which is our own potential and possibility for enlightenment and complete liberation, bodhi and nirvana. Buddhists do not "worship" the material symbol or forms that only represent the Buddha. We express confidence (saddha) and joyfully pay our respects to the Buddha, who alone in the world made known the Middle Way, the path to complete freedom, to going beyond all suffering. More

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