Saturday, July 14, 2012

Enlightenment Fast (Part 2)

The Story of Bahiya of the Bark Cloth
Seven, Ashley Wells, Amber Dorrian, Wisdom Quaterly; C. de Saram (translator)*
Long preparation enabled this new disciple to grasp the Truth in the twinkling of an eye.
He was like Upatissa (who became the chief male disciple better known as Sariputra), who entered the first stage of sainthood by hearing only one line of a couplet. Bahiya of the Bark Cloth, on hearing a single stanza uttered by the Buddha, became enlightened.
But Bahiya had a great store of merit. After all, he was born during the dispensation and had the privilege of meeting the Buddha.
Long before that, however, it is said that he had been born during the latter part of the dispensation at the final nirvana of the Buddha Kassapa aeons earlier. At that time he failed to get a foothold on sainthood (as recounted in the "Life of Mallaputta Dabba," when five ascetics abandon society and meditate to the end with all but Bahiya succeeding).

Ancient Indian ascetic practices included wearing bark cloth, animal hides, and exposing oneself to the elements. Some still practice these forms of self-mortification in India (
Bahiya of the Bark Cloth was born during Shakyamuni's dispensation after aeons of celestial bliss. Bahiya was his clan's name. A trader, he was on a harmless trip to Suvanna-Bhumi (today's Burma). He was shipwrecked and left the sole survivor.
By clinging to a log, he was able to swim to a peninsula called Supparaka, which he mistook for an island. Since he had no clothes, he resolved to cover himself with bark and moss. Then arming himself with an earthen bowl, he eked out an existence begging.
In due course, he was idolized by the people there who mistook him for an enlightened forest ascetic. (People are frequently misled by appearances). Eventually when clothes were offered, he refused them, thinking he would lose his newfound caste status. But this only served to enhance his reputation. His garb consisted of pieces of bark fastened together -- hence the appellation Daruciriya ("of the Bark Cloth").
After passing for a saintly hermit, a previous companion (from the past life of the five ascetics referred to above) abiding in the Suddhavasa Brahma World who, in fact, was a saint, thought it was time to disillusion him.
A brahma can manifest any form it wishes even the form of a wise old man from space.
His friend instantaneously descended from that "pure abode," that peaceful celestial world, and stood before him in all the glory and majesty of a God (brahma).
Bahiya was startled and dazzled, unable to believe his eyes as he asked this brahma who he was.
The brahma unfolded the story of their past life and succeeded in convincing Bahiya that he should straight away head to Jetavana Grove monastery to meet the Buddha, learn the Dharma, and have a chance of finally attaining real enlightenment.
The very title "Buddha" was news to Bahiya of the Bark Cloth. So great was his enthusiasm that, legend has it, he traveled day and night without pausing (perhaps utilizing some psychic ability), covering a distance of 129 leagues (approximately 400 miles).
Having traveled so far so quickly, on arrival he was exhausted and disheartened to find that the Buddha had already set out on his daily alms round. He was invited to rest and await the Buddha's return from the village. But Bahiya was in no mood to wait.

Bahiya insisted he be instructed right away, and the Buddha gave him just what ne needed.
Instead, he followed the Buddha's route into the village in search of instruction. He accosted the Buddha on the road and fell to his feet pleading for advice.
The Buddha informed him that he had arrived most unseasonably since he and the monks had already commenced their alms round.
But Bahiya insisted. He reportedly asked:
How many meals has one missed
in the countless round of rebirths and deaths?
Who can know the day and hour that one might pass away
before they would meet again?

The second question turned out to be a prophetic utterance. The Buddha surprised the monks on alms round with him because he had never deviated from his schedule. Today he was making an exception for this odd ascetic dressed in bark cloth.
He looked into Bahiya's past then his present and saw that this was to be his last wish. He therefore uttered to very concise teaching -- the gist of which was to look at things as they truly are:

Ditthe ditthamattam bhavissati
sute sutamattam bhavissati
mute mutamattam bhavissati
vinnate vinnatamatam bhavissati
"In the seen there is only the seen,
in the heard, only the heard,
in the otherwise sensed, only the otherwise sensed
(In other words, concentrate on the present moment.)
Bahiya understood and asked for ordination. Normally, the Buddha would simply utter the phrase "Come, venerable!" (Eham, bhante!). That would bestow ordination. Instead, seeing that Bahiya had not developed enough generosity-perfection (dana parami) in the past to have accrued sufficient merit to be fortunate in receiving robes, the Buddha asked him if he had any robes (which are necessary for ordination).
Bahiya, of course, did not. So he immediately went in search of cloth in a dust heap to construct a proper patchwork robe.
While engaged in his search, an enemy of his -- now reborn as an "ogre" or "goblin" (yakkha) -- took possession of a cow and gored him to death.
On returning from alms round, the monks saw Bahiya of the Bark Cloth's lifeless body by the side of the road. The Buddha surprised them yet again by requesting that they formally cremate the remains in a manner befitting royalty and saints (arhats), neither of which they thought applied to Bahiya.

The Buddha explained that, in fact, Bahiya was a saint. "When," they asked, "had he become enlightened?" The Buddha replied that Bahiya of the Bark Cloth was "foremost in gaining sainthood by quickly comprehending a single sentence of the Dharma." What did the Buddha tell him?
In the seen, for you let there be only the seen.
In the heard, for you let there be only the heard.
In the otherwise sensed,
let there be for you only the otherwise sensed.
When you do, there will be no here,
no there, and no going between.
(In other words, Be here now.)
"Be Here Now"!
Wisdom Quarterly
What, then, did that single sentence mean? Ditthe ditthe matam bhavissati! It is traditionally explained as an exhortation to be perfectly mindful (once the mind/heart is prepped and purified by sufficient concentration, which generally means some level of absorption). Another way to explain it might be:

Do not look long, do not look short.
In the seen (heard, sensed), let there be only that.
Then there will be neither here, nor there,
Nor transiting between the two.

C. de Saram explains in a footnote that the sixth and seventh links in the formula of Dependent Origination are impression and feeling (contact and sensation). The Buddha was therefore telling Bahiya to stop at impression (at sense contact).
In other words, do not linger over what is seen. "Do not look long, do not look short." Instead, simply be aware of it without judgment, without disturbance. In this way, the eighth (craving) and ninth (clinging) links will not come into play.
The entire mass of suffering, the Wheel of Dependent Origination, which applies to all phenomena, could thereby be circumvented. One might momentarily glimpse nirvana and see the conditional nature of all composite things. The "Eye of the Dharma" or "Wisdom Eye," which purifies mind and heart, radically alters the individual. And knowing and seeing directly one is liberated from all defilements and bonds.
*The story of Bahiya Daruciriya appears in Pen Portraits: 93 Eminent Disciples of the Buddha by C. de Saram (Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre, 1971, reprinted for free distribution by the Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation (Taiwan, R.O.C.):

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