Friday, August 16, 2013

The Buddha: The Origin of Alcohol

Once upon a time, while the Buddha was residing at Jetavana in Savatthi, the wealthy and devout lay Buddhist Visakha got an invitation.
A large number of women she knew asked her to join in celebrating a festival in the city.
"But this is a drinking festival," Visakha replied, "and I do not drink."
"All right," the women said, "make your offering to the Buddha while we enjoy the festival."
The following morning, Visakha served the Buddha and the Sangha of Buddhist monastics at her house and made abundant offerings of the four requisites [food, robes, lodgings, and medicines].
That afternoon she proceeded to Jetavana to offer incense and gorgeous flowers to the Buddha and to hear the Dharma he taught. The other women were drunk, but they accompanied her.
Liquid ignorance, it might cure anything!
Even at the gate of the temple complex, they continued drinking. When Visakha entered the hall, she bowed and sat respectfully to the side. He female companions, however, were oblivious. They seemed to not notice where they were. In front of the Buddha some danced and stumbled, others sang poorly, yet others swayed drunkenly, and some bickered.
To inspire a sense of urgency in them, the Buddha emitted a dark blue radiance from the level of his brows. Everything suddenly became dark. The women were gripped with a fear of death and instantly sobered up. 

The Buddha then vanished from his seat and stood high atop Mount Meru (Sumeru). From the curl of a thin wisp of white hair growing between his eyebrows, he emitted a ray of light as bright as the rising of 1,000 moons and suns.
"Why laugh and frolic," the Buddha asked the women, "as you are consumed by smoldering fires and surrounded by darkness? Would it be better to seek light?"
His words touched their newly receptive hearts/minds, and all of them became stream winners (as they entered the first of four stages of enlightenment).
The Origin of Alcohol
Emanating an aura (Santosh Kumar/flickr)
He returned and again sat down. Visakha bowed once more and asked, "Venerable sir, what is the origin of this custom of drinking alcohol, which destroys a person's modesty and sense of propriety?"
In answer, the Buddha revealed this story of the distant past.
Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, a hunter named Sura ["beer" or "brew"] went to the Himalayas from his hometown in the country of Kasi to look for game. In that remote forest there was a strange tree whose trunk grew to the height of a person with arms held overhead.
At that point three branches spread out to form a hollow about the size of a big water barrel. Whenever it rained the hollow filled with water. Around the tree grew a bitter plum tree, a sour plum tree, and a pepper vine. The ripe fruit from these plants fell into the hollow. Nearby a patch of wild rice grew. Parrots plucked sheafs of rice and sat atop the tree to eat. Some of the grains fell into the water with the fruit. And under the heat of the sun, the liquid in the hollow fermented turning blood red.
(NatGeo) "Animals Are Beautiful People" (1974) - drunk on fermenting marula fruit in the jungle as the Buddha describes in this story of the past from his own personal experience. Rather than an ultimate mythological "origin," it is an ancient tale born out of direct experience.

In the hot season, flocks of thirsty birds went there to drink. Soon intoxicated, they spiraled wildly upwards only to face plant at the foot of the tree. After sleeping it off for a short time, they awoke and flew away, chirping merrily.
A similar thing happened to monkeys (as seen above) and other tree-climbers.
The hunter, observing all of this, wondered: "What could be in the hollow of that tree? It can't be poison. If it were, these birds and animals would die." He drank some of the bloody liquid and was soon intoxicated just like the animals.
Drinking, killing, roasting the remains (BBQ)
As he drank, he felt a strong desire to eat meat. He kindled a small fire, wrung the necks of some of the partridges, fowl, and other creatures lying semi-conscious at the foot of the tree. Then he roasted them over the coals. He waved drunkenly with one hand as he stuffed his mouth with the other.
While he was drinking and gobbling, he remembered Varuna the hermit who lived nearby. Wishing to share his intoxicating discovery with the hermit, Sura filled a bamboo tube with the liquor, wrapped up some of the roast meat in leaves, and set out for the hermit's leaf hut. Arriving, he offered the hermit some of the beverage, and both of them ate the roasted animal corpses and drank the grog with gusto.
The hunter and the hermit soon realized that this drink could make them a fortune. They poured it into large bamboo tubes, which they balanced on poles slung across their shoulders and carried to Kasi. From the first border outpost they sent a message to the king that drink-makers had arrived.

When they were summoned, they took the liquor and offered it to the king. The king took a few sips and was soon intoxicated. After a few days, he had consumed all they had carried and asked if there were more.
"Yes, sire," they answered.
"Where?" the king asked.
"In the Himalayas," they said.
"Go and fetch it," ordered the king.
Sura and Varuna returned to the forest, but they soon realized how much trouble it was to have to return to the foothills every time they ran out. They took note of all the ingredients and gathered everything they would need. Now they were able to brew their alcohol in the city. Citizens began drinking the liquor, forgot about work, and became impoverished. Before long the city looked like a ghost town.
At that point the two drink-makers took their business to the sprawling city of Benares, where they sent a message to the king. There, too, that king summoned them and offered them royal patronage. As the habit of drinking spread, ordinary business deteriorated, and Benares declined the way Kasi had.
Sura and Varuna up and moved to the City of Saketa. After abandoning Saketa, they proceeded to Savatthi.
At that time Savatthi was ruled by a king named Sabbamitta. He welcomed the two merchants and asked them what they were in search of. They asked for large quantities of the main ingredients and a huge number of jars. After combining the ingredients, they put the mixture in the jars and tied a cat to each to guard against rats.
As their brew fermented, it began to ooze and overflow. The cats, happily lapping up the potent drink running down the sides, became thoroughly intoxicated. As they lay down to sleep, rats came and nibbled on their ears, noses, and tails.
The king's men were shocked and reported to that the cats tied to the jars had died from drinking the concoction.
"Surely these men are making poison!" the king concluded, and he immediately ordered them beheaded. As Sura and Varuna were being executed, their last words were, "Sire, this is liquor! It is delicious!"
After putting the drink-merchants to death, the king ordered the jars broken. By then, however, the effects of the alcohol had worn off, and the cats were playing merrily. The guards reported this to the king.
"If it had been poison," the king reasoned, "the cats would have died. It may be delicious after all. Let us drink it!"
He ordered the city be decorated and a pavilion set up in the royal courtyard. He took his royal seat under a white umbrella and, surrounded by his ministers, prepared to drink.

Sakka, King of the Devas
Sakka, king of the devas, defeating the drunken titan (asura)
At that moment, Sakka, the king of the devas, was surveying the human world and wondering, "Who is dutifully looking after parents? Who is conducting oneself well in thought, word, and deed?"
When he saw a king seated in a royal pavilion ready to drink alcohol, he thought: "If King Sabbamitta drinks that, the whole world will perish. I will make sure that he does not drink it."
Sakka instantly disguised himself as a Brahmin and, carrying a jar (kumbha) of liquor in the palm of his hand, appeared standing in the air in front of the king. "Buy this jar! Buy this jar!" he cried.
King Sabbamitta saw him and asked, "Where do you come from, Brahmin? Who are you? What jar is that you have there?"
"Listen!" Sakka replied in disguse. "This jar does not contain ghee, oil, molasses, or syrup. Listen to the countless vices this jar does hold.
"Whoever drinks it, silly fool, will lose control and stumble on smooth ground and fall into sewer or cesspool. Under its influence, one will eat things one would never touch in his/her right mind. Please buy it! It is for sale, this the worst of jars.
"The contents of this jar will cloud a person's wits until one behaves like a brute, giving enemies delight and scornful laughter. It will cause one to sing and dance fumbling in front of an assembly. Please buy it, this wonderful brew for the obscene gaiety it brings!
"Even the most bashful will lose all sense of modesty by drinking from this jar. The shyest person can forget the trouble of staying dressed and instead run about nude. When tired, one will happily rest anywhere, oblivious to concerns of danger or decency. Such is the nature of this drink. Please buy it! It is for sale, this the worst of jars.
"When one drinks from it, one loses control of one's body, tottering, unable to stand, trembling, jerking, heaving and shaking like a wooden puppet worked by another's hand. Please buy my jar! It's full of wine.
"The person who drinks from it is prey to danger from every direction because one loses one's senses. One might burn to death in one's bed, stumble onto a pack of jackals, drown in a tiny puddle, become reduced to debt-bondage or destitute. There is no misfortune that drinking this might not lead to.
"Having imbibed this, people lie senseless along the road, soiled, in a pool of their own vomit, licked by dogs. A woman may become so intoxicated as to tie her beloved parents to a tree, revile her protector, and blindly abuse or utterly abandon her only child. Such is the merchandise contained in this jar.

(Saccharine Trust) "Effort To Waste" from the album "Pagan Icons"

"Drunk on the blood / Stuck to the rug / He vomits nostalgia. / Casualties watch him seethe / With careful curiosity. / With a raw dialogue / An effort to waste / He gives his sermon. / But his words are pointless / To the sober conscience. / They breathe the same air. / All is mind, as mind is all, flesh is stone, as stone is flesh, pain is real, as real is pain / As real is now. / In a sad awakening / He finds a window / God it's morning / All thoughts pierce / Memories are scarce / The cuts have dried out / The terror of / The nights he lost / Still hangs his head low. / Drunk on the rug / Stuck to the blood / He vomits nostalgia! / I waited so long for something to seem real. I had so many questions. I answered all my questions. When I see your face turn / And I knew what was real / And I knew what was lost / And I knew what was real."
"When a person imbibes from this jar, one can believe that all the world is one's own and that one owes respect to no one. Please buy this jar! It is filled to the brim with the strongest drink.
"Addicted to this drink, entire families of the highest class will squander their wealth and bring their name to ruin. Please buy this jar, sire! It is for sale.
"In this jar is a liquid which makes the tongue lose control, the feet too! It provokes irrational laughter and sudden weeping. It dulls the eye and impairs the mind. It makes one contemptible.
"Drinking this creates strife. Friends quarrel and come to blows. Even the old gods were susceptible and lost their heavenly world because of this drink.
  • [The asuras, or "titans," predecessors of the devas, "shining ones," lost their heaven because Sakka was able to expel them when they were drunk on sura (a kind of beer) and unable to fight him. They swore off it thus becoming known as the a-suras, the non-drinkers of sura].
"Please buy this jar! Sip the beer, taste the wine, feel the grog. Because of this beverage, false speech is uttered with pleasure, and forbidden actions are performed with delight. False bravado leads to danger, and friends are betrayed. The person who drinks this dares any deed, unaware that one is dooming oneself to hell [when that deed finally ripens opportunistically at the time of passing]. Try this drink, sire. Please buy my jar!

"The one who drinks this brew will transgress in thought, word, and deed. One will see as skillful what is unskillful, what is unwholesome as wholesome. Even the most modest person will act indecently. The wisest person will babble foolishly. Buy this lovely liquid, become addicted, vomit it up and drink again. You will quickly grow accustomed to misconduct, to lying, to abuse, to filth, to ignominy, a disgrace.
"When thoroughly drunk, people are like cattle struck to the ground, collapsing and lying in a heap. No human power can compete with the power of alcohol. Please buy my jar, my pretty poison!
"All told, this drink destroys virtue. It banishes shame, erodes good conduct, kills one's reputation. It defiles the heart, clouds the mind. If you can give yourself over to imbibing this seductive drink, sire, please buy my jar!"
When the king heard all this, he realized the misery caused by drinking alcohol. Overjoyed at being spared the danger, he wished to express his gratitude.
"Brahmin," he cried, "you have outdone even my mother and father in caring for me! In gratitude for your excellent words, let me bequeath to you five choice villages, 100 maidservants, 700 cows, and ten chariots hitched to purebred horses. You have been an excellent teacher!"
"As chief of the Thirty-Three Devas," Sakka answered thereby revealing his true identity, "I have no need of these things. Keep your villages, maidservants, and cattle. Enjoy your delicious food and be content with sweet cakes. Take delight in the truths I have preached to you. In this way you will be blameless in this world and will attain a glorious celestial rebirth in the next."
With these words, Sakka returned to his own abode (the akasha deva loka) in space.
King Sabbamitta vowed to abstain from alcohol and ordered that Sura and Varuna's jars be smashed. From that day forward, he kept the precepts and generously dispensed alms to the needy. He lived a good life and was indeed reborn in celestial worlds.
Later, however, the habit of drinking alcohol spread across the land, and many people were affected.
The Buddha ended the lesson and identified the past life: "At that time Ananda was the king, and I myself was Sakka."

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