The Golden Buddha

Once upon a time, far in the east, there was a country called Sayam. In the capital of this country there was an ancient temple of the Golden Buddha. People made long pilgrimages to visit this temple. Everyone knew of it and wanted to see the massive golden statue of the beautiful Buddha within.

One day the news came that a fierce foreign army was approaching the capital. The monks and devotees got together and quickly covered the statue from head to toe in mud and dirt. They made it look ordinary, with every bit of gold out of sight. It now looked dull and drab with no sparkle at all. It even gave out a peculiar odour that had to be camouflaged with incense.

Yes. The army made a huge clang as it arrived in the city with tonnes of ammunition and aggression, looking to plunder anything of value. A platoon of soldiers with armour and swords rode into the temple and looked around like hungry dogs. They found nothing of interest. Just an old dirty statue. They rode out and away.

Over time, new monks and devotees arrived. The old ones forgot to take the mud and dirt off. They forgot to tell the new ones about it. For years and years the Golden Buddha remained in hiding until one day, a young monk was deep in meditation a few feet away from it when he heard a crashing noise. His eyes opened and he saw that a bit of the mud had cracked and fallen off. Smashhhhh…onto the floor. He saw the left hand of the statue glinting in the dim evening light. He walked up to the statue and took a closer look. With eyes as wide as coins he ran out to get the others to see what he had seen. All of them got to work and took the mud shell down to reveal the awesome, pristine Golden Buddha.

This parable reminds us that we are all born pure and all-knowing, one with the divine. Over time we get conditioned to wear the shells or labels of ‘man’ or ‘rich’ or ‘silly’ or ‘mother’ or ‘short’ or ‘engineer’ and so on. Until one day something comes along and cracks the casing, making the gold within visible. Then we can’t help but keep picking at the dirt as nothing else satisfies us. We keep peeling the layers of muck away bit by bit by bit, till it’s all done and we are free.

Kisa Gautami

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In ancient India, there lived a woman. She was happily married to a rich merchant and was the proud mother of a bubbly one year old. After a brief illness, her only son died. Her grief was unbearable. Wailing and weeping, she took her child’s lifeless remains from door to door pleading with the townspeople to bring her beautiful child back to life. No one could help her. She was destroyed.

Someone suggested she take her infant to the Buddha. She did. Through her tears and sobs she narrated her tragic story and begged Him to infuse life back into her bundle of joy. The Buddha listened with compassion and said, “Kisa Gautami, there is only one way. Bring me 5 mustard seeds from a household where no deaths have occurred.”

Her eyes lit up with hope. She hurriedly gathered up her bundle and once again, went knocking on each and every door in town. To her utter disappointment, every family had experienced death in one form or another. She realised the lesson that the Buddha had wanted her to learn. Suffering is a part of life and death is inevitable. Kisa Gautami’s eyes were now open. In the light of this knowledge, she could handle her grief. She went on to become an ardent follower of the teachings of Buddha.

Like Kisa Gautami, I have found myself at the feet of the Buddha. His teachings have brought light and lightness to my being. Along the way other divine souls have helped in unique ways.

This is the festive season for most people. Planning meals, choosing stocking fillers, selecting wrapping paper, posting greeting cards and preparing to welcome the New Year. Yay! It’s all happening. But a Saagar-shaped piece is missing. I feel for all the families who will have that vacant chair at their table this year. I hold them close to my heart. As time goes by, it does not get easier. This excerpt on the subject of ‘Pain’ from ‘The Prophet’ speaks to me. I hope it helps you too. I wish you as peaceful a time as possible.

“And a woman spoke, saying, “Tell us of Pain.”
And he said: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the
Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.”
― Kahlil GibranThe Prophet

 

Noble Silence

Would it be best if I took myself to a mountain top where I didn’t have to say anything, hear anything, understand anything, process anything or feel anything? Is there somewhere I could be free of the wrath of time? Where my heartstrings wouldn’t constantly tug at me. Where I could find the much-conceptualised ‘perfect balance’. Where I could wash off those parts me that ache non-stop. Where I could find an oasis beyond ‘I like’, ‘I don’t like’. Where none of the facts of life would hold any power over me.

My 51st birthday is the 3rd one without Saagar. That’s how it is – two significances attached to one day. Aren’t years supposed to bring wisdom and clarity with them? Do they? Possibly in unnoticeably miniscule doses in my case. I could take myself to a mountain-top but the snag is that the source of the restlessness and pain will come with me – my mind.

Looking for peace and respite from my mind I made my way to the serenity of a Buddist Monastry just outside London for a 5-day Silence Retreat. The first few verses we chant are Buddha’s words on Loving-kindness.

“Be one who is skilled in goodness
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.

Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and clam, and wise and skilful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove,
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be,
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small.
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to be born,
May all beings be at ease.

Let none deceive another
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies
And downwards to the depths,
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated,
Or lying down – free from drowsiness –
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense-desires,
Is not born again into this world.”

If there is just one thing I can take from these wise words, it is –
“Be at ease.”
“Relax.”
As Saagar would say in his notoriously funny south-Indian accent,
“Mamma. Chhillax.”
I think that’s a good place to start.