Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Unborn and the Undying: Buddhist Commentary

In one of my earliest memories from childhood I have the image of myself on a hospital bed ( was afflicted with diptheria), quarantined, alone and in painful suffering. It was evening and my Parents were outside the hospital window .
It was an isolation ward and they could not come inside. I still remember the pain
and my anguish. I was just 18 months old.
I simply remember this image due to the
exceptional pain which I had suffered and its not a normal memory.

Much later when I was recovered I have the memory of waking to a new house
half ready with water puddles on the floor, still dark with no electricity and an oil lamp burning and the image of my mother cooking a little far away. Many such striking moments abound in my memory from childhood, adolosence, youth and later maturity. Yet when I thought about these it was absolutely clear to me that there was an unchanging awareness which was witness to all these memories. Over all these years although there has definitely been immeasurable changes in myself
that crystal clear pristine awareness remains exactly the same, constant unchanging. Even right now as I type in these words its that same unchanging constant awareness that is like a steady flame that burns eternaly. I have thought about this many times but without any further understanding or comprehension.

Few nights back I was reading the central Mahayana text of the
Shurangama Sutra. The sutra describes the teachings of the Buddha in the city of Shravasti where the King Prasenajit holds a feast to honour the Tathagata. The Shurangama Sutra forms the core of Mahayana Buddhism and I was amazed when in Volume II of the sutra I came upon this conversation between the King and the Tathagata. I found the answer to what has intrigued myself for very long.

In the sutra the King Prasenajit requests the Buddha to explain the ground of the original mind that which is never born and never dies. The Buddha asks the King since he
is not dead how does he realize that he will ever die. The King explains that since his childhood through his youth and now in his maturity he has witnessed the changes in himself which signifies decay. The changes are ceaseless and continuous and this is how he is certain that these ceaseless changes must lead him finaly to Death.

The Buddha told the Great King, "By watching the ceaseless changes of these transformations, you awaken and know of your perishing, but do you also know that at the time of perishing there is something in your body which does not become extinct?"

King Prasenajit put his palms together and said to the Buddha, "I really do not know." The Buddha said, "I will now show you the nature which is neither produced and nor extinguished.

"Great King, how old were you when you saw the waters of the Ganges?” The King said, "When I was three years old my compassionate mother led me to visit the goddess Jiva. We passed a river, and at the time I knew it was the waters of the Ganges." The Buddha said, "Great King, you have said that when you were twenty you had deteriorated from when you were ten. Day by day, month-by-month, year by year until you reached sixty, in thought after thought there has been change. Yet when you saw the Ganges River at the age of three, how was it different from when you were thirteen?"

The King said, "It was no different from when I was three, and even now when I am sixty-two it is still no different." The Buddha said, "Now you are mournful that your hair is white and your face wrinkled. In the same way that your face is definitely more wrinkled then it was in your youth, has the seeing with which you look at the Ganges aged, so that it is old now but was young when you looked at the river as a child in the past?"

The King said, "No, World Honored One."

The Buddha said, "Great King, your face is wrinkled, but the essential nature of your seeing will never wrinkle. What wrinkles is subject to change. What does not wrinkle does not change.

"What changes will perish, but what does not change is fundamentally free of production and extinction. How could it be subject to your birth and death?

When I read this passage from the sutra I was amazed because this was what I
have always thought about. The crystal clear constant unchanging awareness
with which I have witnessed the striking images of childhood adolosence youth and maturity and even now that same awareness. Over many summers winters and autumns I have changed ceaselessly yet that same crystal clear awareness
is still bright shining and pristine. Not touched by pain misery suffering happiness grief hope or futility. Untouched unsullied changeless the ground of the
original mind. How can it ever die that which never changes, how can it ever be born. It must be the unborn and the undying.

And I felt very peaceful and reassured with the profound wisdom of the Tathagata and remembered his beautiful poem about the ephemeral nature of our reality;

"And so he should regard the ego's temporal world -
'As a falling star or Venus chastened by the dawn,
A bubble in a stream, a phantom dream,
A candle-flame that flickers and is gone.'"


At 07:01, Blogger Antonio Quintana said...

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At 17:10, Blogger Antonio Quintana said...

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At 04:45, Blogger A. Chang said...

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