Thursday, December 27, 2007

the frog who showers flowers on lord buddha

one feature of the text i am reading here - and of much of sanskrit literature in general - is a delight in embedding stories within stories, such that finally stories are set within multiple frames. i share one example that caught my imagination, evoking as it does an image one still sees, and that after reading this story has lost much of its ordinariness for me: a cowherd leaning on his long stick contemplatively as his charges graze nearby. (sadly i have no photo of any as yet, so offer instead an image of some fields, to evoke the pastoral/agrarian setting this story assumes.)

in this tale, while buddha is telling a story to a gathering of monks, a humble cowherd brings his animals to a grazing spot within earshot and stands listening to the story. the narrator of the vinaya later tells us not only the story of the cowherd but that of a frog who was pinned under the stick that the cowherd was leaning on.

along with transforming how i look at cowherds with sticks, it has the effect of evoking the many series of ripples sent out into the world by the teaching of the buddha. translated from sanskrit, the story goes something like this:

At that very time, Nanda the cowherd was standing near the Lord [Buddha]. Leaning on his cane, he was grazing his cows. A frog was pinned by the cane, his skin pierced, his joints dislocated. He generated the thought, ‘If I should move my body or emit a sound, this would be the cause for Nanda the Cowherd to be distracted from the story.’ Having decided that, he made his mind inspired with faith in the presence of the Lord and died. He was reborn among the devas of the Four World Guardian Kings.

[We then hear the story of nanda the cowherd's reaction to the buddha's story: he asks to join the sangha, but buddha does not permit to ordain immediately, for some clever reasons. then we come back to the frog and his trajectory after death.]

It is in the nature of deva sons or deva daughters that when they are newly born they think about three things: from where they have passed on, where have they been born and due to what action. The deva son whose previous existence was as a frog saw that he had passed on from among the animals and been born among the devas of the Four World Guardian Kings, after making his mind inspired with faith in the presence of the Lord. It occurred to him, “It would not be proper for me to let a day pass without going to see the Lord. Therefore I should go to see the Lord without even letting one day pass.”

Then the deva son whose previous existence was as a frog approached the Lord. Wearing impeccable earrings that glittered as he moved, his body was adorned with necklace of 64 strands of pearls, the folds of his lower garment filled with celestial utpalas, kumudas, white lotuses and mandarava flowers, with intense colors. He reached the Lord in the dark of night, and illuminating the bank of the Ganges with a vast light, he showered the Lord with flowers and sat down before the Blessed One in order to listen to the Dharma.

Then, understanding the mental disposition and propensity, character and nature of the deva son whose previous existence was as a frog, the Lord gave that sort of Dharma teaching that penetrates the four nobles’ truths such that after hearing it, the deva son shattered the twenty-peaked mountain of belief in a personal self with the thunderbolt of wisdom, right as he was seated there, and actualized the fruit of stream-entry.

He said, “I have progressed, Lord, I have progressed. This one who is I go for refuge to the Lord, to the Dharma and to the Sangha. Accept me as a lay disciple from today forward for my whole life, as long as I live, as one who has gone for refuge and been inspired with faith.”

thus ends the story of the frog who was reborn as a deva.

now does anyone want to hear what happened to the cowherd?


Ed said...

Yes, please.

Gyalten said...

Yes, yes! I want to hear what happens to the cowherd!

This was a WONDERFUL story... really amazing and profound on so many levels. It also explains to me the thoughts and actions of the 10,000 fish in the Sutra of Golden Light, who were reborn as devas after hearing the teachings, etc., from a previous incarnation of the Buddha. They also thought about where they had come from and then returned to strew flowers, jewels, etc. on the one who had liberated them. Very similar...

THANK YOU Damcho! Please keep it coming. Can't wait to read the whole thing (no pressure intended there....)

damchö said...

ok, mindrol-la. thank you so very much for your enthusiasm. i will post the next part just for you!